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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 54.9, 23.9
We began the morning with one of the best breakfast spreads we've experienced in Europe. Our past tradition had been to maximize breakfast in order to minimize daily eating. Two plates later, we were ready for a tour.
Outside the hotel, we met Rokas and Saulas and a Mercedes-Benz minivan thinking we were bound for a tour. The tour took us straight to Alvydas and Irena's house, where there was—guess— a spread of food. A huge spread of food. And a birthday cake for Barb! It never really stopped from that point forward.
We then, with our interpreter, Jurgita's aunt, set out for Kaunas Castle. It had been reconstructed, but like all castles, met us with a spiral staircase of many steps. We took a nice picture with all of Barb's relatives with the castle in the background.
From the castle, it was off to Old Town, and to St. George's church. This sacred place had been converted into a warehouse by the Soviets and fallen into great physical neglect. Still, there was something beautiful about the place. We all purchased and overpaid for souvenirs to help with the restoration. Deterioration aside, there was a baptismal ceremony going on while we visited.
from St. George's, we headed toward the Old Town Square, where there was a one-on-one basketball tournament (sponsored by Sprite) that didn't really count these things called fouls. These teenagers were referral-ready in a survey of P.E. class. Basketball is serious business in Lithuania.
We then headed to the cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. This edifice was allowed to host services during the Soviet era, which surprised us. Being a Sunday morning, we were able to check in on service in progress. The hymn being sung was of a familiar tune to all of us.
From the Sts. Peter and Paul, we headed down towards the Nemunas river to see the exterior of St. Vytautas that was close enough to the river that it had marks on the side to indicate flood level. We stode alongside the river and then up a set of bleacher like structures that are used for summer concerts.
It was time for a quick breather at the hotel and then back to the van for a trip to the military museum. Walking around the museum, we were able to see a square that once held a Lenin statue in the middle. He gone. Too bad buddy.
There were some sculptures along the entry to the square that were very Soviet, showing muscular heroic worker stuff. At one point, to the side of this square stood the Soviet tomb of the unknown soldier. He gone too. In 1990, a new monument and eternal flame were reconstructed in honor of the unknown Lithuanian soldier. We then entered the museum, which had exhibits from all of warfare, including a North American tomahawk and sparse English commentary. The hall of kings was impressive. The exhibit featuring a downed transatlantic flight from 1933 was especially captivating as it is also being featured at the Balzekas museum in Chicago.
Then it was time for a funicular ride to visit a church that (surprise) was turned into a radio factory by the Soviets. We had heard this story before, pretty much everywhere. Originally built in the early 20th century, the church was gloriously restored in white in the 1990s. We took an elevator to the top and took in breathtaking panoramic views of Kaunas, except for the remains of the Soviet radio factory still standing next door.
We got back in the van and headed past Kaunas sea to a monastery that had already closed.
Our guide had every intention of sneaking us in through the exit doors. The door lady would nothing of this idea. "No monastery for you!" Sigh. Soon enough our trusty van was back to take us to the Kaunas yacht club. Part of the river was dammed for hydroelectric power creating this busy site. We walked around and took in the calm waters.
The highlight of the day was dinner at Alvydas and Irena's house. It was the dinner that never ended. We started with cold borscht, mashed potatoes, and a tray of sliced Lithuanian bacon. Next, came cepellinis (minced meat stuffed potato dumplings) topped with bacon gravy and sour cream. Mmm. We thought we were done. It was time for third cake of the day, a Lithuanian specialty called Sakotis. This was Barb's second cake of the day, but her birthday cake. Whoa baby, it was time for a barbecue. All along, beverages of many sorts and sizes continued to flow. “To your health!” Sigh. Then came the barbecue, salsa, onions, grilled vegetables, more beverages. Jurgita came out with mushroom cookies that she claimed to find in the forest. They were more like gingerbread. After the barbecue and sharing stories
over picture books and gift exchanging, it was time for actual birthday cake. Though it was 9:30, the sun was still shining brightly. In lieu of candles, they brought out sparkers to herald the cake.
Jurgita and Deividas' children were a true delight throughout the evening, even though Jeannette got the riled up and Jake got stabbed and shot with a stick. Their names were Gabija and Nojus.
After a full and fun day, we finally retired to the hotel. Tomorrow we are off to another day of touring and are looking forward to another great dinner with Barb's family in the wine cellar of our hotel.
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