When people think of visiting Europe, they typically think of France, Germany and perhaps Italy and Switzerland. Eastern Europe, surprisingly, has been almost fully ignored.
Today, Lithuania is emerging as one of the tourist destinations that are both inexpensive compared to Western Europe, and full of natural as well as traditional beauties that will alternately stun and charm visitors.
Lithuania has been an independent nation for just over a decade now, and is already playing an active part in European politics. It has a long and colorful history, which shows up in certain glimpses one catches of the vast multifaceted patchwork that is the culture of this nation.
Tourists can visit sites of natural beauty such as the Curonian Spit – a tongue of land protruding from the western end of Lithuania. It is home to a stunning variety of fauna – birds, deer, elk and other animals scrabbling about in the huge and spectacular sand dunes. On a bicycle, one can cycle all the way from one end – Nida – to another – Smiltynés.
Also, don’t forget to see the Curonian Lagoon – a huge expanse of water that sees a constant stream of ferries flowing across it. You can reach the lagoon by sea, from Klalpeda – one of the major ports in Lithuania.
From the Spit, you can move north to the wild party center of Palanga, if it is summer. If it is winter, the same place allows you to relax in cozy peace. The wooden houses, tinkling bicycle bells and pedalled taxis (where else would you see THOSE!) charm tourists into thinking they are still somewhere in the 18th century.
The South-West of Lithuania is full of an old, rural charm. Activities such as bird-watching, boating and cycling are extremely popular here.
Finally, of course, let’s not forget the capital city called Vilnius. This city is about as quirky as it gets – something that is obvious from the statue of Frank Zappa, of all people! Full of artists and Bohemians, this is the ideal place for a Geek Getaway, or just to let your hair down. But don’t think religion has no role to play here – there are multiple Orthodox and Catholic churches, and the decor of the whole city is in a baroque style.
Moving closer to the present day, the turmoil of the 20th century has also written with a generous hand on this city. Soviet occupation and the World War have left its scars everywhere, but the city soldiers on with a spirit of rebirth and revolution.
There’s only one warning I would give to people visiting Lithuania. There is a very real danger of information and sensory overload, so plan your trip well! Better yet, come for a long vacation in the summer – it will be inexpensive, and you can get in all the activity you want.
Lithuanian Recipes and Cuisine
The cuisine of Lithuania shares much with Polish cuisine, and Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. Some dishes also show the influence of German culinary traditions, and there even some influences from the Karaite Jews of the Crimea!
Some popular Lithuanian soups include:
– Barsciai – The Lithuanian version of borscht (beet soup). Chopped mushrooms are often added, and sometimes the soup may be blended with butter or sour cream.
– Bulviniu kukuliu sriuba – A soup made with minced potato shaped into balls and then boiled in milk.
– Saltibarsciai – A bright pink cold borscht soup, made using cooked or pickled beets and chopped vegetables. Often served with chopped hard-boiled eggs, sour cream and hot boiled potato.
– Sauerkraut soup – A soup made from sauerkraut. Often seasoned with bay leaves, carrots, onions and pork.
– Vistos sultinys – Chicken soup
Some popular Lithuanian appetizers include:
– Idaryti kiausiniai – Hard boiled eggs, cut in half, stuffed and garnished.
– Idaryti pomidorai – Tomatoes, cut in half, stuffed and garnished.
– Lasiniai – Pork underskin fat. Often eaten in sandwiches with unbuttered bread and onion.
– Pirsteliai prie alaus – Rolled up puff pastries.
Some popular Lithuanian main courses include:
– Balandeliai – Cabbage leaves stuffed with meat, then braised.
– Bigos – A stew made from meat (various types may be used), sausage and cabbage.
– Cepelinai (also known as “didzkukuliai”) – Often considered the Lithuanian national dish, cepelinai are potato dumplings stuffed with meat, cheese or mushrooms. They may be garnished with onion, sour cream, or spirgai (fried pork underskin fat).
– Kedainiu blynai – Potato pancakes filled with chopped meat.
– Kibinai – Pastry with mutton and onions.
– Kotletai – Ground (minced) meat patties, served with potato and a sauce.
– Lietiniai – Thin pancakes filled with ground (minced) meat and cheese with cinnamon, or with minced sauteed mushrooms.
– Saltnosiukai – Dumplings with lingonberries.
– Saslykai – Cubes of pork, marinated and cooked on a skewer over a fire. The Lithuanian version of shashlik.
– Skilandis (also known as “kindziukas”) – Pig stomach, stuffed with ground (minced) meat and garlic, then smoked and matured.
– Zemaiciu blynai – Potato pancakes.
Some popular Lithuanian desserts include:
– Kuciukai (also known as “slizikai”) – Small baked rolls traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve (Lithuanian: Kucios).
– Sakotis – A traditional Lithuanian cake, most often eaten at wedding and birthday celebrations. It is prepared by painting layers of batter on a rotating spit in a special oven, and has a distinctive spikey appearance. It may be served plain, or decorated with chocolate and flower ornaments.
– Spurgos – The Lithuanian version of donuts.
– Zagareliai (sometimes known as “chrustai” or “krustai”) – Twisted deep-fried pastries covered with powdered sugar.