Friday, June 22, 2018

Last Day in Vilnius

Day 24 was my last full day in Vilnius before continuing my journey north - well west to start with, to Kaliningrad, tomorrow morning. I'm very excited about that. It'll be something completely new for me to, be crossing a border from Lithuania to Russia. It was nice to spend some time back in the fatherland and have a relatively relaxing five nights here but I think I'm ready to move on again now.

Australian Consulate in Vilnius
Items on the agenda today were to get some Russian Rubles, buy Rasa a gift for her help (and because she bought me one) and try to find a place in Vilnius sent to me by my good old friend in London, from Lithex days, Vincent O'Brien. After that, it was the usual fare of three World Cup games, ideally in at least three bars with the additional "hors d'oeuve" of some nice food.

I woke up early and finished off yesterday's post before going 50 m down the corridor for breakfast. It's always nice but I feel that I should pig out more. Don't want to get too fat, though.

Then I was off. My plan was to go to a Google rated Wine shop that wasn't too far away to buy Rasa a bottle of champers for washing my clothes, taking me to Europe Park, getting me a T-shirt and giving me a lovely meal at her restaurant. These things are always awkward. I'm sure she wasn't expecting anything but I'm not very good at knowing what to do. A bottle of decent wine is at least something.

The walk there was nice and on the way I stopped at a bank to change some Euros into Russian Rubles for tomorrow. Two things ticked off then.

Lots of Lithuanian Independence Restoration Commemorations

Wine Shop

After that I walked back to Gedimino Prospectas and saw Rasa for the last time on this trip. I gave her a big hug and gave her my small gift.

So, having ticked off two tasks off my list, where next? Well, the destination was provided for me by a dear old friend who I'd not seen for a few years who lives in London.

Walk to Vince’s address

Vince O’Brien is one of those brilliant guys who’s good at everything. He sings. He played rugby at a pretty good level and was very good, I remember, at volleyball. He wrote speeches for MPs at the Houses of Parliament. He tells great anecdotes. Most of all, he’s just a lovely, lovely, man who I always wanted to emulate mainly because he can get on with the anyone and have deep conversations with the brightest, as well as those who are not the sharpest tools in the shed.

From his name, you might expect an Irishman with a "tik oirish" accent. A racehorse trainer, perhaps or a rugby player. He must have Irish ancestry but when he speaks to you, it's in a very eloquent, softly spoken English accent. Most bizarrely, he learned to speak Lithuanian fluently, only through marriage with his wonderful wife, sadly gone much too early, Gaijute. He was heavily involved with the Lithuanian community and was always around in the Lithex crowd. Like Vidas Puodziunas, he actually comes from Stoke-on-Trent, but I can’t hold that against him. As a Stoke City fan, he thinks they are older than Nottingham Forest, a misconception I only recently had corrected myself.

He played the role of “pirslys” (matchmaker) at Leb-n-my wedding.

Vince was the "match-maker" at our Lithuanian Wedding (don't have a pic of Vince here with me)

I haven’t seen much of him in recent years, especially since moving to Australia but in recent months, thanks to the all-embracing Internetas, we have been in contact quite a lot. Vince, like me, always likes to add in a football-related quip into his communications.

So, when I received an e-mail from him a couple of days ago, I read it carefully.

Vince suggested that if I was still in Vilnius, and had time, perhaps I would visit the apartment of Zydra Alkiene, the widow of another good old Didz Brit (Lithuanian living in the UK) Jaras Alkis, who sadly died recently, after emigrating back to Lithuania after it regained its independence. Vince and Jaras often sang together. Jaras is another Lithuanian I could go on about but, no time...

I have never met Zydra, but Vince suggested that another Didz Brit, Aleksas Vilcinskas, lived in the same block of apartments and another, Algis Sveikauskas was nearby and would be contactable from there.

The prospect of meeting Aleksas again, who was one of the founders of the Lithuanian Youth Association of Great Britain, and always an inspiration with his intelligence and common sense was definitely something I wanted to do. And Algis Sveikauskas might know some local dance groups. He was the guy that used to teach us all the dances. He was the first “slightly camp” Lithuanian I’d ever met and was always an absolute hoot.

Favourite, Sveikauskas memory…

Having just taught us a dance move that was particularly complex, but great fun and we'd just completed the drill…

“You like it?”

Then, with a big grin on his face…

“I know!”

Anyway, so I got Chekov (sorry Google maps) to plot a course for 13/4 S Konarskio g and set off. It was 20 minutes from Radharanes (Rasa’s restaurant) and took me through some parts of Vilnius I’d never been before.

Vince O'Brien's Destination
Anyway, when I got there, there was a big building with the address clearly marked on the side.

Too blady easy.

Path up to Tauro Kalnas

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a block of apartments, it was an office building. I asked a woman coming out of it if she knew about Zydra, but no.

I walked around the block and knocked on a few doors.  No. No-one knew anything.

Clearly, something had gone wrong in the communication and I there was no point proceeding. Needles in haystacks came to mind. So I cut my losses and headed back to the center.

At least I’d had a nice walk and had spent some time thinking about Algis and Aleksas.

and I got to look at a nice orthodox church...

and a bizarre Lithuanian wool shop...

Walk back to the Old City

The big game coming up for me was Australia v Denmark so I had a venue in my mind to watch it. Now I had an hour or so extra time than I’d planned, I decided to go have some balandelai – meat in cabbage rolls. I went to the good old traditional Lithuanian restaurant on Piles gatve, the one I’ve been to many times, but they didn’t have it on the menu. I tried a second Lithuanian eatery. No. They didn’t do it either. Ok. Forget that idea then.

Why don’t I just go to the bar I planned to watch Australia v Denmark, get a good seat and have a meal there?

Tried that, but it didn’t open until 4 pm.

This was turning into one of those frustrating days where everything goes wrong.

My plan B was to go back to the bar where I’d met the aussies the day before yesterday. That would be fitting, at least.

Across the narrow street from the brew-pub was their sister restaurant, so I ended up there.
I had the most delicious beef and veg soup followed by potato pancakes with meat embedded within, a bit like a cepelinas.

I also had “Cannabis Beer”. Intriguing but not quite what one might expect. Just tasted like beer to me.

In the next table from me I could help but earwig into a conversation between a young, Japanese business-man and an attractive Lithuanian (I presume) woman who did almost all the talking, in English.

Cannabis Beer?

Went for a Hotchpotch - sums up the day

Potato pancakes!

Pancackes stuffed with meat - like a flat cepelinas
Over to the pub for the match where I ordered a pint of their very fine IPA  which must have been brewed 5 meters from where I was sat.

Denmark started strongly and scored quickly. It looked, for 20 minutes or so, that Australia would get overrun but then, like with the France game, fortune shone on them and they got a penalty. Against France they got the wrong end of a VAR decision when Josh Risdon was adjudged to have fouled Griezmann but this time it went there way and a handball from a Danish defender, not noticed by the ref when it happened, was picked up by the video cameras.

When Jedinak lined up to take the spot kick, Casper Schmeichel was obviously trying his best to put him off but Mile was calm under the intense pressure and not only slotted in the penalty to put Australia level but stayed cool and professional and avoided any retaliatory verbals with Casper.

I would have ran up to his face and said something like

“Take that Casper!” (or maybe a bit stronger)

After that, Australia grew stronger and for most of the match looked the most likely to score a winner. Unfortunately, though, Denmark hung on to the draw.

It was another lovely old Vilnius pub...

Taps on the table
After the match I had a bit of a walk around the old city. It's an endless maze of tiny streets and courtyards. It would take a lifetime to really get to know it.

In search of a pub for the Peru v France game

France v Peru

For the France v Peru game, I was going to go back to the Portebello pub I’d seen the Uruguay v Saudi second half but as I had a bit of time I had a little wander around the city gate area and found a gem of an old pub and decided to watch it there instead.

I was on my own inside in a very atmospheric old room with an arched ceiling. France started well and took the lead when the Peruvian defence, in kamekazi style, opened up and allowed a simple tap in.

Peru fought back magnificently, as they did against Denmark and by half time could consider themselves unlucky to be still trailing.

... found one!

Domed ceiling - very atmospheric

My mobile was getting low on battery power so I decided to get closer to the hotel so I could recharge it a little before the next game. So I headed back towards Gedimino Prospectas and the Busi Trecias pub I’d been to a few times.

Peru continued to press in the second half but France held firm to gain another 1-0 win and thus secure their passage into the knock out phase. Peru, sadly, are out.
I had a nice chat to a rare futbolininkas who came to sit with me. I asked him if he played basketball.

“Too short” he said.

Says it all, really.

I scampered back to the hotel and plugged in my phone to recharge.

Half-time sight seeing

My mobile was getting low on battery power so I decided to get closer to the hotel so I could recharge it a little before the next game. So I headed back towards Gedimino Prospectas and the Busi Trecias pub I’d been to a few times.

Peru continued to press in the second half but France held firm to gain another 1-0 win and thus secure their passage into the knock out phase. Peru, sadly, are out.
I had a nice chat to a rare futbolininkas who came to sit with me. I asked him if he played basketball.

“Too short” he said.

Says it all, really.

I scampered back to the hotel and plugged in my phone to recharge.

There will be three games every day (at Busi Trecias)

Argentina v Croatia

The final match of the day was a big one and I decided to watch it in the Republic sports Bar I’d been to on the first night and where I’d met G and Costino.

As expected, it was a good, keenly fought, game. It quickly became obvious that Croatia, with Modric, at the heart of most of their moves, were going to eclipse Argentina, for whom Messi was conspicuous by his absence for most of the plays.

Croatia took the lead at a time when the game was ebbing and flowing and hard to pick, but in the second half, a second, and then a third, sealed a famous victory.

Croatia, I think gave the best performance of the World Cup so far. Could it be Croatia in the final when Leb & me will be in Split?

I spent much of the second half talking with a young couple sat at the bar who were Lithuanian Poles.
I’d never met any of these before and they seemed very pleasant and intelligent. They said that as Polish nationals they could visit Poland whenever they wanted and had a few privileges associated with that status.

Ronaldo 2 Messi 0

After the match I said my goodbyes to Gediminas the bar man. Just like the first night he forced me to drink some krupnikas or something. It was like rocket fuel and writing this now, I whished I’d have refused.

Back to Republic 4...

Last game, back at Republic

Leeds scarf? 

Gediminas, pouring free rocket fuel for me to sample again


As this was my last night in Vilnius I wanted one more experience. Walking up and down Gedimino Prospectas several times I’d noticed a craft beer bar on the way but it didn't have a TV so I couldn't use it as one of my match venues. But now the last game had finished so I wondered if it was still open. It was.

So I went down to a cellar-like bar and ordered a hoppy pale ale which was very nice indeed.
At the table were a big group of young people talking English. 

So, I asked if I could join them. Turns out they were from all over the world (but most were from the USA) and they were in Vilnius attending a conference on CRISPR technology. Wow! How lucky was that.

Thanks for the link, Irena!
So, for the next hour or so we had a great conversation ranging from the biochemical mechanisms of DNA repair in bacteria, the tragedy of Batten Disease and how it might be cured, Kurzweil’s Singularity concept, the wading hypothesis of hominin bipedal origins and Donald Trump and how he might be defeated at the next election.

So, a surprising end to another great day.

Notice how the last few paragraphs started with the word "So"? That was deliberate. Have you ever noticed that when scientists get asked questions which are interesting and challenging - and a pleasure for the scientist to answer, because it is their passion, they often start with that word. It's as if they're think "oh goody! a great question for me to answer" as they're hearing the words and before replying, their brain is laying out the way they're going to explain it, just "so".

I got back to my room, absolutely knackered and set my alarm for 6 am. Time enough, I hoped, to get packed and leave in time to catch my train to Kaliningrad.


World Cup summary

Australia really needed to win that game as their group in now set rather awkwardly. For Australia to qualify they will need to beat Peru in their last match and hope that France beat Denmark. The goal difference might also be a factor too.

But if France and Denmark play out a draw both go through. Now what do you think the chances of that happening are? The likelihood is pretty high anyway in a low-scoring tournament like this but when both teams know the draw will suit them both... Corruption? in football? Surely not.

In Group D Croatia are definitely through now but Nigeria's game against Iceland is tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Something not quite right. Larissa is there NOW! Keep in touch. Vince