Birthdays: 2021 Edition

IMG_1433Day One

This year, our joint birthdays started on Saturday the 10th of July. Since we had booked a trip away to start on the 12th, and since Monki wanted a party of some sort, we decided to do it on the Saturday before. Rasa got a Barbie cake and we invited most everyone Monki knew to come and help her celebrate.

Unfortunately, almost everyone was busy. The only people who could show up were Rasa’s friend Laima and my friend Simas. Turned out to be just fine since Monki had a blast! She had Simas helping her put together a LEGO set and Laima and Mama to have girl chats with. She was in heaven! And the one kid roughly her own age who was supposed to come but in the end didn’t because he wasn’t feeling well? He sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers right to the door for her. All in all, a really delightful day – and she got a ton of presents besides. We also figured that since we were going away, the best bet was to give her all the presents beforehand so she could play and enjoy them as she wished.

Come Monday morning, Rasa and I decided to have a little fun and bring in a little cake to Monki in bed and sing to her. She was not having it. She had absolutely no desire to be sung to in bed, even if it was her birthday! She decided she’d rather get up and then have a small piece of cake with candles. Fair enough, it was her birthday after all.

I had gotten up early and showered and shaved, which turned out to be a really good thing because after 8am, we had no water. We knew they were going to be working on the pipes, but that was supposed to be weeks ago and it should have all been done by now. Guess what? By the time we were ready to leave, the cold water had returned, so at least I could wash the dishes in the sink so as not to return to a messy house – Rasa would have hated that!

In the end, we had breakfast, made snacks for trip, got the car packed up, and were on the road before 10. I had planned to give Monki a surprise bag*, but of course, I forgot it amidst all the other things going on. It’s okay, she’ll get it next trip.

Rasa Dino ParkOur first stop this time out though, was Dino Park. We’d been there once before and Monki was very excited about going. It’s just outside Klaipėda, where our hotel was, but since we couldn’t check in until later that afternoon, we headed straight for the park, getting there just after noon.

The park itself is…okay. It’s rather overpriced for what it is, but if someone is really into dinosaurs, it would be okay. For Monki, though, I think she confused it with Disneyland. She remembered the face painting, a zipline we had done together, and one ride, a kind of bumper car with a laser-tag style shooting target which, when you hit it, a hammer comes down and hits you in the back of the head (And yes, it’s as unpleasant as it sounds), but that was it. When we got there, she really had no desire to see the dinosaurs, only wanting to redo the things we’d done before.

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The zipline thing had been slightly changed. The one we had done was still there, but there was a new one, a kind of box which you could stand in and it went from one tree base to the next. Except it was incredibly poorly designed, with no way to easily get out at the end and when I went on it, I fell out and tumbled to the ground. I can only imagine if I were 10 or 11. Really, there was no safety precautions in the entire place and the staff were bored high school kids who couldn’t care less – they were on their phones instead of paying attention to the rides they were operating. And I’m not the only one who thought so. It generally gets pretty bad reviews and I’m pretty certain we won’t be going back any time soonDino Park WC

That said, Monki did get her face painted and when she told them it was her birthday, they gave her a balloon (no string, mind you, because they’d been out for a month and no one had bothered reordering). For what they charge at this place, you’d think they could afford some upkeep? But no. I’d guess this is a money laundering or tax dodge scheme because it certainly isn’t a cared for children’s amusement.

We left after a couple of hours, just long enough so we could get to the hotel in time for check-in (not the whole day we had intended to stay there). The hotel itself is one of the tallest buildings in Klaipėda and, at first glance, was pretty impressive. Rasa stayed in the car (we weren’t sure where to park) while I checked us in. With the keycard in hand, I went back to the car and we went to try and find parking. The lot where we thought we were supposed to park was not it.

This is the point where we give Rasa all the props since that parking structure was WAY too small for normal size cars and she maneuvered around it like a champ, eventually getting us out of it and finding a decent place to park in what we assumed was also hotel parking. The signs were confusing at best.

We grabbed what we needed from the trunk and headed to our room, which was on the 17th floor. The elevator system was rather unique (at least I’d never seen it before). Basically, you punched your destination floor into a keypad and then the display told you which of three elevators to wait for. Once inside the elevator, there were no buttons, it knew which floors it was supposed to go to. Rather convenient, actually.

That first trip up, though, both Monki and Rasa experienced something neither was expecting – a glass elevator. After the 6th floor, one wall opened up and you got a beautiful view of the city and nearby harbor. Our room was at the end of the corridor and had a sunken sleeping area, a living room area and a sunken tub. We had sprung for the ocean view and air conditioning, which turned out to be a life-saver, as we were there during a severe heat wave.

One of the reasons we had chosen Klaipėda for our vacation, aside from the fact that it was in country and we could book confidently without worrying about quarantines and lockdowns, was there was a seaside nearby. And what Rasa wanted more than anything else was to go to the beach.

So once we unloaded everything into the room, off we went to the beach. We decided the best location was just across the water to the Curonian Spit. The pedestrian ferry was less than a km away from the hotel and once we got to the isthmus, it was a little more than a km to the Baltic sea itself.

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One of the problems we encountered fairly quickly on our walk there, though, was that Monki’s “legs got tired.” This meant that in the severe heat (mid 30s celsius and 50+% humidity) I was carrying her as well as my 5kg backpack for those 2km or so. But when we hit the sand, all was right with the world. Since this was just an exploratory trip, we hadn’t really brought any beach supplies with us. Therefore, Monki, fully embracing being 5, stripped off her dress and ran headlong into the surf** wearing only her panties. She had a blast! Rasa and I, on the other hand, being more practical adults, hiked up our clothes and just jumped around, trying not to get too wet (we only partially succeeded).

On the way back to the ferry, Monki’s legs were even more tired so again, my shoulders were the preferred mode of transportation. When we got back to the hotel, we realized we had brought a ton of sand with us so a quick rinse and food order from Bolt (a food delivery service) and we were right as rain – except for one thing: we didn’t have her nightly drink and there was no ice cream. Off I went to the local grocery store to get both.

Being on holiday we decided to let Monki stay up late to watch the sunset on her glorious 5th birthday.

Sunset

Day Two

Our first full day of vacation was also my birthday! Wahoo!! We got up and headed down to breakfast, which we had purchased with our room. The breakfast was American buffet style, but “American” in the same way most American things are here…as if someone was playing a game of telephone and it went through a dozen interactions before they finalized the ideas. The food was weird – quiche with mushrooms but no scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon instead of strips, pancakes and waffles, but no syrup. And none of it was particularly warm or tasty. But it got the job done. Although, were it not included and we had to pay $12/per person per day, I think I would have been pissed.

Originally, when planning this trip, we had figured on taking the car and driving to a beach a little further north, but upon both seeing the beach the day before (and the thought of trying to deal with that parking lot again) we figured we could just leave the car where it was and frequent the same beach. This time, though, we were going to be a little smarter about it – we brought Monki’s scooter!

The advantage here was that she could stand on it and we could pull her along so if her “legs got tired” I wouldn’t have to carry her! So much better! The only downside of the day was the bugs.

Now, when I say there were bugs, I don’t mean an annoying sand flea or two. No, the bugs were so bad it even made the news. They were everywhere. These weren’t dangerous bugs, just annoying. And the cause of several freak-outs when they decided to land on a newly minted 5-year-old. The tears started even before we got on the ferry but thankfully had calmed down by the time we hit the water. Which was good since my folks called while we were traversing the tiny bit of lagoon which connected the sea to the port side and proceeded to sing a wonderfully enthusiastic (if off-key) rendition of Happy Birthday! The people on the ferry with us were amused.

Our plan had been to spend all day at the beach – we’d brought snacks – but in the end, the combination of heat and insects was too much and we left after just a few hours. Which isn’t to say we didn’t have fun, but when you spend more time brushing away flying things than actually having fun, it’s probably time to go.

We headed back to the hotel and again ordered Bolt for lunch. For the second time, the delivery driver got lost and the food just wasn’t up to snuff. We order Bolt fairly regularly at home but here, it just didn’t deliver (no pun intended). So we vowed no more, but ate what we had before crashing out for an hour or so. It really was that hot.

Upon waking, we decided to explore the town a little and get a bit to eat. It was my birthday, after all, so a birthday dinner was in order. We found a great place called Urzaa on the waterway which goes through town and a really nice meal. Unfortunately, by the time it was over, we were much too full for dessert. So, we walked around a little more and headed back to the hotel.

When we got back, Monki plotted something with Rasa and they both took off to the store I had been to the night before. Upon their return I was instructed not to look or anything, just keep reading my book, so I did. When I was allowed to look, they had festooned a piece of chocolate cake with candles and were ready to sing me happy birthday! It was glorious! Just the way a birthday day should end up!

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We again watched the sun set while eating cake and ice cream and then hunkered down to sleep for the night, exhausted but happy.

Day Three

While planning this trip, we went through several various itineraries. First, we figured we’d do the Dolphinarium and Sea Museum one day and on the final day, on our way out of town we’d stop at the Klaipeda Zoo. After Dino Park, we figured another day in the heat, looking at animals, wasn’t a good use of our time, especially a small, not well-kept place with no bathroom facilities to speak of. Then we decided to save the Dolphinarium for our last day, after we checked out of the hotel, leaving us an extra day to spend at the beach. But after our bug infested beach day, we changed plans yet again, and decided to spend our third day at the Dolphinarium.

Once that had been decided, Rasa went looking for a way to get there. The easiest was to take the ferry across to the isthmus and instead of going straight through the woods to the beach, turn right and walk the 2km or so to the attraction. Of course, since walking was going to be uncomfortable at best, there were other options, including a mini train and a horse drawn carriage. At the same time, Rasa wanted to take a boat ride someplace, a boat ride other than the ferry itself.

Our ride to the dolphinariumAs we walked down to the ferry that third morning (after yet another disappointing breakfast), we were called out to by a man in a sea captain’s hat. Turns out they had a little ferry service of their own, running people right up to the front door of the Dolphinarium. Sold! Rasa got her boat ride and we got to our destination with no muss, no fuss.

Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect! We got off the boat, bought our tickets and walked right into the arena where the dolphin and sea lion show would be taking place. Yes, masks were required and distancing was practiced, but this was the only place where it was enforced our entire trip.

The show itself was fun. There were 5 dolphins all doing tricks for about 25 minutes. If there was a theme to the show, I couldn’t tell you what it was. On the projection screen behind the trainers were English and Russian translations of what was being said in Lithuanian over the speakers, but even so, it amounted to nothing more than some basic dolphin facts (and poorly spelled/grammatically incorrect at that). Two sea lions came out for the final 5-7 minutes of the show, where there was something about cleaning up the beach but it was done so vaguely as to be almost non-existent.

The best thing about the show, though, was watching Monki watch it. Yes, she’d seen dolphins before, at Sea World before she was 1, but here it was really her seeing them for the first time and it was wonderful. She was so excited. Excited enough that we stopped at the gift kiosk on the way to the Sea Museum and she got herself both a blue and a gray dolphin plushie, which were the hits of the vacation for her.

In the Sea Museum, which is housed in an old military fort, the first thing we did was the aquarium. The aquarium was a bit…odd. There were penguins and pelicans outside but once you got inside the building, there was large a central aquarium you could look down into (and see an underwater tunnel running through it) but the self-guided pathway took you upstairs where there were no live exhibits. Instead, there were various dioramas of extinct and dead creatures. Those of you who know me, may know of my extreme uncomfortableness around taxidermy creatures so this was no picnic for me. Monki wasn’t so keen on this part either. There was nothing for her to interact with.

Thankfully, we were eventually led back downstairs to where the actual fish were kept. The conceit of this particular aquarium is it’s all fish found in the nearby environs, so that was cool. But honestly, there With Doryweren’t that many variations. The best was a blue tang, which Monki immediately identified as “Dory,” that followed her around the tank. As long as she was standing there, this little blue fish wouldn’t stray too far away. But that little blue fish wasn’t her favorite. Nope, that honor belonged to the plekšnės (flat bottom fish). She laughed so hard when she saw them she made other patrons happy. From there, our path led to the basement area, where we did indeed go through the underwater tunnel.

Heading out from there we actually found ourselves outside the building. Around the back were several water-filled pens where a number of seals and sea lions were playing. At least they were until Rasa walked up. See, Rasa has this beautiful big white hat, a fashion model hat. It’s lovely and she looks great in it. And, apparently, it’s also terrifying to pinnipeds. When she poked her head down to look at them, they all stopped what they were doing, looked up at her, and then dove for cover, running to the furthest corners of the enclosure. One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen an animal do.

We realized we should probably move along pretty quickly at this point, and decided to forego the rest of the museum, which is actually pretty cool, but not in the heat and not with a 5-year-old. Instead, we decided to head back to the hotel and cool off a bit. Now came the decision how to get back. We could wait around for the same boat which brought us, we could walk, or we could take the train. The train won out and away we went, making it back to the dock in time to buy a slushie for Monki (who had first discovered them the day before and really liked them) and grab the ferry to the mainland.

At the hotel, we cooled down a bit and decided it was time for lunch and since we weren’t going to deal with Bolt anymore, it was back to the touristy areas. We settled on a place called Katpėdėlė, which had a boat on the water as a dining room. We took a seat and ordered our food. Then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Then Monki’s meal showed up. She ate. There were two other parties in the place.

We kept waiting. And waiting.

I called over a waitress to ask about our food. She didn’t speak English and just nodded at me.

I went downstairs to where the entire waitstaff was just hanging out. I asked our waitress where our food was (to be clear, she hadn’t come to check on us or anything). She said the kitchen had told her there would be a wait. We’d been there for about 40 minutes at this point. I went back up and told Rasa I was done waiting. As we were leaving, they tried to bring us our food. I rejected it, paid for Monki’s plate and our water and we left.

I just want to say something about service in Lithuania. It’s generally crap. This is not just me, mind you. This is the opinion of anyone who’s ever eaten elsewhere in the world. In fact, as we were leaving, Rasa told me that when she had taken Monki to the restroom, she had overheard the waitstaff complaining about some customers who had left after spending 30 minutes just waiting for a menu. The staff thought they themselves were in the right and the customers should have just kept waiting.

When people ask me what I miss about America, aside from my friends, “service’ is almost always my number one answer.

We left there and went for soft serve for lunch instead. Much better choice. The heat was still getting toWalking in the city us, so we headed back to the hotel where both of the adults again crashed out while the small child kept herself entertained. Whew! Upon waking we figured it was time for another beach break.

Fearing another outbreak of bugs, we just wanted to go and dip our feet into the water. We packed lite and headed out. Ironically, like our first night’s foray, it was perfect. There were no bugs to speak of and the water temperature was bathtub warm. It was the perfect way to spend an hour or two of our last night on holiday.

The next morning, we woke up, had another mediocre breakfast and packed up for the ride home, which was gloriously uneventful and cool in the car’s air conditioning.

Our little holiday had come to an end and we were all ready to get home.

But soon, we’ll be ready to do it all over again, maybe in a more exotic locale.

Stuffed animals in bed

*A surprise bag was something my folks came up with when we were traveling a lot as kids. The basic idea is things to keep you busy while on a trip – a book, toy, some candy/gum, paper and pens, etc.

**thankfully, the beach here stayed about .5 meters in depth for about 150 meters from shore.

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