Monday, we returned to the States after a 10 day trip to Lithuania. Now I’m not actually a native of Illinois, but it felt like coming home when we landed at O’Hare Airport near Chicago, plus I've lived here long enough and have the ties to fake it. Also, who doesn't have a little bit of a Thomas Hardy fan inside them?
We headed out on our grand adventure and American Airlines immediately dropped the ball, as the plane provided us had some sort of leak inside, necessitating a delay while they scrounged up another plane. This delay, of course, had a cascading effect, as we missed our connecting flight to Vilnius and had to sit in the Helsinki airport for the better part of a day. Add to the fact that every other modern airline offers individual entertainment units, which Airline did not on this flight, nor on the trip home, and my belief that American Airline sucks was not assuaged.
With an amazing amount of foresight, I phoned Hertz to let them know we were delayed and, lo and behold, the local agent had remained open at Vilnius Airport to ensure we got our rental car – he also upgraded us at no charge to a larger vehicle, which was a true lifesaver. (Note to American Airlines – THAT is good customer service.)
We spent several days at my parent’s house outside of Alytus, helping them celebrate 50 years of wedded bliss (or facsimile thereof). With all 5 siblings, attendant spouses and children as well, things were not all peaches and cream, with the inevitable tension and bickering. Overall, however, we made do and enjoyed a nice celebration. Spending those days in bucolic splendor once again makes me want to move to the countryside (having room for a vineyard would just be icing on the cake). Plenty of Lithuanian food and wine (as well as many other cultures) kept us content and placid. Despite not running a step and gorging myself repeatedly, I actually came home lighter than I left, most likely due to becoming dehydrated on the plane trip home or, as Laima suggested, not running meant I had lost muscle tone, replaced it with fat, and therefore was lighter. I'm sticking with the Cepelinai Diet as a miracle weight-loss option.
I also finally got to try out some basic paddleboarding, as my brother had brought his windsurfing board to use on the lake - awesome sport, will now be looking for an old windsurfing board to replicate this experience!
After several days of rural enjoyment, we headed for the port town of Klaipėda, where Laima’s parents own a beautiful apartment smack dab in the heart of the Old Town. You'd have to experience it to believe it when I tell you that there is nothing more confusing than driving in Lithuania, which literally has a sign posted for each intersection, statistics for how dangerous a section of road is, a name for each little rivulet that passes underneath, but cannot post a route number, speed limit, or arrows towards the airport. But I digress. When we got to Klaipėda, Gaigai discovered a map of sculptures scattered about, so we spent several days on a very enjoyable treasure hunt peeking into obscure corners to find all the pieces, 23 in all! We also got in a side trip to Raganų Kalnas (Witches’ Hill), a beautiful dune covered with a forest and endless large wooden sculptures. On another day we took the ferry over to the Baltic Sea, where we were rewarded with an opportunity to pick up small pieces of amber that had been washed ashore, great fun for all of us and a true souvenir. The Tall Ships Fesyival also coincided with our visit, truly impressed by the size of some of these sailboats!
Heading back to my parents, we spent several more days unwinding and preparing to head back to the States. I must say that overall, Lithuania seems cleaner than when we visited several years ago, the people a tad less surly (really, would it kill the Lithuanian population to crack a smile?), and the drivers much less manic. The kids were troopers, hiking endless miles to look at sculptures, sitting on planes and in cars with minimal complaint, and schlepping heavy backpacks (did I mention we went carry-on only?) wherever we dragged them. I really am the luckiest man alive, with an amazing wife and four of the greatest kids any man has ever been blessed with. Ask me again after a couple of days at home though.
The trip home was completely uneventful, though since we were all exhausted, it was still difficult. I must say that American somewhat redeemed themselves by the food on the return flight (amazing, right?) by serving delicious ravioli for dinner and then individual deep-dish pizzas as a late snack before landing. Even the surly service by an angry cabin crew could not take away from a surprisingly tasty treat. So American, even though you suck, you suck a little less than I normally think.
It’s good to be home, somewhat pleasant to be back to work, and I’m looking forward to getting back on track with the blog. LOTS of product reviews over the coming week or so!