Monday, July 21, 2014

Playing in Lithuania

Alla and I came to Lithuania for a long weekend, starting with a day in Kaunas. Kaunas is the second-largest city in the country, and to be honest I booked it by mistake. I knew there was another place we wanted to see (Trakai) and I got all excited when I got an email about a special deal for a good hotel in Kaunas. Alla straightened me out long ago, but we decided to spend a day in Kaunas anyway just to see the city.

Our travel connections worked perfectly and we got there on the earliest-possible train so we had plenty of time to explore the old town. Our bargain hotel was closer to the train station than to the main tourist area, so we had an interesting walk. Our first impressions of Kaunas were fairly dismal, but the farther we walked the fancier things got. By the time we got to the center of the old town, we were in the midst of expensive designer stores, chic outdoor bistros and lots of brides. Friday, it turns out, is a big day for weddings and bridal parties strolled around the city looking great and posing for pictures. We did a pretty thorough job of covering the main tourist sites listed in our book, though we would have dropped in on a couple of museums if they opened earlier on Saturday. But since they wouldn't open until 11, we jumped onto an express bus and checked into our favorite hotel in Vilnius.

We know Vilnius pretty well, but we've only been here in the winter. It feels a lot different in the summer. Suddenly, for example, there are outdoor bistros everywhere. And the girls are even prettier than I realized. As always, we found plenty to do. There's a music festival going on, and we chose a Chinese choir giving a free concert in a church we like. We chose the choir because we saw them (or another Chinese choir) rehearsing in a Swiss church last year and they pretty much knocked our socks off. The group we saw in Vilnius, the Peiyang Chorus from Tianjin University surpassed even those high expectations. If you ever get a chance to hear them, you certainly should. After the concert, I went to thank some of the choir members and one of them gave me a brochure about the group. I asked if I could buy a CD and she took me off to see the choirmaster, who indeed had CDs but not for sale. They gave it to me as a gift.

On Sunday we took a tour to Trakai, the place I wanted to see when I booked a night in Kaunas. Trakai is an island with a big restored historic fortress. Our guide had lots to say, though we couldn't verify the accuracy of her spiel. As they say, history is written by the victors, and she presented strong Lithuanian pride. Her truth may have been polished a bit by that pride, but she certainly had no lack of things to say and she gave a very interesting tour. As usual for a tour, she skipped over some things we might have liked to see longer and I'd like to come back to Trakai under my own power some other time. There are some little hotels there, and I think it might be fun to spend a summer day swimming in the lake and seeing the castle fortress in more detail.

In between things, we discovered a couple of excellent parks in Vilnius. We've walked past Bernardine Park numerous times in the winter without really noticing it, but when we finally found it this weekend we spent lots of time there with great pleasure. We found the other park because I hadn't looked at a map recently enough to know that it would be overly ambitious to walk all the way to the television tower. Ultimately we got waylaid by Vinigio Park, which we'd thought about seeing but figured it was too far away to bother with. It's huge, and we walked all the way across it by the most direct road. Finally, at the far end, we asked a couple of locals how to get back to our hotel and they gave us a surprisingly-long ride back in their car.

I published a few more pictures from the weekend in this album:

2014-07 Lithuania

No comments:

Post a Comment