Lithuania hasn’t ever really been somewhere that was on my travel bucket list. It’s a country I overlooked and under-researched as a destination – essentially, just somewhere I never thought to visit. So when I got the opportunity to explore Lithuania as a mini break destination I was intrigued, and what followed was possibly the strangest but coolest few days of travel I’ve had this year!
We started our trip in the city of Vilnius which was quite simply beautiful. With an air of Paris amongst it’s cobbled roads, street lamps and uber cool wall art I instantly felt at home and calmed by the city. We took a leisurely stroll to a nearby cafe for breakfast before starting our walking tour around the old town and Jewish quarter.
Vilnius is one of the few cities in the world that you can ride a hot air balloon over, but sadly it was a bit too windy for us during our stay so we took a climb up St John’s Church Tower instead. It was a pretty hairy walk up the last few flights of rickety, very claustrophobic stairs but that view was totally worth it.
The university courtyards are incredibly pretty to walk around and I imagine they’d look even more beautiful from above if you catch a break with the weather and manage a balloon ride at sunset – perfect.
During our day in Vilnius we took a leather making workshop and fashioned ourselves some medieval bracelets along with learning how those in old Lithuania made shoes and toys. It was a strange afternoon in a tiny workshop underneath the city but we had a great time with our very entertaining teacher drinking tea out of odd shaped mugs and slowly but surely getting the hang of braiding. I guess if this blogging malarky doesn’t work out I can always turn my hand to leather making!
Carrying on our Lithuanian journey we drove out of Vilnius to Trakai, the old capital which is still home to a strong minority of Karaites who came to Lithuania in the 15th Century and still live in the area around the famous red castle. In Trakai we sampled the Karaites local cuisine Kibinai which consisted of delicious meat-filled pasties, broths and casseroles in terrines covered in bread. Simply break the bread and enjoy all together with a side of sour milk – incredibly warming and hearty food with lots of pastry!
After lunch we took a boat tour around the lake and The Red Castle passing Uztrakis Manor on our way. It was a lovely relaxing way to spend an afternoon and the castle was quite beautiful indeed.
If you’re looking for somewhere cool to eat of an evening, Sweet Roots is your place. Located in the Bohemian artistic district of Užupis, Sweet Roots offers a modern tasting menu of seasonally inspired local cuisine, fusing traditional Lithuanian fare with a modern twist and great wine flight!
They were incredibly friendly, knowledgeable and right up my street – seriously, who knew Lithuanian food was this good?! The bohemian district is incredibly cool and worth a visit too. It even has ‘Lithuania’s famous cat’. I’m still not sure why he was so famous but he drank out of a wine glass in a book store. Obviously.
Our next day in Lithuania took us to Anyksciai in the regional park and their treetop walk. We also got to see Lithuania’s second biggest rock as it started to hail before we got to the actual biggest rock and we had to retreat to the car. Personally, I don’t think we celebrate big rocks enough in England and we should take on Lithuania’s attitude to these great feats of nature.
Stoney excitement aside the treetop walk was actually quite lovely and afterwards, we got to ride their Alpine Coaster which was a mixture between a toboggan and a rollercoaster down a huge hill! I felt like a kid again and had far too much fun with that one until a group of school children turned up and we had to relinquish our coaster cars. Spoilsports.
On the way to our next destination, we stopped at The Hill of Crosses just outside of Siauliai. Now a site of Christian pilgrimage the Hill of Crosses is believed to have been started by a man who was visited in a dream by an angel, who told him that if he were to place a cross on this hill his daughter would be cured of a terrible illness. On the way back from placing his cross his daughter became better and now hundreds of thousands of people visit here to add their crosses which has left over 540,000 of them on one hill.
It’s a little like something from a horror film but completely fascinating to walk amongst. During the war the crosses were regularly taken away and destroyed but the locals refused to let the authorities bring them down and would sneak over in the night to replace them. For some it’s a place of pilgrimage, others it’s a sign of independence – either way its one hell of a place to experience.
From the city to the lakes as we travelled to a homestay called “Pas tėvukus” for a night of no wifi, nature and traditional Lithuanian living.
Our time at the homestay was some of my favourite spent in Lithuania as our hosts were so accommodating. An afternoon in the sauna and dipping in the lake was followed by an incredible traditional spread and a lesson on how everything was prepared.
With simple food such as baked potatoes and sour milk, cheese and pork ribs coupled with some more obscure offerings such as raw herring with pickles and cannabis seeds it was some of the strangest but tastiest food I’ve ever enjoyed. All washed down with a homemade spirit that was taken in shot form whenever our host felt like making us drink! Upon her command, we were all to put down our food, lift up our glasses and neck back the whiskey-esq moonshine in a drinking game type fashion – we counted 10 shots by the end of our apple cake dessert and a whole lot of sore heads in the morning.
Our last day was spent in Klaipeda the Lithuanian capital of culture which plays host to a number of interesting statues that when rubbed, touched and whispered too bring fortune and wishes to all that find them. It’s also the city that was home to the woman who defied Hitler who now has a statue outside the building where she turned her back on him during a speech, risking her life but inspiring many.
Klaipeda was lovely to walk around and enjoy lunch before making our way over the Curonian Split via ferry to Juodkrante and something I didn’t expect from Lithuania – sand dunes! With the heat rising and our toes in the sand it felt like we’d come on a beach holiday which was very confusing after exploring cities and lake retreats just hours before.
Standing on the dunes you can see Russia and although a lot of it is protected as a national heritage site it’s still a lovely place to visit. Oh, and don’t forget to take a walk around the hill of witches while you’re there too with some very interesting wooden sculptures and folklore tails to boot.
Before our flight home we enjoyed dinner in Nida, a stunning town on the peninsula with an incredibly laid back feel. With the sea on one side and beautiful green on the other and a harbour filled with cute restaurants and shops it’s a lovely place to spend a day or evening sipping a local beer in the sunshine and watching the world go by.
I never thought about visiting Lithuania before but I absolutely fell in love with this quirky country and all it’s eccentricities! Huge rocks, hills filled with witches and crosses, sand dunes and more it was certainly one of the weirdest and most wonderful trips I’ve been on.
If you’re looking for a cool little city break with good food and lots to explore on foot then Vilnius is your place. Relax and learn a bit of culture in Trakai or at Pas Tėvukus, or soak up the sun and laid back nature in Nida – don’t underestimate Lithuania as a destination, it’s a pretty cool part of the world!
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