So for the last few weeks, starting on Rasa and my anniversary (April 23) through to the morning of May 14th, my folks have been visiting us. I previously wrote a bit about the first few days but I wanted to catch up and speak a bit about the whole trip.
Unfortunately, when people are visiting, it throws your whole schedule out of whack and I wasn’t able to get as much writing done as I would have liked. Thankfully, though, mom did. So I’m going to do something I’ve never done before on here – co-author a piece. Using mom’s facebook posts as a starting point (you’ll see her notes in red), I will comment, add, reflect, and ponder my own thoughts and feelings on the three weeks.
On Thursday night, April 25th, I got to do one of the cool things you get to do when your parents are around – show off. In this case, it had to do with the premiere of the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Avengers Endgame.
Now, obviously, I’ve been waiting for this one for a while but due to a series of circumstances I was able to not only get tickets for myself and my movie going buddy Simas, but also an extra so I could take my dad along. And…I was going to be introducing the film on behalf of Comic Con Baltics! Pretty cool, huh?
On Friday, Rasa and I had to go out to take care of some things. Of course, we could have taken Monki with us but we did have built in grandparents available so we thought we’d try them out. We even gave Monki the option.
“Do you want to go with us or stay with Bubby and Pa?”
“Bye bye mommy, bye bye daddy.”
So that was that. We were able to go and take care of business.
Coming back home, I needed to go to our old place to make some repairs before we handed back the keys, and I took mom and dad with me. Aside from needing the help, it was interesting to see dad’s face when he realized just how small our old place was. At about half the size of the new place, dad was amazed how we lasted there for almost 3 years. It took a few hours (and liberal amounts of wood putty and silicone) but eventually we got the place in shape and headed back home.
With this task completed, all we had to do was hand over the keys and we would officially be moved in to our new place for good. Yay!
Saturday, we decided to try and get a little bit of sightseeing in. The folks had been here for several days and we really hadn’t seen anything, so, since the weather was cooperating, we hit up old town.
It was a lovely day for a walk, and it was fun to show the folks the castle and rotusé, where we got married. Monki wanted pizza for lunch so we tried P.Jazz, but the fabled lack of customer service was a bit much for our vistors so, even better, we ended up at Shamrock, one of my old stomping grounds, and Monki got her pizza (which she didn’t eat becuase it didn’t look like a regular pizza).
On our way back home, we also found a statue in honor of A. Mapu, who was a Jewish novelist. The next day, Sunday, I took mom and dad on a driving tour of the rest of Kaunas, including Vilijampolė, site of the former Jewish Ghetto. We also made stops at the Jewish cemetary, Soboros on Laisves Aleja, and even over to Aleksotos, home of the longest bridge in the world.
After having seen some real world sights, the time came for some virtual ones. Simas has a virtual reality rig which he can travel with (it’s not exactly the most portable of set-ups, but he makes it work. And he decided that since we now had the space, he’d bring it over and show the folks.
It was really cool. And a fascinating experience. Now, I’d played with it before, and dad had a little experience, but mom never had. So we tried them both on the Plank and they both backed out. Their lizard brains overwhelming the reality. Interestingly, though, for Rasa, who is terrified of heights, the opposite was true. When she put the rig on, she immediately understood she was still standing in her living room and was able to just enjoy the experience and even took it further than any of us, flying around and then drawing in a 3D environment. She enjoyed it so much we’re actually planning another evening of it!
Come Monday, we decided to actually get out of town. Here’s what mom had to say:
I know that it has been about a week since I posted. But as most of you know, these few weeks were primarily to be spent with Jaq, Rasa and Monki. That was the most important thing. Touring was secondary to spending time with the family. So with that being said, we did do some touring shows travelling.
On Tues, the 30th, We went to Trakei. This is a community just outside of Vilnius. It has an honest to goodness castle in the middle of the lake. It’s about 600 years old. Of course Jaq called to make sure that it was open that day. We got there and it was closed so we just walked around. It was really cold. We had lunch at the place where Kibines were started and invented. Jaq and I both posted about that. Monki is the best little girl. (Not that I’m biased or anything). Never fusses, sits in the car and just amuses herself and us. We went home after lunch.
The next day, Jaq, Howard and I drove to Gruto Parkas. While Lithuania was under Soviet rule, were statues of Soviet leaders everywhere. Lithuania declared its independence in 1991. During the past several years, all of these statues have been removed and placed on a piece of land donated by a private citizen. This is so people will go and say Never Again! Howard thinks that it is a park commemorating the Soviets. Lots of statues of Lenin and Marx and others. There is a small section that shows the Partisan heroes. Very, very interesting.
My favorite part of the park is inside one of the museum spaces where they have a display dedicated to the Soviet space program, including a statue of Yuri Gagarin.
The next day was my birthday. We stayed home and then went to the mall where we had Chinese food. Rasa had her Sushi. She was happy. The food was so good and plentiful that we had leftovers a couple of days later. It was a lovey day.
The mall is called Mega – home of the largest aquarium in the Baltics – and the restaurant was Ganbei City. Mega is Monki’s favorite mall because it has a train which takes her all around. This time, Bubby and Pa went with her, leaving Rasa and I free to look for a dress for her to wear to an upcoming academic conference.
Friday dawned sunny, windy and chilly. Then As usual these days. It became overcast as the day progressed. We had a 4 hour drive to Riga, in Latvia, to get the ferry and then cross thru the Gulf of Riga and then the Baltic Sea to get to Stockholm. By the time we got to Riga, after travelling thru some beautiful countryside, it was raining. We were fortunate to have handicapped parking in the first spot. So we schlepped our stuff and went into the terminal. I was shocked when I saw the ferry. It was huge. I was expecting, I don’t know what, but this was not it! The crossing takes 18 hours. There are 12 decks. You would have thought you were on a cruise ship, except for the differences which I’ll explain later. So we boarded. Jaq got 2 rooms, right across each other. They were inside cabins—this was a first of many firsts. Opened the door and there was a twin bed on the bottom and a pull down for the 2nd person. Now this is a visual – who was climbing up? Me or Howard? We went to the concierge desk, which is the info desk and asked to change. No problem. We changed to a cabin with 2 twin beds. We even had a fake window with a lighthouse on it. Another first! The crossing takes 18 hours!!!! You are charged for everything. No free lunch on these crossings. There is a large buffet for dinners and breakfasts, there is a more more formal dining room and there is a small deli type place. There are a couple of bars and 4, count them, The ferry holds up to 2200 people and 400 vehicles. It really is quite large. There was not much to see on the sea, especially since it was pouring.
As for the beds, when Monki saw how they unfolded, all she could say was “magic beds” with a sense of awe and wonder. She was really excited about this, and other things:
The best part was Monki! She had an absolute ball. There was a huge ball pit, with a slide, a quiet room, large sponge pieces for climbing and building, face painting, and little cars that just use the momentum of your body for movement. She did not stop—except when she followed a big kid who went down the slide head first and she face planted on the end of slide! She cut the corners of both lips the piece of skin in the middle of the top gum and had a bump on her forehead the size of Rhode Island! Rasa said CPS would have had a heyday with that one. After cleaning her up and about 10 minutes of quiet time, she was back in the game. We had such a good time just watching her. The kids went to their room around 9:30. We went to the showroom area to see the show. Another first. It lasted 15 minutes and if you weren’t in the first row, or on the step up, you couldn’t see. Everything was on one level. By this time, we were tired so it was off to bed with us.
We woke up Sat. morning to such a beautiful sights. The water, the coastline, the islands. I was not aware that there over 30 thousand islands in the Swedish archipelago. The scenery alone was worth the trip. Jaq met us for breakfast in the formal dining room. It was a higher end buffet, white tablecloths etc. We sat by a window and just stared at the coastline. Rasa and Monki were still sleeping.
I did try to wake them, including going back to the cabin several times, but in the end, figured it was best to let them sleep.
They joined us a while later and at 10:30 we docked in Stockholm. Our time there was limited—only 6 hours. So we had decided to do a city tour on the Hop on-Hop Off and to tour the Vasa Museum. It’s about a ship that sank in Stockholm Harbor in 1628 on her maiden voyage, was discovered 333 years later. Howard’s reaction was, what we are going to see a ship? And he was the last to leave! It was the truly amazing.
I’d been here once before, back in 2008, and had been dying to return. My friend Monika has led numerous tours to Stockholm and I kept threatening to come along on one, just to come back to see this magnificent ship again.
We boarded the bus again and continued our tour of the city of Stockholm. We got back to city central, had a bite to eat and waited for the second bus to return us to the Ferry.
On the bus, Rasa turned to me and said “we need to come back – this just isn’t enough time.” And she’s right. I’m glad we got to see what we did and that we got to see it with mom and dad, but it really is close to us. I once flew up to see a hockey game, so coming up for a long weekend shouldn’t be that difficult. We’ll put it on the list!
The ship departed at 5pm. Monki could hardly wait to get back on board and go to the play area. Again, we just sat and watched her. There was also a point where the entertainment crew had games and activities for the kids. She was in the thick of it.
Especially the face painting and seeing Lotte, the mascot “dog” of the play area. The girl who did the face painting came over and told us when she was about to start so Monki could be first in line. All she had been talking about all day was having her face painted again (the first time she was Minnie Mouse, this time she wanted to be a butterfly) so she was thrilled. We also think that same person who was doing the painting was also in the Lotte costume because Monki was the only kid who got picked up and held for the pictures – one of which is now framed and hanging in a place of homor in Monki’s bedroom.
Sunday Morning we had breakfast in the regular buffet. We docked in Riga at 11am. It was a wonderful 48 hours. When we docked, it was again pouring rain, but we were not deterred. We loaded up the car and off we went. We were on our way to hill of Crosses.
We tried to do a “driving” tour of Riga old town first, but the streets were just a bit too confusing for me to drive so we saw a tiny portion of the city before heading back towards Lithuania and the Hill of Crosses.
There are over 200,000 crosses on the hill. All sizes and shapes. Pretty amazing.
For me, it has the effect of saying a word over and over again until it loses its meaning. There are SO many crosses, of so many shapes and sizes (with more being added daily). You can buy a cross on your way to the hill itself (it’s like Stonehenge in that the actual hill is just off the roadway and you have to pass through a guantlet of souvenir stands to get out to it, all of which are selling crosses ready to be implanted).
Monday was special. We went to the University to watch Jaq teach. His first class was taken over by UNESCO who are doing a project on Media and Information Literacy. The chair is a member of the VDU faculty. The woman who presented was from California. We met other faculty members, the Secretary of the dept., the dean etc. All sang his praises. Of course, we were proud. The secretary said that when he told them that he would be there another 4 years as Rasa worked on her doctorate they were thrilled. Then we watched him with his screen writing class. It was really something to see how he conducted the class and the responses during the class. At the end of the class, one of the students (Diana, whose boyfriend reads the blog so may as well mention her name, right?) asked if she could interview him for another class. He of course said yes. She interviewed him and at the end thanked us for having him. She said that he was her inspiration. She said that she had taken either 3 or 4 of his classes. Proud Mama and Papa!
Once again, on Monday the 6th, Rasa and I took advantage of having Bubby and Pa here to go for sushi and to a movie…that’s right! We had a date! We went and saw Avengers: Endgame and sat in the cool recliner seats and had doritos and generally enjoyed ourselves while Monki played with the grandfolks. It was glorious!
Tuesday, Rasa and I and Monki had a girls day. We went to the mall, had a coffee and ice cream and visited. It was nice.
Tuesday night, however, mom and dad learned a thing or two about living in a country with centralized heat when it seemed we ran out of hot water. See, once a year, in summer, the city shuts off the hot water to check the pipes for damage which may have occured during the winter. They do this at various points all over the city and this week just happened to be our turn.
Yesterday, Howard and I went to Vilnius with Jaq. He teaches a class there every Wed. He dropped us off at what he thought was the Jewish Ghetto. NOT SO! We walked a bit, stopped a very nice young lady who spoke English and asked directions. She not only directed us, but walked with us a couple of blocks to make sure we wouldn’t get lost. So after almost an hour, we made it to Old Town. First stop, cuz it was right there, was Holy Donuts. I had remembered it from 3 years ago. We had done alot of walking and he needed a break. So we sat, enjoyed the people and then started again. After much walking and getting lost a number of times, we finally found the entrance to the Ghetto. We walked some more and then decided to go the the only synagogue left in Vilnius. It too was far away but we started our trek. We found the Jewish Cultural Center and then got more directions. As we were about ½ block away, we heard, “I’m getting my steps in”. Jaq had found us. We went to the Shule. It was consecrated in 1903. It has never not been a functioning Synagogue – even during the war years. At that time the pews were removed and a Torah was destroyed, but it was used as medical store. The building itself was left intact. Here’s a little more info on the Shule.
Thursday, Rasa was presenting a paper at a conference, so she was gone the whole day. Jaq and Howard went to the Devil’s Museum. I had seen it last time. It talks and shows how the different cultures in not only Lithuania, but 70 other countries view the devil. Most of the works are from the private collection of a single collector.
This was the second or third time dad and I had gone out on our own. We’d gone for a coffee before the Avengers screening and we’d gone to get our haircut from my regular stylist. That said, “stylist” is a bit stuffy. She just cuts my hair. For dad, it was the first time in some 15 years he’d actually gone out to get a cut done where he spent more than 30 seconds having someone run a set of clippers over his head…and I gotta say, it looked good.
As for the Devil Museum, we had a great time and almost had lunch with Dove (we didn’t, but her office is right next door, so we tried).
On Friday the 10th, we went to Klaipeda. It was about a 2 ½ hour drive from Kaunas. We drove straight to the ferry as we wanted to tour the Curonian spit. Yes another ferry! However on this one, the crossing across the Curonian Lagoon took exactly 3 minutes and we sat in the car. A far cry from the ferry experience of a week ago. After we crossed, we were in Neringa, as this area is called. We went directly to Witches Hill. This is in the little town of Juodkrantė. This is an amazing area in the forest in which witches and different creatures and fairies and devils are all sculpted into the trees. The artwork is truly amazing. However, I am speaking from my visit here 3 years ago. The walk to see the sculptures was very steep.
We stopped at the edge of the entrance (mostly to get a guidebook), opened up the car door and the bugs were so thick that we really couldn’t do anything. As Howard opened the door to get out, Rasa says, ‘just get out and keep your mouth shut’ and then she realized what she had said and was terribly embarrassed. Not us, we just laughed.
But the truth was, the bugs right there were soooo thick that you had to keep everything closed. The car was covered in them. And it was raining!
Of course, once we got back in the car, with the wet windshiled covered with bugs and Monki wanted to see the “wipers on the bus go swish,” so I, in the midst of protests from everyone in the car except Monki, turned on the wipers. The resultant smash and scrape of the bugs as they smeared across the windshield took a while to clean off.
We left there and continued the ride south to Nida. We stopped to have lunch in little place along side the road (Restoranas Senasis Uostas and it was more like in the midle of town, but since “town” was so small, it felt like the side of the road). They had little toy cars for kids to just drive around the restaurant. Monki was in her glory! They even had blankets for guests who were cold.
From there we drove to Nida, the southernmost tip of Curonian Spit. It is a seaside resort that caters to Europeans who come there on holiday. Most Lithuanians can’t afford it. It apparently is cheaper for a family of four to holiday in Turkey, air fare included, for one week that it is for a single person for a weekend in Nida. Nida is a cute little community that has very famous sundial. We got directions on how to get there and drove thru a very narrow road, found the parking area and walked to the sundial.
From there if we looked south, we could see Russia (Kaliningrad), just across a spit of the Baltic Sea. It was easy to see why the Baltic people are so fearful of Russia. They are right there.
From there we drove to a beach, where Monki was absolutely enamored with the sand! She was making sand angels and just having a jolly time. It was hard to get her to come back to the car. When she finally did, full of sand everywhere, it was time for the return trip. On the way back, we stopped to look at the UNESCO Heritage site. We then continued our trek to catch the ferry for the return trip to Klaipeda. The rain had been off and on most of the day and although we had wanted to wander thru old town, it just wasn’t meant to be.
On the way home, Rasa suggested that we stop at the zoo. So we did. This was a zoo like I had never seen when it came to large cats. Neither Howard nor I had seen so many cats in one place. I asked the owner if they were rescue or circus cats, but no, they bought a pair of lions, and tigers and they continued to breed. They even had a liger – a cross between a lion and a tiger. It was fun. Monki had a great time feeding the animals.
For €2 they sold you a loaf of bread. I got two loaves and we went off to feed the goats and various other livestock. Rasa got spit in by a llama and there was a huge buffalo creature which decided that Monki’s finger looked tasty, so wrapped a lip around it. The animal did not actually bite Monki’s finger! I highlight it that way becuase, days later, Monki was still playing for sympathy on the fact that the “cow bit her finger.”
We finally got home around 10pm. It was a great day. And the hot water had actually returned so we were all able to once again take warm showers!
Saturday was family day. We shopped, stayed home and just enjoyed each others company.
Sunday, we went to the Ninth Fort.
Lithuania was surrounded by forts, but the Ninth Fort was famous or infamous for the cruelty and torture given to prisoners. Approximately 30,000 Jews were murdered here. The Fort was built well into the hillside, so it wasn’t always easy to see. There is still a guard tower and barbed wire around a part of the fort. There are memorials to the Jewish population all around. There is also a very large 3 part sculpture that has faces that change with the direction in which you look.
In the evening, we all went out for a final family dinner, this time to Grill London, a local steakhouse. Again, there was a bit of culture clash as things weren’t as expected (we had to ask for steak knives) but overall, it was a wonderful night. Monki was great and mostly sat at the table (we were once again at Mega so she did get to ride the train and look at the fishtank again).
Also, on the way out, Rasa wanted to stop and look at another dress. Sure, the conference had passed, but she saw an outfit she really wanted to try on. She did and looked amazing (so we bought it – there’s always another conference or some function or event where she’ll get to wear it. We might even be able to get out on another date one of these days)
Monday, Howard and I went to Sugihara House.
Rasa drove them since I was at work and, for someone who really hasn’t been driving all that long, she was amazing. Dodging construction and squeezing through really tight spots.
C. Sugihara was the Japanese ambassador to Lithuania. He arrived here in 1939. In 1940, he found hundreds of Jews outside the residence. They were asking for exit visas. Japan was one of the few countries that was still allowing Jews in. The only way to get into Japan, was for Russian to grant access to cross and then Japan had to issue the exit visa for entrance into Japan. Mr. Sugihara was authorized to grant these visas, however, there were so many requesting that he had to go thru the foreign ministry dept. of Japan. They denied him the request. He disobeyed the order and granted over 2000 exit visas. They were only for head of household as wife and children traveled under the dad/husband visa. He was still writing and stamping the visas as he and his family were being transferred to Berlin. It is estimated that he saved over 6000 Jewish families at great fear to himself and his family. He was honored by the government of Israel as a ‘Righteous among the Nations’. If you get the chance, read up on this remarkable man.
Come early Tuesday morning, I loaded up the rental car and me, mom, and dad, took off for Vilnius and the airport, leaving Rasa and Monki sleeping (mostly – mom heard Monki and so went in to say goodbye quickly). The ride to the airport was fine, and we were able to drop off dad with the bags while mom and I dropped off the car then walked back to the terminal. By that point, there was no line so they were easily able to get everything checked through (and mom, packing wizard that she is, had her heaviest suitcase at 22.9kg, just below the 23kg limit!).
Lots of emotions and tears as we all said goodbye.
It was a tremendous visit and I’m so glad it worked out the way it did, allowing Monki to spend time with her paternal grandparents and really get a chance to bond. She really misses “BubbyPa.” And so do we (although it is nice to be able to actually get settled into our new place).
Here’s to the next visit – whenever that may be!