Lithuania is a country like no other, full of quirks and surprises. When we visited in 2007, the capital, Vilnius, was under serious construction in preparation for its tenure as European Capital of Culture in 2009. Now it’s humming with new buildings and new life, while keeping its old independent spirit.
This is part two of a three-part series on the Baltic countries: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. To listen to the Lithuania podcast, hit play below or find episode 301 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:
Lithuania is the southern-most country of the Baltic states, which also include Latvia and Estonia. It’s bordered to the north by Latvia and to east by Belarus, and the south-west border is shared with the Russian territory of Kalingrad as well as with Poland. To the west you’ll find the Baltic Sea coast. About 40% of the country is covered by forest, making for some beautiful drives.
Lithuania from above
Driving is fine but a hot-air balloon trip is much better, and was a highlight of the trip. After a take-off at dawn, we floated up above a lake and the medieval island castle of Trakai, then touched down an hour or so later in the mist-covered forests. However, the adventure didn’t end there, as we were treated to a baptism of fire, wine and earth.
Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses is another Lithuanian institution that’s well worth a visit. People started leaving crosses on a hill a couple of hundred years ago, and since then the collection has grown exponentially.
Lithuania’s capital city is a microcosm of the quirky energy that sets the country apart. Our favourite place in the city hasn’t changed since we were there eight years ago: Uzupis is close to our hearts.
Uzupis is a central suburb of Vilnius that’s declared independence and broken off into its own republic. It’s an area of public art, public eccentrics, and great little restaurants. It’s gentrified and become fashionable in the years since we was there, but its 39 clauses of the Constitution still hold true.
Lithuanian food was as colourful and fantastic (and sometimes slightly odd) as the rest of the visit. Among other things, we visited a restaurant called Snekutis, full of old agricultural implements, a missile, potato pancakes and the eponymous owner.
The culinary highlight was the five-star Telegrafas restaurant, where we enjoyed a five-course degustation, matched with wonderful wines.
Vilnius seems like the most complex of the Baltic capitals. At one glance, it’s grungy and in need of restoration; on another corner, its value luxury creates a truly engaging experience. Lithuania might be the least well-known of the Baltic states, but it amply rewards the curious.