When we arrived at the Vilnius airport on Saturday night, we were completely surprised to see Alina and Karolis, two of the Simučiai family that I spent a lot of time with in Vilnius. They were so nice to meet us there, and then to drive us to our hotel and go out to dinner with us. They're absolutely wonderful. Out at dinner, Sara enjoyed my favorite Lithuanian meal: Cepilinai. Literally translated as "little zeppelins", these meat-filled, potato-dough balls are boiled until they float, then topped with sour cream (which is superior in every way to its American counterpart) and little bacon bits.
We walked around a little bit that first night, but it was cold and dark, so after we went back to our hotel (and watched an episode or three of Castle), we went to sleep. The next morning I got up a little before Sara and took some pictures around town, including this one of the Cathedral and its bell tower.
I wandered into Užupis ("beyond the river"), a self-proclaimed sub-republic of Lithuania. They have their own constitution, as follows: (It's available in about 10 languages, right there on the street.)
We saw this beautiful Russian Orthodox church. I'd forgotten how much Russian influence there was in religion for so many years, but the architecture is lovely.
On Sunday, we were hoping to go to church and see some other people there, but we were told that it was a conference (most likely, showing reruns of the church's General Conference, which takes place in Salt Lake City every six months, but the people in Lithuania watch much later due to time zone difference). That said, Sara wasn't feeling well enough to sit through hours of Lithuanian gibberish, so we hopped on a bus and traveled about 30 minutes to Trakai, this lovely castle-on-an-island-in-a-lake.
It is a true symbol of Lithuania, one that was lost for quite some time. It was considered to be one of the best-defended locations for a castle--after all, who would attack from the lake? Until, of course, the winter set in and the lake became a solid platform for all types of assault. I don't know exactly when it fell into disrepair, but in the 19th century the residents of Trakai would regularly steal building materials from the castle for their own houses, etc. It wasn't until the early 20th century when the historical value of the building was realized and the government started investing in its restoration.
As a shout out to our friends (whom we've not yet met in person) Paul and Heidi, we too shot bows on our Eastern European vacation. (I opted for the crossbow.)
The museum at Trakai had about a dozen or so different hoards of coins that were found, which just looked pretty.
It was getting dark in Vilnius (at around 4 pm) as we walked by the main tower of the university, and Sara shouted "NUOTRAUKA," which means "PICTURE," so I took one. I taught her a little bit of Lithuanian to make it more interesting: Labas (hello), iki (goodbye), ačiu (thank you), nuotrauka (picture), and šitas mano bičas (this is my buddy, pronounced "shit-uhs mahn-oh bitch-as").
Here is the crown-shaped dome atop St. Casimir's cathedral in the Old City.
We were both excited to go to a Baltic country where they knew how to make winter-wear (and where they used some currency that is cheaper than euros), and shop we did. Sara got some gloves and earrings and this pretty hat. (Tyler got some pot holders from Alina and some scarves.)
On Monday night we had some time to kill, so we hopped a bus and rode out to the area in which I served as a missionary for about eight months. We came across the Mormon church there, which was clearly not as impressive as, well, any of the other churches we saw, but was nicely silhouetted against the fading sky.
We then walked over to the Simučiai house where we had dinner and talked (in half-English and half-Lithuanian). Here is a photo of all of us together.
|Left to right: Virga (friend of Alina's), Karolis, Alina, Mykolas, Tyler, Sara|
On Tuesday morning, we had a little bit of time before our flight, so we took pictures of the stunningly beautiful Church of St. Ann, a Gothic icon in the city.
We then visited my favorite place in the country (and one of my favorites in the world), the Castle Tower of Gediminas (Gedimino Pilis), formerly a guard tower as part of the city's wall, now a museum celebrating Lithuanian independence. They had videos of Lithuanians all over the world singing Lietuva, tevynė mūsų (the national anthem), which had me tearing up just a little bit. (I don't think Sara noticed, though. Phew.)
It was a really short, cold trip, but we had a great time. And it's so easy to get there from Aachen! I hope we can make it back to see it and the other Baltic states a little more thoroughly... and once they've thawed from the winter. Now we need to warm up for our trip to Berlin on Friday! (And I should stop blogging and write my talk...)