It’s been a busy few months here at the new house. First, the folks came to visit, then we had to finish the semester and whatnot and then, just a few days ago, my sister, along with my nieces and nephew, came to visit!
Like my folks, the Fulton Clan was coming from Asia (visiting their friends Johnny and Simone in Hong Kong and our cousins Mitch and Wassana in Thailand) and they were arriving very late on Thursday night. So, in order to make things easier, I rented a larger car (four adult size people and their luggage were not going to fit into our little Toyota) with the license plate of JOB418, which became our title for the entire trip.
So…no problems getting everyone from the airport and aside from one little hiccup trying to get out of the parking lot, it was an easy ride to get home. Of course, by the time we got home it was after midnight to Rasa and Monki were fast asleep and everyone else was tired. I gave a short tour of the place, assigned sleeping locations, and we made plans for the next day.
Friday morning, June 21, we figured a tour of Kaunas was in order. This way we didn’t have to drive much and could take it a bit easy. First order of business? The Jewish Cemetary.
I’d taken mom and dad there when they were in town and they immediatly said “you have to bring Faye here.” So I did. As long as she’s been able to hold a camera, Faye has been interested in cemetaries and this one hit her on a few different levels. “We shouldn’t have started here,” she said, looking around in awe. “I could stay here all day.” We didn’t. We stayed just long enough to make sure everyone saw what they needed to see before heading out on the rest of our adventure for the day.
We hit Akropolis, our local mall which has the architectural distinction of having two other buildings inside it (they were hostorically listed and not allowed to be destroyed during the mall’s construction). This fact intrigued Bailey and Riley so Ifigured they’d want to see it. At the same, time, they were hungry so we stopped for second breakfast to get energy for the next bit.
A quick walk to the Devil Museum was called for as Riley was really interested. She’s into assorted mystical, magical things and seeing as to how this weekend was Jonines (midsummer) it was going to be pretty special! From the Devil museum, we headed over to the Aleksotos lookout, across the longest bridge in the world so everyone could really get an amazing view of my city. We also met some people there from the UK, a future stop on this 57 day around the world trip the Clan is going on, so contacts were exchanged and tentative plans made. We also got to ride the funicular, which is just a cool thing to do. That said, the girl running it was so bored it was almost silly.
Kaunas Castle, santakos park and old town were next on our must see list. These stops included Jessie playing in the former moat, the kids all gathering around a pagan alter, and then trying to lift a 1 ton weight off the ground. This was followed by lunch at the old standby, The Shamrock. It was very strange to watch Bailey order a beer. While he’s still only 20, he is legal here so more power to him. But wow, how strange to watch the kid who only yesterday you were holding during his bris throwing down a Lithuanian brew. Time flies.
Before we finally headed home for the day, we made a quick stop at the memorial for the Jewish quarter in Viliampole (coincidently, former home of the parents of Jerry Siegel, creator of Superman). The evening was spent hanging out, with all the cousins getting to know each other. We tried to make it an early night since we had plans to get up and leave by 7am for a long day on Saturday.
On Saturday, the actual first day of Summer, we had decided to head to the coast and go up to one of the “soft places,” the mystical area of Witch’s Hill in Neringa, near Nida, on the Curonian Spit. This is on the far west end of Lithuania, requiring a short ferry ride to get to the isthmus (yes, it is connected by land, but that connection is in Kaliningrad so this ferry was the only way to go without visas and passports). I was really nervous that it was going to be crowded, due to the nature of the day, but when we got to the ferry port, the line was no longer than usual. What was unusual, though, was Barbora, the grocery delivery service, was there handing out free ice cream cones! Score!!!
Once on the ferry, Faye and the kids stepped outside the car and were blown away by the whole experience. None of them had ever been on a car ferry before and the idea of leaving the car but still moving was enough to fill everyone with a cool sense of adventure. Of course, since the gap at the point is only about 500 meters, the ride only takes about 4 minutes so the experience didn’t last long before everyone was back in the car and we were heading down to Joudkrante.
The hike over the hill was a blast, the kids all running around and taking pictures and just having a great time exploring the forest and ohhing and ahhing over the wooden sculptures. And by the time we reached the end, where there were wooden playground apperati, everyone was in a great mood and ready to play!
It was only a short drive from there down to the bottom of the Lithuanian area, the town of Nida, where, from a sand dune with a huge sundial, you can actually see Russia!
On the way, back we stopped off at the IX Fort, a former military defense position and, later, a Jewish prisoner death site. It is now a museum and memorial, not only for the Jews who were killed, but also for the Lithuanian freedom movement. It was interesting as Jessie, who is 11, really has no understanding of the Holocaust since it’s not taught in school so the whole thing turned into a really cool teachable moment. There was one other funny thing that day. Jessie, whose full name is Jessie Rose McKay, said something about making sure we were all protected. So I said “Absolutely! It’s the JRM security system.” She looked concerned for a second, then she thought she had it figured out – “Jessie, Riley, mommy?” she asked. We smiled back at her “Jessie Rose McKay! You!” Her grin split wide open and we all had a good laugh!
Coming back home, it was after 8 at night and everyone was really amazed how light it was. Bailey couldn’t get over the fact that the sun never seemed to set (and Faye and the girls got a taste of how early it came up since they were sleeping in the living room where we don’t have dark curtains!).
Our final day together, Sunday, was going to be a big driving day. We started off by heading south to Gruto Parkas, unofficially known as “Stalin’s World.” This is a sculpture park where all of the old soviet statuary is now housed. It’s a museum and a historical warning. Jessie, naturally, was more interested in the playground area, but eventually we all made it around the pathways, seeing everything. Bailey and Riley even picked up some cool soviet-era souveners (matchboxes and lighters).
Then it was off to Trakai, the island castle. Riley had written about several years ago for a class project and had said she wanted to go there. Of course by now, she didn’t remember that, but I did! So I reminded her and then it was definitely on our must see list. We got there in mid-afternoon and were able to find a parking spot easily. Okay, so we could have parked closer, but this was something I kept doing all weekend – I would see a spot not too far from where we needed to be and rather than risk it, I just parked. Naturally, every time I did this, there were a bunch of spots closer and it wouldn’t have been a problem. Ah well, we were getting our steps in so it was all good.
We walked around the lake, taking pictures of the castle before stopping at a nearby restaurant for lunch. Jessie had a caeser salad pizza, which, while tasting good, looked very strange and Bailey kept asking for hot sauce, something to give his food a little bit of taste. It’s funny, you never realize how much you’ve assimilated until people come to visit and remind you how bland the local food is. For me, I’m just used to it.
Moving beyond the castle, we did a quick driving tour of Vilnius so I could show everyone Užupis and their amazing constitution and Frank Zappa’s Head. It wasn’t bad, we saw most things, and I only broke about 87 traffic laws trying to get us around the city.
On the way home, I did something, I forget what, and my sister Faye made the obvious comment “you’re just like your mom.” At which point Jessie, following in the family tradition of not realizing what you’re saying, (See: Rasa telling dad to just “keep his mouth shut”) asked Faye: “oh, do you know his mom?” To which Faye replied “Oh, I’ve met her once or twice.” Took about 10 seconds for Jessie to realize what she had said, at which point we again all laughed. To be honest, there was an awful lot of laughter during these three days.
We got home well before the sun set, again, and Monki said good bye to everyone since there was no way she was going to be getting up at 5 the next morning when we had to leave to get them to the airport. Which we did.
The drive back to Vilnius was uneventful, except for the cool pockets of “ground clouds” sporadically placed along the route. Totally surreal to see fog swamps.
I dropped everyone off and made my way back home to drop the rental car and get on with the day. It was a near perfect 3 day adventure. I had the chance to reconnect with family and show them a little piece of my life, including the opportunity for my daughter to spend time and get to know her cousins. Hopefully it won’t be so long before we’re all in the same country again.