18 December 2011

Christmas In Lithuania

A pretty girl selling handmade treats in Old Town Vilnius outdoor market.

Do you have a favorite Christmas? One you know you'll never forget for as long as you live?

I do.

In 2009, my husband was working in Lithuania and couldn't leave his job to come home for the holidays. Our family had never spent a Christmas apart, so our daughter and I flew over there to be with him.

I LOVE to fly, but I also think it can be excruciatingly stressful, especially if there are connecting flights.

Because my flight originated from a small airport in Hancock, Michigan (CMX)--so small, in fact, that if I call there, I might end up speaking directly to the airport manager--I was able to reschedule my flight to Boston and get a step ahead of the approaching storm that a day later would close and disrupt flights out of many major American and European airports. Whew!

As my daughter and I stood in line to board our 9 p.m. Christmas night flight out of Boston Logan to Schiphol in the Netherlands, the TV monitors flashed breaking news that the "underwear bomber" had just been arrested at Detroit Metro. Oh Great!

I was never so glad in my life when we finally boarded and were in flight.

Traveling on Christmas Day was super fun; complimentary wine and snacks and flight attendants in Santa caps and reindeer antlers; sleeping for a few hours and waking up in Amsterdam. How cool is that?

Neither of us had ever been to Eastern Europe. Were we in for a surprise! Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, would soon charm us with its medieval architecture, fabulous food and drink, and attractive exchange rate that made some purchases only slightly more expensive than Mexico.

View overlooking the city from our apartment.

My husband's apartment was IKEA modern with a woodstove and a spiral staircase and had a great view of the capital city.

Our VIP seating for viewing New Year's Eve fireworks.

I learned that Lithuania gained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1990. Remnants of the occupation are most notably present in the unattractive, Soviet-built apartment buildings, some that even today remain unfinished. Not surprisingly, graffiti is everywhere, which in itself poses the question: is it art or vandalism?

Graffiti on a wall in Old Town.

Christmas graffiti on a wall near the U.S. Embassy.

More graffiti on lovely painted doors.

Except for weekends, my husband had to work for much of the time we were there. Since downtown was within walking distance, we explored the city during the day, and he took us us around by car in the evening.

The main street in Old Town.

Once you get off the main streets, side streets look like this.

One of the many tunnels that connect the streets in Old Town.

A touch of color brightens dark, drab winter days.

Lithuania is known for its amber and linen. Lithuanian chocolate is to die for.

If you think of Lithuania as a country of women in babushkas (though I'm sure you'll see them in the country), think again.

In Vilnius, women young and old wore fashionable fur coats and tall boots.

Does this look like a remnant of the Soviet era?

Vilnius is a city of stylish and slender women; I don't recall seeing any young women who were overweight.

How in the world does one stay slim with this as a temptation? Notice the empty space.

The local beer was awesome, as was everything else we tried.

One thing you will find in large super markets such as Maxima, are aisles of fresh food, especially cheese, dairy, yogurt, bread, and sausage. We hardly saw any pre-prepared, over-processed frozen foods; a couple of frozen pizza brands was about it. Refrigerators are small and people shop everyday.

This is how you buy fish if it isn't swimming in a tank: many meats such as lamb are similarly displayed on ice and out in the open.
Vilnius is a cat city.....

We saw them on signs and buildings.

This is one of the locals who hung out by the dumpsters at our apartment building. Every morning tenants left small bowls of food for the cute little scavengers.

If you're still reading.....thanks a lot. Guess I got a little winded!

All I can say is that I love Lithuania!!! I hope I get the chance to visit again.

Next up, I'll try to post some pictures taken at an outdoor flea market held on New Year's Day in Vilnius. It would have been 'seventh heaven' for anyone interested in inexpensively priced WWII relics and elegant, old world treasures.

Until next time.....