Ruth & I have visited Lithuania twice in the past 13 months and fallen hard for its culture and its people. We will surely return soon.
In the meantime, here are some travel musings about this Baltic Republic with 9 currently serving political parties and 6 minor ones with no one in power at this time. After our recent election cycle, imagine 15 campaigning political parties.
The Lithuanian language is one of the oldest still spoken. It’s similar grammatically to Sanskrit. I have tried and failed to master just a few basic names & phrases. Like in other European countries, the populace is fluent in several other languages beginning with Russian followed by Polish. Many speak German and more are learning English, but don’t be surprised if, say, you order a hamburger without cheese from someone who claims to know English but get cheese. Its unusual language might have something to do with the fact that Vilnius is reportedly the only capital in Europe straddling two ancient cultures, Byzantine & Latin.
Vilnius’ Old Town has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1994 and rightly so. Kaunas has a great pedestrian only shopping street, Laisves.
According to inyourpocket “Crime is rampant in Lithuania.” This cheeky publication goes on to qualify this. They’re mostly political and business misdeeds, not street crime. Ruth & I felt perfectly safe everywhere we went. However, the wise don’t wear diamonds and are aware of their surroundings wherever they go.
Lithuania is probably not a place where you’d want to rent a car. I’ve never seen such risky passing practices anywhere else. Lithuanian drivers are often compared to Italians, who get my vote for the most stress-inducing, emotional drivers in the world. Lithuania has the highest rate of road fatalities in the European Union according to inyourpocket.
Although it’s 80% Catholic and actively so, Lithuania shows signs of clinging to its pagan heritage with festivals that predate Christianity. Among its national holidays are 5 with a religious connection and Jonines, which each June celebrates local pagan traditions. This is, after all, the country with a popular, must-see-to-believed devil museum in Kaunas (previously blogged).
Although we found smoking far more in-your-face in Russia, Lithuanians light up too. Says inyourpocket humorously, “If it’s Lithuanian and it’s got a lung that works then it probably smokes.” I just read that Putin is puttin’ more restrictions on public smoking. Good luck with that.
Best restaurant that we found in Kaunas–Buon Giorno. Best in Vilnius–Kitchen. We haven’t tried it yet, but the national dish is said to be cepelinai, boiled potato dumplings stuffed with pork or cottage cheese.
There are Akropolises (Akropoli?) in both Kaunas and Vilnius that rival the best shopping centers in the world. Different & fun.
Reasons to return. We still haven’t made it to Trakai Castle after 2 visits and The New York Times recently raved about Lithuania’s city of Klaipeda on the Baltic Sea. They call it offbeat and medieval with whimsical public sculptures and a frescoed Orthodox church. It’s popular enough that cruise ship lines like Oceania are beginning to include it in their itineraries.