Hello and welcome to the first official post in the series, “Tessmans do the Fatherland.” I had every intention of blogging our recent trip to Lithuania as it was happening, but it turned out that at the end of the day, I was more interested in sleeping than doing writing of any kind. But now that I’m home, the kids are back in school, and the mountain of laundry has been whittled down to a molehill, I’m ready to foist my vacation slides on you in the form of multiple, rambling blog posts.
It takes a long time to travel to Vilnius from Cleveland, Ohio. Twenty-four hours, two layovers, and three airplanes, to be exact. Only two of the four of us were able to get any sleep over the Atlantic, so we disembarked in the capital bleary-eyed and mangy-tailed.
The apartment we rented for our stay in Vilnius was on Gedimino Prospektas, the main thoroughfare, and we had a nice view from our front terrace.
It was in a corner building, so we also had a view of the public square across the street. This square had a gigantic monument to Vincas Kudirka (composer of the Lithuanian National Anthem) juxtaposed against a lovely yarn bombed tree, and it was generally filled with hipsters and skater dudes. The Lithuanian skater dudes were a novelty to me, and I took many clandestine photos of them with my iPhone.
Despite the fact that he had never before traveled to continental Europe and speaks no more than five sentences of Lithuanian, my husband the P-Dawg immediately ventured out to the grocery store across the street for necessary provisions like coffee, milk, bread, and beer. He had himself a little adventure there, provoking the wrath of the cashier by asking for a bag (you are supposed to bring your own) and then trying to get away without paying for it (they apparently cost money). Then, as my valiant husband was heading back to the apartment with the goods, that shoddy little plastic bag split right down the middle, spilling its contents all over the street. Velcome to Litvania!
The goal was to stay up until ten o’clock and adjust to the new time zone, so we walked down Vilniaus Gatv? (gatv? means “street”) and up Vokie?i? Gatv? (“Street of the Germans”) looking for dinner. There is a very popular chain of restaurants in Lithuania, ?ili Kaimas, that has loosely modeled itself in a kind of TGI Fridayesque fashion, only instead of jalapeno poppers and buffalo chicken salads, they serve traditional Lithuanian fare, and instead of Americana, they are full of carved wood and farm implements. And instead of employing cheerful servers in red suspenders festooned with button pins, they have have a cadre of surly teenage waitresses in plaid miniskirts.
It ain’t the land of customer service.
(But it is a land of contradictions, because when it gets cold in Vilnius, they bring you a fleece blanket so you can stay warm and still eat your dinner on the sidewalk terrace.)
The ?ili Kaimas restaurant in which we chose to partake our very first Lithuanian meal happened to have a fake tree growing up from the basement and a caged rooster in its main vestibule. We ate heartily of potato pancakes, crepes with chicken and mushroom filling, and meat filled dumplings with sour cream (“kold?nai”), and slaked our thirst with milk, Sprite, and Lithuanian beer.
After dinner, we walked around a bit, just taking in the people, the architecture, and all the little details that natives take for granted but that were, for us, the equivalent of a trip through the looking glass.
I was particularly smitten with the all the picturesque little courtyards tucked away behind stone walls off the main streets. The last time I visited Vilnius (in 1994), it was late winter and the post-Soviet era cityscape was bleak and gray. But in August of 2013, the pastels of the baroque and neoclassical Old Town buildings popped against a striking blue sky, flowers spilled out of window terraces, and lush vines snaked along stone courtyard walls and passageways.
One of us nearly got run over by walking in the bike lane, and another stone cold busted on a cobblestone street. But we were finally in Lithuania! And it was good.Subscribe to the blog. (It's free!)