In Lithuania, we do not waste time on things that do not matter. Few other capital cities in the world (if any) can offer you 15 minutes transfer time from the airport to your downtown hotel. After you check in, you can be having drinks in Town Hall square five minutes later. It will take you another thirty minutes and you are in a lakeside sauna, or watching sunset immersed in a lake surrounded by dense forests.
Many would believe Lithuania should be massively cramped and tight. The truth is, over 65,300 square kilometres is home to just under three million people, making it one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
This is what we offer to all our visitors, who quickly come to realize this strange yet pleasing duality: the country is very compact which makes wasting time a thing of the past, and yet when you get where you want to get, you have the place all for yourself.
This is true everywhere: even in the Old Town of our capital, Vilnius, you can find empty streets in the middle of the day if you just walk a few hundred yards off the main tourist track.
Get out of town, and the feeling starts multiplying and expanding, like ripples in a lake. Lakeside country houses offer the incredible sensation of owning larger space around you than you ever experienced before in your life, real or imaginary. Farm buildings, fields and meadows, little brooks just outside of an old sauna building, and this is all yours.
AMBER – THE BALTIC GOLD
In Lithuania, amber is everywhere. In our towns and seaside resorts you will see countless shops, stalls, and just lone sellers peddling anything and everything made of amber in unbelievable quantities. In fact, it is much like wine because it has to come from a specific appellation (think Baltic Sea in this particular), because it has variable colors – from very light straw, like champagne (there is some milk or cream white, although you do not see this too often; cloudiness is not a fault of amber), to almost ruby red and cherry black, and because it has been processed by nature for a very, very long time. Longer than many of us can imagine.
Amber is not all that cheap, especially larger pieces – unlike wine, they are not making any more of it, so what came from the trees in the age of dinosaurs, is the last and finite supply. You would be advised to be a bit suspicious about especially large chunks: anything larger than a plum is extremely rare.
DIFFERENT FAITHS AND TOLERANT CULTURE
Lithuania is a long-suffering land. Probably no other patch of land in Europe had some many foreign meddlers – and this resulted in fundamental, genetic mistrust of the government that you see when you talk to Lithuanians more intimately.
The country learned to be extremely, outstandingly, extraordinarily tolerant in the days when no-one ever heard of political correctness. People of different faiths were allowed to practice their religion and observe their customs with such methodical consistency that today’s Scandinavian levels of tolerance and respect simply look to us as reinvented habits that Lithuanians practiced centuries ago.
The 20th century and the World War II made a painful exception, wiping out almost the entire Jewish population, but the tradition of tolerance and a diverse society lives on.
You will find that, much like the sense of humour for the English, the sense of the past for Lithuanians is never a thing with its delineated territory but very much a continuing thread of our everyday lives. The best part is we show it all willingly to you.
THE CUISINE OF THE NOBILITY: FOR GOURMET DISCOVERIES
Your journey may turn into a very tasty one, while visiting Lithuania. Since ancient times, Lithuanians have prepared their traditional meals with special rituals. Seasonal foods and temperance have prevailed in Lithuanian traditional cuisine: up to three different types of food were combined, meals were as natural as possible, and portions were small but nourishing. The culture of Lithuanian cuisine has been passed down from generation to generation, and it relies on the host’s abilities and regional traditions.
The cuisine of Lithuania’s nobility was distinctive for the abundance of its herbs. Several centuries ago, the Lithuanian nobility’s favourite dishes were made from game and flavoured with honey and mushrooms. Nowadays the country’s visitors have the opportunity to taste the traditional dishes of the nobility. More and more restaurants starting to prepare their meals in accordance with the Lithuanian noblemen’s oldest culinary traditions. Speaking about flavours and aromas, these meals could be equivalent to French cuisine. It’s fresh, tasty, subtle and seasonal.
In Lithuania, national heritage products are certified and marked with the symbol of the Culinary Heritage Fund. The food products marked in this way are produced from traditional ingredients, are hand-made and use other old or equivalent new technologies, and preserve the unique qualitative properties and composition of the traditional products.
Lithuania, which was the the largest country in Europe during the 14th century, is packed with heritage that the world believes is rare and noteworthy. To put it more simply, when anyone asks us – “is there anything to see in Lithuania that would make the trip worthwhile”, we have to say yes.
The historic centre of Vilnius was the first to be included on the list two decades ago (seems like it was yesterday) and everyone was like, oh, why only now? The place of mystic narrow and not-so-narrow streets, dark courtyards and ancient churches, with unexpected vistas opening one after another, is yet to find its first disappointed visitor.
Not very far from Vilnius is Kernavė archeological site, which was designated as UNESCO World Heritage in 2004 – this is large group of impressive hills, clustered next to each other, which were used as hill forts and where human activity went on for over 10,000 years by the bank of River Neris.
Cross Lithuania some two hundred miles to the West, and you find the awesome sand dunes of the Curonian Spit. A narrow strip of land in the Baltic Sea is under constant threat from wind that moves the dunes.
About 140 miles northwest from Vilnius there is one of the most impressive sights that you can ever hope to see: the Hill of Crosses, near Šiauliai, have been around for about two centuries. No-one knows for sure how this pilgrimage site came to be.
An unforgettable taste of summer, the soughing of the sea and hot sand – discover all this in the Lithuanian oasis, the Curonian Spit. Watch how quickly the wind covers your footprints in the sand. Close your eyes and feel free. “It feels like standing at the entryway to Heaven,” the French writer Jean-Paul Sartre described his visit to the Curonian Spit.
The narrow and lengthy peninsula, washed by the Baltic Sea and Curonian Lagoon (Kuršių marios), reminds one of a desert. We call it Kuršių nerija (the Curonian Spit). It was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000 as one of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in Europe. The strip of sand, stretching into the sea, has several cosy, neat and picturesque shermen’s villages: Juodkrantė, Pervalka and Nida.
Nida enjoys the largest number of sunny days in Lithuania per year. Another unique feature of this place is the weathercocks. They used to mark a particular village’s ownership of the kurėnas (a type of sail-ship).
The Curonian Spit is an unforgettable experience. Rent a nice villa, spend numerous hours in the white dunes that provide cover from the wind, take a swim in the wavy Baltic Sea, and try some fish caught and smoked by local fishermen: bream, eel, and flatfish. Visit the Curonian Spit and you will understand why this place has long been an attraction for tourists and artists.
LITHUANIA IN A NUTSHELL
Official name: The Republic of Lithuania.
Area: 65 300 km².
Population: 2,922 million (in 2015).
Population density: 45,1 people/km² (cf. 72,5 people/km² in Europe).
Political system: parliamentary democracy. Head of State – President, Executive Power – Government, Legislative Power – The Seimas.
The current president: Dalia Grybauskaitė.
Membership: The Republic of Lithuania is a member of the EU and NATO. Joined the Schengen area in 2007.
Time zone: GTM + 2 hours.
Capital: Vilnius. Population: 526 356 (in 2013).
Major cities: Kaunas (population: 306 888), Klaipėda (population: 158 541), Šiauliai (population: 106 470), Panevėžys (population: 97 343) (in 2013).
Official language: Lithuanian (the Baltic languages group). The majority of citizens also speak Russian, English.
Coat of arms: white Vytis (a knight) on a red background.
National flag: The national flag is composed of three equal horizontal stripes: top – yellow, middle – green, bottom – red collors.
Neighbouring states: Latvia, Belarus, Poland, Russia (Kaliningrad).
Cell phone code: +370…
GSM service providers: “Telia”, “Bitė”, “Tele2”, “Eurocom”.
Internet: 75,2% of population use the Internet. High-speed wireless Internet connection is available at most supermarkets, cafes, main streets and hotels of larger cities (usually free of charge).
Information number: +370 700 55 118.
Emergency number: 112.
Ethnic groups (in 2012): 86,3% Lithuanian, 5,6% Polish, 5% Russian, 1,4% Belarusian, 1,7% other (Ukrainian, Hebrew, Latvian, Tartar etc.).
Religion: 78% Roman Catholics. Other: Orthodox, Christians, Evangelical Lutherans, Evangelical Reformers, Old Believers, Judaists, Muslims etc.
Climate: maritime/continental. Average temperature in July is +19,7°C, January -2,9°C.
Information prepared together with Lithuanian State Department of Tourism. Photos taken from Lithuanian State Department’s of Tourism website www.Lithuania.Travel.