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Expedition Edition 8: Vilnius, Lithuania

Maggie and I traveled from Split, Croatia to Vilnius, Lithuania (somehow that was a three-flighter) to visit the Motherland. To be a little more specific, my grandparents fled Lithuania in the 1940s, stayed for a time in Germany (where my mother was born), and came to the U.S. in the early 1950s where they settled in a Lithuanian neighborhood in Chicago. This was my first time visiting Lithuania, and I regret that I took so long to do so. It's a beautiful country.

This trip coincided with the anniversary of the passing of my mother who died on October 2nd of last year. It has made visiting Lithuania emotional; at times a flood of enjoyment and at others a little more somber. I'm glad we are here for the occasion.

If you don't know much about Vilnius, it's the capital and largest city in Lithuania, and has an Old Town that was marked in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It's a very walkable and very pleasant place to be, and is bursting at the seams with churches of all different styles. The all-brick St. Anne's (first photo) is a favorite of mine, but the interior of the Church of St. Peter and Paul can't be topped. This city is worth a visit from tourists with no familial connection to it, and from walking around, it looks like it's starting to be recognized that way.

We also had the opportunity to meet up with distant family members who were able to give us more insight into the city and surrounding countryside. My mother's cousin's husband's sister, Angele and her niece (but not really), Rita took us to the near-by island castle of Trakai, where we viewed historic artifacts and picked up a few kibinai, which is a food popular with the Karaite ethnic minority in Lithuania.

We then traveled with Angele and Rita out to visit Rita's cousin (but probably not really) Tomas and his family in the small town of Simnas. They had an expansive property filled with so many apple trees, that they started using some of the apples as fertilizer for their potatoes. Did I tell you how much Lithuanians love potatoes? They were gracious hosts, and it was a great experience to see the Lithuanian countryside with people who knew it.

That night, we also made it back to Vilnius in time to watch the Vilnius Rytas basketball team take on and defeat the team from Malaga, Spain. It was the first game of the EuroCup season, and we sat in a group of almost entirely Lithuanian military. Glad they get out every once in a while.

Lastly, we met up with my mom's cousin's grandson, Naglis, and his girlfriend, Goda, and they showed us a few sites in the Vilnius Old Town we had yet to see, including a fountain that you could control with your hands. I also finally got my first kugelis of the trip, which is sort of a potato pudding that comes covered in bacon and sour cream (like just about every traditional dish here).

We're now renting a car to drive to the Lithuanian coast (on the Baltic Sea) and visit the towns of Nida and Palanga.

The photos are below and thanks again for reading!

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