Yesterday Rima published a little article about what (and where) Lithuania is and the questions and misconceptions that most people have about this little baltic country. So, I decided that maybe it would be the perfect time to share my own, admittedly not particularly well thought out, little article about Lithuania.
This is neither a travel guide or deep social commentary though I am sure (or at least hope) that there might be some of those to come after more future explorations and travels. It is in fact just a little tiny list of some observations or musings.
On getting there and around…
This seems like a good place to start.
It can be hard to get to and to get away from. In reality, this is actually much more a musing about Ryanair than it is about Lithuania, and the chaos that meant that the first time we visited not only did we end up getting to where we were supposed to be by flight to Riga, then bus and car, but that it took us a whole 18 hours to get back to Denmark afterwards instead of what should have been an hour and ten minute flight.
A second visit was also hit by some Irish airline induced chaos, but the third visit proved pretty painless (a bit delayed but nothing to complain too loudly about).
Once you do arrive, the roads are pretty good, the traffic is pretty minimal and the drivers are less insane than in some other parts of central Europe, Romania I’m talking to you here.
I think we may have taken a train once, maybe we didn’t, if we did it was not so bad as to be memorable. Either way, there is a very cool bar called Peronas right next to the station in Vilnius, literally on the platform edge, that is worth checking out.
On stuff you put in your mouth…
Lithuanians really like sweets. As well as being faced with something sugar laden to eat at anybody’s house you happen to drop into, it feels as if the pastry counters take up half of the space in localish shops and small supermarkets. There is something for everyone here, chocolates, cakes of all varieties, cookies, donuts and, slightly strangely, mushroom cookies (yes, I know they aren’t made of mushrooms).
There are pink soups, all kinds of dumplings and pancakes, far far less cabbage than you will encounter in somewhere like Poland, oh and for those who have no qualms about eating animals then the meat is good, the meat is really very good!
Vodka beats Gin. We are in Central Europe here, so it really shouldn’t come as any big surprise that vodka as the spirit of choice beats all others. More disturbing to me, as a confirmed Gin lover is that fact that absolutely everything seems to beat gin in the supermarket space popularity test. There is no shortage of shelf space given over to slightly questionable looking brands of whisky and brandy, but my darling gin is very conspicuous by it’s absence.
Oh, and of course there are are cepelinai. For those not in the know these are huge potato ‘dumplings’ stuffed with something, usually meat. They are named after airships but are definitely too heavy to fly. Trust me on the fact that you should really not eat three of them in one go and you should definitely not eat three of them together with large amounts of whisky poured by a well meaning uncle and then add a load of creamy cake on the top of it all.
On the built environment…
The architecture in Lithuania is a pretty eclectic and amazing mixture. Thrown together are a jumble of concrete, almost brutalist, Soviet era constructions, a surprising number of wooden buildings – both old and new, a lot of churches (also often wooden) and some super modern high-tech looking architecture dotted around the bigger cities.
Actually there aren’t really many bigger cities, this is after all a country with a population of around 3 million (with up to another million living abroad). Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipeda are all really nice, small enough to be human and easily walkable.
… and the natural one…
Lithuania might not be very big geographically but it seems to pack a lot of stuff into a small space nature speaking. It’s the geographic centre of Europe by the way, although that is definitely a human construct rather than a natural one. But I digress, I was going to write about the beautiful varied forests, the lack of mountains, and the coast.
If you are spending a little time in the country and want to see something other than the capital then take a ferry from Klaipeda to Kursiu Nerija (that strange looking bit of sticky out land on the map that seperates a lagoon from the sea), you can’t drive there easily without passing through a bit of Russia which owns the land connected end of it but the car ferry is really short and regular. Once you get there you can swim in the Baltic on one side of the spit and the lagoon on the other, you can also see and walk through (but only on the allowed paths) some amazing sand dunes. Walking in sand is hard work, but make it to the end of the path and you can see the two bodies of water on either horizon and what looks like a mini desert all around you.
On flags and history…
I’m English and I’m not particularly proud of my nation or its inhabitants. It’s not that we don’t have a rich history full of achievements and inventions of that we are a particularly horrid people, but I really struggle to forgive large swathes of the population for the Brexit vote and the idiocy that has ensued in the wake of it.
That doesn’t mean that I am unable to understand why other people and other cultures might feel a certain sense of national pride though, especially when a nation has a history that has seen it be occupied and gain independence so many times.
The Lithuanians really like their flag, you will see it flying all over the place. This is perhaps more understandable here than it is in Denmark (they also are madly in love with their flag) given the history of the country. As for the Danes, I have no idea why they like theirs so much.
Go for a drive around Lithuania and you will see brown ‘heritage’ signs everywhere leading to places of historical significance. It’s because not only is this a nation with a lot of history, but they embrace it. Follow the brown signs if you aren’t in a rush and you will end up in some obscure and interesting places, some might be a bit of a waste of a few minutes but some are really pretty amazing. You might stumble on random unsigned motor museums, secret printing presses and beautiful manor houses filled with pretty strange things.