Bob and Eva's Adventures

Posts from the “Our Travels” Category

Lithuania by The Round Numbers

Posted on November 23, 2017

All tourists have their own ways of seeing things as they travel. I like to take photographs. Sometimes I develop themes as I go along, very much dependent on what strikes me at the moment. Then I can be on the lookout for subject matter, which makes travel all the more fun. You can probably find round things wherever you go, so what I’ll be showing you is hardly specific to location. But we had lots of fun looking. Circles are very strong design elements and easily catch the eye.

Let’s start with one round thing and methodically work our way up to ten, then throw the gates open to a numberless whirlwind of a finale.

At the Klaipeda harbor, an historic zone under restoration. Scan the QR code for more information.

A box to put things in.

Something to think about.

Two vents.

Bas relief from an outdoor metal sculpture.

Pedestrian crossing. People noticeably take precedence here over vehicular traffic.

An apartment house electrical box – Soviet era.

Outdoor cafe tables.

Another Soviet era electrical box.

Audi car, of course.

Air conditioner units.

Glue holding curb facing failed. Why? Why was it not repaired?

Now let’s see what 6 to 10 have to offer.

Hedgehog planters.

Park bench plugs. Good design. Without plugs the hole would rot out.

Shoe store display. Do these circles catch your eye?

Bench with little back support.

Donut shop in Klaipeda. American influence.

Moulded concrete brick with built-in spacers.

Office file folders.

Sign

Fountain with match people sailing somewhere.

Door keypad. Why a zero and not a ten?

Basement vent. What was there before the board? Why is it now blocked?

Surplus cannon balls?

Mirrors, mirrors on the wall.

Now we’ve reached 10. What can possibly lie beyond?

Pay phone keypad? Why are the 1 and 0 so much larger than the other numerals? Why are the buttons at various angles?

Tiny balcony with no access. Hmmm

Door keypad.

Another donut shop.

Yarn shop.

Insulating brick.

Open.

Lighted steps with protective glass panels.

Church decoration. A shell?

Coins? A minor piece of art?

Entry to Hotel Europa.

MTT manhole cover.

Nonslip steps.

Sidewalk ramp.

Beware the dog!

Now it’s time for a cup of coffee. See next blog post for a few places to go.

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Vilnius – Capital of Lithuania

Posted on November 17, 2017

Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, 1316-1341, founder of Vilnius and expander of the country from the Baltic to near the Black Sea.

Poor Mr. Gediminas had his hands full. Most of his country was pagan, as was he himself, but the German Teutonic Knights swarming in from the west were intent on Christianizing his country. He ordered his pagans to kill any proselytizer. Professing an interest in being baptized, as a good politician might do, he was helped by the Pope to gather in territory from the Roman south. Orthodox folks to the east threatened to kill him if he converted. So he married his son off to the daughter of an eastern Galician Orthodox prince and thus gathered in vast new territory. To make peace to the west he married his daughter off to the Polish king’s Roman Catholic son. Meanwhile he invited citizens of all the mercantile Hansa cities throughout northern Europe to settle his lands and continue whatever religion that pleased them. And so amongst all the political and religious dust, Vilnius was established.

To get his city of Vilnius off to a good start, in 1320 Gediminas built a fortification on a hilltop overlooking the confluence of two rivers. We waste no time in hoofing it to the top.

Our goal is the castle.

The remains of the Gediminas castle and fortifications

It’s quite a climb over harsh cobblestones.

Almost there

View over the new part of the city on the other side of the River Neris.

After leaving the castle we cross a small stream, the River Vilnia, and climb up to another hilltop. There we discover three large white crosses, which we find out are emblems of the city of Vilnius. From this height we have a clear view down onto the tiled roofs of the old town, where we will spend all our time exploring. The way up is paved, more or less: our way down is by steep trail.

We cross the River Vilnia, source of the city’s name and water supply.

We avoid discarding litter, especially over the shoulder.

Somewhat paved route up.

The Three Crosses

View onto the Old Town

We descend carefully.

Along the way, we meet these ladies who are on a religious pilgrimage to the cross.

You might ask where we stay when traveling? Well, we avail ourselves of Booking.com and Airbnb mostly, looking for apartments with decent kitchens, wifi, and preferably with two bedrooms when Suzi is with us. Some places are jewels, some pretty plain. Here’s our apartment in Vilnius, overlooking a quiet plaza, a block off the main square.

We are on the top floor.

Suzi’s bedroom, in royal purple.

Our typical bathroom with inconvenient shower and no place to put anything.

Quite functional kitchen with full fridge, four burner stove, better than average.

Typical European breakfast for us – low carb but tasty.

View from our kitchen across to the pastry shop, Crustum, and a cafe

We enjoy looking out the window, first in the evening when imposing buildings in the distance are lit up, then in the morning as dawn is breaking, when early vendors are distributing their wares and pets are being exercised. Then folks on bikes head off to work, the fountain begins to play and school children with their satchels head off to a long day. Men get their newspapers and taxis fetch their first fares. The coffee and pastry shop owners across from us turn on their lights, open their shutters, place their tables and chairs outside and open their doors for eager customers. The day starts.

Baked goods at the pastry shop, sold by weight. “I’ll take a 100 grams, please, of this and that. And 200 grams of brownies.”

Let’s go downtown and look around.

Restaurant row

Tourists on the prowl

A place to sit a spell

Fine church probably dating from the 15 century during high-flying Hanseatic times.

Tall church in need of a serious facelift.

The famed violinist, Jascha Heifetz, born here to Jewish/Russian parents, lived most of his life in the U. S.

Somehow, Frank Zappa is memorialized in a tiny park where concerts are regularly given. A statue of Lenin here was torn down to make way for Zappa.

Here’s a happy guy.

Three assertive nuns

Three ladies ready to be kissed

Let’s go hear some music.

Lunchtime for the pigeons

We are always getting hungry. Suzi finds a nearby place using her favorite app – Pocket Earth. We probably wouldn’t notice this place otherwise but it surely does serve up some good local fare.

Not much from the outside to beckon us in.

A bit dark for reading the menu but the atmosphere is great and the beer is as good as always.

A late lunch for the guys

A bit of bathroom humor

Up the way apiece we come by one of the large markets, dating from 1906, a fine brick edifice in the style of the day.

Huge indoor market now over 100 years old

I think this means thumbs up, or maybe he’s about to slug me.

Across the street is a whimsical hostel.

Delightful decoration

Now we are hungry again and Suzi knows just where we should have lunch, around the corner at a beer joint.

How would you know that this is even a restaurant – no sign.

Plenty of atmosphere inside

Beer is good for you.

Tall and cold

Cold borscht for me

Potato dumpling for Eva.

Potato fritter for Suzi

Anybody ready for a haircut?

Yup. UPS delivers worldwide. Look at the license plate.

Lovely Poniu Laime Cafe

Three tourists (us) taking a selfie. Note the store hours.

Again it happened. We found ourselves ready for lunch. So we stopped a businessman on the street and asked for a recommendation. He sent us here. How unassuming can a place be on the outside?

Could this be a restaurant?

Restaurant or hotel lobby? We aren’t sure.

Bread and butter. And water! Good start.

Salad.

Main course. These folks sure know how to cook.

After a full day of sightseeing we take in an afternoon coffee across from our apartment. It’s a nice day so we sit outside. At one point someone walks by who looks familiar. Now just how many people do we know in Lithuania – like none. But they recognize us, too. We had met two weeks before on the Curonian Spit, on a sand dune. They live here. What was the chance of our ever meeting again? We had a nice chat. Made our day.

Our pastry shop opposite the apartment.

Too late for even a crumb.

Our days run out. It is time to leave for another country and another capital. Our bus is waiting to whisk us off to Riga, four hours away. We leave sadly.

LUX is the way to go!

But wait! I’m not finished with Lithuania yet. As we went along on our 14 days in Lithuania, we began to develop a few photo themes. I will cover these in the next five short blog posts, so hold on. Latvia is coming soon enough.

Oops, Down the Drain got published ahead of schedule.

Lithuania – Down the Drain, So to Say

Posted on November 17, 2017

While walking the streets of Lithuanian cities, I began to notice the wide variety of drain pipes off the sides of buildings. Some end rather humorously, some quite abruptly. In any event, it was entertaining to be on the lookout for solutions for a draining issue, so to say.


If I were a snake, I might bite you.

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Let’s quit. I’m drained.

Kaunas – The Heart of Lithuania

Posted on November 11, 2017

Why in the world would we ever go to Kaunas? Because our daughter said we should! She had been there some years ago and thought highly of it. Now we, too, agree.

Situated at the confluence of Lithuania’s two largest rivers, Kaunas has been settled for at least 4,000 years. In the Middle Ages a brick castle was built but it was soon destroyed by the Teutonic Knights when they swept through this area in their quest to bring peace, prosperity and Christianity to the pagan locals, under the threat of death.

The castle now undergoing major restoration

About this time, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe, extending all the way to the Black Sea. Though it didn’t last long, the people haven’t forgotten those days of glory. Meanwhile in the 18th century Lithuania all but disappeared as neighboring states nibbled it away, notably Poland and Russia. At the end of WWI it declared its independence and Kaunas became the active capital for 20 years (shortly after getting statehood, Poland up and seized the real capital – Vilnius, near the Russian border). Curiously, in 1897 the census showed Kaunas to be made up of 35% Jews, 26% Russians, 22% Poles and only a minuscule 7% Lithuanians. Now, after WWII, everything has changed and its about 80% Lithuanians and 5% Russians. In 1990, Lithuania was the first to break away from the Soviet Union. The history of this place would give any normal student a massive migraine. Somehow it has miraculously risen from the ashes and we loved the place.

Our first view as evening fades.

As we did on our winter trip to Vienna and vicinity, this time we are taking the bus through the Baltic countries. The roads are smooth, the buses are comfortable and wifi onboard is excellent.

As we near Kaunas we pass many Soviet apartment complexes.

Soviet buildings on the edge of town are being removed as visual and functional disasters.

We have rented a two bedroom apartment just one block from the heart of town, which makes getting around by foot very convenient.

Comfy old apartment with all the amenities of home

Suzi gets the private upstairs room.

Because we are so far north, the evenings are very long, giving us plenty of time the first day to find a place for dinner. Then we walk for miles as twilight slowly descends upon us and streetlamps light our cobblestoned way home.

How lucky to find an underground brewery for our dinner place.

The kettles

A regional specialty with pickled veggies

Just delicious

Showers keep the folks indoors.

The main square with Jesuit Catholic church left, and 16th century City Hall right.

City Hall after sunset

Without too much commentary, let’s take a walking tour around Kaunas and see what there is to see. We love the way English is used so loosely and imaginatively.

Hop Doc, a bar near our apartment

A sidewalk touch of color

Why don’t we have a beer at the rePUBlic?

Should we have stayed at Waffles Inn?

Z Y ~ Y Bar

Careful, you are being judged.

Holy Donut

Heading home to his sweetie, no doubt

Into the church for noontime prayer

It is a bit chilly to go like that.

Geez – this is fun.

Just another icky sale.

Lithuanians on the move

Bike, repurposed

Store for cookware

Eva

Susi

Break Free

Human Industry – Hmmm

Basement Cocktail Bar by Barbar’a

1899 – ready for a facelift.

Up to date

Waiting my turn

I know secrets of the universe.

Touch ID will get you in.

We pass an indoor ice-cream parlor.

We indulge.

The time has drawn nigh. We leave tomorrow for Vilnius. By train.

Our last evening in Kaunas, by the castle ruins

Train station

Our spiffy train. We sit upstairs in first class for an extra buck.

The conductor punches our tickets.

Within an hour we are whisked from old Kaunas to the nation’s capital of Vilnius where more good times await us.

Nida, Lithuania – Wonderful Curonian Spit Beach Resort

Posted on October 6, 2017

Eva has long wanted a vacation on the Curonian Spit, which is known for its wide beaches of pristine white sand, possibilities of finding amber, and a getaway from hoards of tourists. Today she gets her wish. As fate would have it, the spit is split – half belongs to Lithuania and the southern half to Russia, as it is attached to the Russian oblast of Kaliningrad, a territory physically separated from Russia itself.

What a beautiful stretch of sandy beach.

After a few days in Klaipeda, we cross the lagoon by ferry and take a one hour bus ride through heavy forest down the spit to Nida, where we have rented a very nice modern apartment on the edge of the village.

Our flat is on the top floor, the one with the balcony.

Eva and Suzi enjoy the balcony, which overlooks the pine forest and lagoon.

Nida seems to be the coastal playground mainly for Lithuanians and Russians. The local grocery store stocks hundreds of labels of vodka. Just amazing.

Vodka section of the only grocery store in Nida.

The village has been completely modernized since the 50 years of Soviet occupation so we can enjoy every comfort and facility we might imagine. We especially like the well-maintained trails and boardwalks through the pine forests the sand dunes.

One of many boardwalks

In the distance we see a monster sand dune.

Up onto the dunes

A view back onto Nida

We trudge barefoot through the fine sand.

The dune has shifted and buried the trail along the guard rail.

A “pirate” ship comes along and checks us out.

We walk to the far southern edge hoping to see how the border with Russia might look. Unfortunately a “protected nature zone” prevents us from getting too close.

As close as we can get to Russian territory.

This evening we walk up to the highest point of the local dune to see the sunset. In the distance we see a tall Russian lookout post at the border.

Spy tower on the border caught with my telephoto lens.

Sunset over the Baltic Sea

Now this morning we walk the mile down to the Baltic seacoast to hunt for amber.

Morning at the seaside. The blue ovals are dressing rooms. To the left is beach reserved for nudists with a sign in Lithuanian. We accidentally walk through it.

Lots of exposed pebbles look so much like amber, but alas, when dry they are not.

I collect quite a lot of nicely rounded amber colored pebbles along the way. Back at the apartment I do two tests, one with a sharp knife to check hardness, and another by floating the pebbles in salty brine. Unfortunately all samples fail the amber tests. Oh well, there were many souvenir shops around that would gladly sell us all the amber we might want. No, we skip that step. Anything we find, no matter how small, has more value to us than what we can buy.

On our way home from one outing we pass lots of mushrooms, common in the pine and birch forests here.

As usual, we begin to think of lunch. We notice a cafe associated with a campground we are passing out in the pine forest. First we go wash up. Then we find that the cafe is closed. So we head back to town to a quaint lunch spot we had seen earlier, set way back from the street among overhanging trees.

Washroom at the almost empty campground we are passing

Our lunch spot in front of a wooden building with traditional trim and colors

Typically, we start with a soup, here leak and sour cream.

Traditional fare

Cabbage plays a big role on the menu.

Beets and sauces add lots of flavor.

We have spent a fun five days in Nida and wish we could stay longer. Maybe next year.

It’s time now to head downtown and the bus to leave for new adventures.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Black Birds

Posted on September 22, 2017

Back in 1917 an American poet, Wallace Stevens, wrote a poem titled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” that struck a modern cord and became influential. With considerable poetic license I would like to offer my take on seeing “blackbirds” while traveling recently in northern Europe.

Starlings all




The European crow


This wraps up a collection of thirteen images, but there are more! How about four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie plus six bonus birds for decoration? Let’s take a look.

On the ceiling and walls of this coffee house are a total of 13 blackbirds. Really.


Pigeon looks for cooties in beauty salon.

Sorry, buster. The cake’s all gone.

And this is the end of the show.

We Take a Ferry to Klaipeda, Lithuania

Posted on September 13, 2017

After our visit to Lübeck in northern Germany we have choices for getting to Lithuania – fly (no fun), take a bus (many, many slow hours or days through Poland and around a curious chunk of Russia) or take a ferry. Now a ferry has much appeal. It “sails” from Kiel, a city we have always wanted to visit, only an hour north of Lübeck, an important north German port city. We leave in the evening and arrive in Klaipeda the next afternoon, a 19.5 hour experience. We decide on the ferry, our first overnight ferry or ship adventure.

The landmark Klaipeda D and K Towers seem to be floating apart.

Let’s start at the beginning. We have never been to Kiel to really see it so our one night stand gives us a chance to look around. Although it was badly bombed during the war, lots of fine buildings were left standing and the many parks and walkways were left intact. We have a great day of wandering around.

We rest a spell while looking toward downtown Kiel.

There’s nothing like a tall green church spire to tell us we are in an old Hansa city.

Our reason for being here is to catch the daily ferry to Lithuania. It leaves at 8:00 pm but we must board at 6:00. We wonder what we might do for dinner but soon find that we have many of the luxuries of a cruise ship. We are in good hands. We settled in with a beer and a snack of fried dark bread and fried cheese.

We have a choice of bars, dining room with table cloths and wine glasses, buffet and lounging areas.

Our outside cabin is tiny but adequate.

Although the ferry carries room for 400 passengers, there seems to be even more trucks than people. Quite a number of passengers are burly truck drivers, but many are well-dressed vacationers with families.

Three of the five public levels are for trucks and trailers.

We leave the Kiel harbor at sundown.

By breakfast time we know we are long gone from Germany as we can tell from the breakfast menu.

Breakfast buffet features beans, pickles and peas along with other veggies, but also eggs and bacon.

After skimming down the laguna from the Baltic to the heart of Klaipeda, Lithuania’s large and important ice-free port, we deboard and find daughter Suzi waiting there for us. She knows exactly where our apartment is located and suggests we walk the four kilometer distance.

Some of the route into town is not maintained so well for travelers with suitcases.

Our apartment is in a large residential block built during Soviet times, indistinguishable from many thousands of similar concrete structures strewn all over the former Soviet Union. Not pretty on the outside but our flat is renovated and quite airy and fresh on the inside. Here’s our first look.

Our place, straight ahead, right past the Dane River with the Klaipeda sign on top. The harbor, but not our landing spot, is to the left just a few hundred meters away.

Our entry from the inner courtyard

The stairwell is a bit dated. We are located five flights up. No lift.

Does the wiring meet code?

An interior view of our apartment

Suzi was in Klaipeda a few years before and seems to know every street and alleyway. It’s soon dinnertime; Suzi leads us to a favorite eatery where local fare is all they serve and English is unknown.

A favorite restaurant of Suzi

Delicious meats and sauces, beets, cabbage and cukes. And peas.

After dark we roam the streets and by the river.

A lovely evening stroll by the River Dane

Despite occasional showers we roam the Old Town, right across the river from us.

Love those cobblestones

Those rocks are hard on the feet!

A few half-timbered buildings remain.

This brewery is named for the former German name for Klaipeda. It was a German controlled city for centuries.

English creeps in in often humorous ways. German is nowhere to be found.

Public art is often exceptional.

It’s hard to imagine that the Soviet Union crumbled only 25 years ago. All the Baltic states were pretty much run into the ground. Now there is a major rejuvenation and so much is already put back in order. Still, there’s a long way to go but the pace of recovery is astounding.

All will be well in good time.

This is probably what the whole city looked like 25 years ago.

Watch your step!

Praise to the chimney sweep

This fellow is polishing the windows.

The author of a very famous German love song is commemorated with a statue to Ännchen von Tharau.

One of the symbols of the city

Tis lunchtime again so we look for an interesting place to eat. They are rarely hard to find.

Here’s a nice part of Old Town.

How about along here?

Service is swift.

Cold borscht for starters

Then yummy pork and cabbage and beets

It turns out that today is Suzi’s big 50th birthday. We celebrate at a nice looking coffee house.

So many temptations

OK. This doesn’t happen often anymore.

We stroll the new town.

This fellow is credited with bringing the printed book to Lithuania.

During Nazi as well as Soviet times, many ethnic Lithuanians were forced to leave the country. This heart wrenching memorial is in front of the train station.

Sculpture from the 1970’s in a large park devoted to sculpture. It was formerly a German cemetery but the Soviets repurposed the land.

We pass a former Soviet central heating plant.

Heat is transferred to apartment complexes this way, or was in Soviet times.

We came across the German center for business development.

Doing what everybody does – surf the net.

Suzi loves dogs. And cats, too.

Decorative weathervane

Sculptures near the water’s edge

A cruise ship is in port this morning. Asians roam the streets.

Here comes the ferry that will carry us over to the Curonian Spit.

Now today we will cross the laguna by ferry and take an hourlong bus ride down the Curonian Spit to our new home in the seaside resort of Nida, about two miles from the Russian border. See you there.

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