Note to self: pay attention when walking, especially when on steps and curbstones. At the main post office in Kaunas, the last step ends with an extra bump, an inch-and-a-half drop to the paving stones. Didn’t see it. Fell on my face. Thank heavens the camera is okay. My left ankle supports my weight but is somewhat swollen and uncomfortable.

A great way to start off the journey to Lithuania we have been planning for a couple of decades.

My Tattooed Boy was punctual, even early, on Monday. Plenty of time to review plant care and load up the suitcases. Before we actually left the driveway, my Dear One returned for the watch he had forgotten. I did not notice I failed to move my socks from clean laundry to luggage until I unpacked, but that was an oversight easily rectified.

The skies had clouded a few hours earlier and intermittent showers made the greens greener and the browns darker. The ride north set the tone for what was to come. A Scion xD is far from ideal as transportation for three tall adults, two large suitcases, two carryon bags and a purse; to accommodate the passenger in the backseat, the driver’s seat was so close to the steering wheel that the column rose with an obscene smirk between my thighs.

Newark? All the way from Aberdeen, Maryland? Well, have you seen the cost of flights? Despite our best efforts to combine a US Air flight to somewhere, so that we could get one free ticket with accrued points, there was no convenient connection to either Vilnius or Kaunas, so we accepted Expedia’s suggestion and focused instead of the travel options between home and Newark. Long-term parking was outrageously expensive; Amtrak offered only a single train that would get us there early enough and it would have gotten us there at least a couple hours too early. Was the Tattooed Boy available to chauffeur? Or at least ride along? Indeed he was. Upon our return, Amtrak offers two trains that should do and both deposit us at the home station. From there it is a five-minute taxi ride to the house.

Our seats on an SAS jet were just awful. Our knees pressed into the seats in front of us and our hips fully occupied the space between armrests. Twinges and aches began almost immediately. A few minutes snoozing a few times over the Atlantic were all either of us managed and the long walk in Copenhagen from arrival gate to connecting departure gate was welcome exercise. The Vilnius airport is a pleasant facility and soon we were driving westward.

My first impression of my Dear One’s homeland is birch trees. Even along the A-1, the not-hugely-attractive main drag between Vilnius and Kaunas, birches flaunt their signature white bark ridged with black. Their sunny spring leaves contrast with the darker, bluer needles of pines and firs and every so often thickets hint at the ancient forests lost to the insatiable axe. Fields covered gently rolling hills and battered concrete structures, relics of the Soviet past, were evident everywhere.

Yet all this has a welcoming charm.

an expression of melancholic wisdom

eyes blue as new chambray

We arrived at our bed-and-breakfast, the Nemunas Tour, earlier than anticipated and found no one there. I checked my cell and discovered—predictably—that it was out of juice. No problem. We asked Serena for her gps guidance to a shopping area thinking we might find a charger that could be used in the car. We found instead a small shop and a café, excuse me, kava, in a charming residential neighborhood just over the Nemunas River. A kind young man used his own phone to call our hosts and we discovered that they were only a little bit behind us on the A-1, having just returned from a brief holiday in Turkey. We ordered two cups of coffee and sat outside in the mild afternoon air. A small dog who seemed to carry the melancholic wisdom of the ages watched us with bemusement. A Lithuanian cherub in striped stocking cap chortled, eyes blue as new chambray, from the arms of his mamytė.

An altogether perfect welcome.

fragrant lilac

Back at Nemunas Tour, Jurgis, or George as we call him, and his wife Danute, bustled about, settling us into our room, carrying bags and bring gifts of fresh strawberries from Turkey and lilacs from the garden. A place where we might have a bite to eat? Why the Timejas, just a few minutes drive away. Would it serve dinner as early as 5:30? It serves food twenty-four hours a day, because the Timejas is a truckstop.

We ordered a beer—he the Ekstras, I the Baltas—and a bowl of šaltibarščiai with a side of boiled potatoes. My Dear One makes a better one, but the sour cream here is something wonderful. We split an order of karbonadas, identified on the menu as “bacon chop” and looking more similar to schnitzel. Instead of a bread coating, it was fried in a batter so eggy it seemed wrapped in a cellophane-thin omelet. Tasty but more than our combined efforts could handle.

This morning, prior to my graceless tumble, we checked in at the Kaunas regional archives and were told pretty much what we expected: if you don’t provide an exact name and an exact parish or village where an ancestor was born, you can find out nothing. Most of the useful records, moreover, are located in the Vilnius archive. Ah well.

Church of the Archangel Michael from the steps of the Mykolas Žilinskas Gallery

On the tourism front, we think that the neo-Byzantine church of St. Michael Archangel is a stunner. I wouldn’t have expected that expressionistic paintings of the Stations of the Cross would have worked for me, but they surely did. The Mykolas Žilinskas Art Gallery boasts dramatic modern architecture and a remarkable collection of paintings, sculptures and decorative arts of its own, and is currently filled to the brim with material from the M.K. Čurlionis Museum as well. (According to the museum’s website, Žilinskas also “enriched many Lithuanian art collections.”) It is possibly the worst installation concept ever: two full floors were hung by decade that the works were acquired, starting in 1920s. There were large didactics exalting the visionary aspects of the collections, but the effect was just repetitive and visually uncomfortable. A more workable approach might have been to arrange the collections approximately chronologically, with some thematic groups, and include a “Sixty Years of Collecting: the Highlights” gallery.

the divine Ugnė

Footsore and peckish, we wandered back down the Laisvės alėja, the eastern end of the pedestrian street that concludes in the old town at the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris Rivers, and settled on a sheltered table at Pizza Jazz as damp turned into rain. The divine Ugnė brought us more Ekstras and salads with beef carpaccio (my Dear One) and prosciutto (me). After an espresso, strong and sweet, we were looked forward to an explore of the Old Town.

And we would have explored, too, but I just didn’t find my feet.