An A-Z of Lithuania

J is for Jews and Japanese

This week takes us back to history and the incredible story of Chiune Sugihara, Lithuania's Oskar Schindler. He was born in Japan, studied English Literature against his father's wishes and later joined the Foreign Ministry. Whilst serving in China he became an expert on Russian affairs and converted to Orthodox Christianity.

Until the outbreak of World War 2, Lithuania had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. Vilnius itself was known as the "Jerusalem of the North" and was a Jewish cultural and religious centre.

In March 1939 when Klaipėda was invaded by the Germans, the 39 year-old Japanese diplomat arrived to the then Lithuanian capital of Kaunas* tasked with reporting on German and Soviet troops movements and running a one-man embassy. Six months later the World was at war. In July 1940 the Nazi war machine advanced upon the rest of Lithuania. The Soviet authorities ordered all diplomats to leave but Sugihara remained with his Dutch counterpart. Aware of what would happen to Kaunas' tens-of-thousands of Jews when the Nazis took the city they launched an enterprise to help Jews flee the country. The Jews would be able to leave if they had visas for another country. The pair realised it would be possible for them to travel to Dutch colonies in the Caribbean but via Japan, requiring Japanese transit visas. Sugihara sought permission three times from his seniors in Tokyo but was denied and ordered to leave Lithuania for Berlin. Irrespective of his orders, he remained in Kaunas for four weeks and wrote out visas by hand, processing around 300 a day. His wife is reported to have fed him his meals so that he could keep on writing visas. When he left in September he handed his consular stamp to a refugee to continue to issue visas.

It is estimated that 6000 Jews were saved as a result of Sugihara's efforts. After the war he was removed from his job for having disobeyed orders.

In June 1941 the Nazi's broke the Molotov-Ribbentropp Pact and invaded the Lithuanian Soviet. During the Nazi occupation (1941-1944) the mass murder of over 200'000 Jews took place, 94% of the Jewish population. Lithuania was the first European country where mass extermination of the Jews was carried out, mostly by walking them out of the cities and shooting them in mass graves.

Sugihara lived out the rest of his life in relative obscurity until in 1985 he was awarded Israel's "Righteous Among the Nations" honour. He died in 1986.

*Vilnius being under Polish rule at the time.

K is for Klaipeda

On March 23rd 1939 German warships pulled into the town of Memel. Later Adolf Hitler stood on the balcony of the theatre and announced to the predominantly German speaking population that the town was part of the Third Reich. You can still see the same balcony today, in the Lithuanian coastal city of Klaipeda. No, the balcony hasn't been moved, but European borders and empires have.

Officially the city was founded in 1252 by Teutonic Knights. For almost 400 years, between 1525 and 1918, it was the Easternmost City of the Prussian Empire, interrupted by Swedish rule 1628-35 and Russian 1757-62.

It was administered by the French military on behalf of the League of Nations from 1918 with the aim of setting up an independent territory. However in 1923 it became part of Lithuania for the first time in its history after the latter took over the territory.

Lithuanians often say that Klaipeda looks more German than Lithuanian. Indeed, there are more redbrick buildings and sloping roofs (take a look at the central post office) but to my mind, Klaipeda is more a mixture of post-World War II, Soviet era modernist buildings and standard concrete blocks alongside modern glass-fronted buildings. As a strategic port and a base for German submarines Klaipeda was almost entirely raised to the ground during WW2. One of Klaipeda's newest sights are the D and K buildings - a hotel and apartment block - named after their shape. They stand taller than any other building in Klaipeda and the views from the caf at the top are fantastic - though the menu is less satisfying.

Today Klaipeda, Lithuania's third city with a population of around 200,000, is a popular tourist destination. From here it's possible to make the short journey to the Curonian Spit - an almost unique geological feature. or further up the coast to Palanga. In the summer, this town is all sea, sand, sex and sun - probably in that order of frequency. The sandy beaches are wonderful and the Baltic Sea less salty than those that wash against Western Europe. In the summer months most of Vilnius moves here, including MTV who broadcast from the beach. In fact everyone moves here and ends up sitting in traffic for hours as the town's population bulges and the road network fails to cope.

In the winter there's definitely less sun and a lot less sex. On one particularly bracing walk along the beach the sea had frozen in large chunks, about a foot deep and several feet across. These mini icebergs rubbed together making a sound like grinding plastic as the lapping waves underneath gently lifted them up and down. Approaching the entrance to the port of Klaipeda was like witnessing a huge Slush Puppy. Fishing boats and cruise liners sailed perfectly normally across the dark blue and green sugary syrup in and out of the port.

If you needed yet more reasons to visit, on the northernmost tip of the Curonian Spit, a brief ferry ride away, is a Dolphinarium. You could almost be in Florida!


I is for Ice Cream

It's above freezing nearly every day now; spring is nearly here so it will soon be time to cool off with a big bowl of ice cream.

I've recently thought that ice cream is a great way to measure the economic and cultural "level" of a country. You could look simply at GDP, or at GDP per capita. Other ways include counting how many cars are in the country per household or counting how many fridges there are per capita. You could investigate the political freedom enjoyed by citizens. However, I think you could also investigate the ability to purchase, the consumption and the quality of ice cream!

After all, to produce, transport and sell ice cream requires a significant infrastructure. You need established dairy farms, or at the very least some cows, goats or Soya to produce the milky goodness, a working energy source (or very cold weather) to power your freezer, you need freezer trucks to transport your tasty treats to the shop and then you need yet more freezer power to keep it in perfect condition for your consumers to enjoy it properly. The more you think about, the more technology that is required in the ice cream business. I wonder how our desire for frozen pleasures is actually warming the World?

Ice cream also allows a lot of variety and creativity. From flavours to texture to what is included in the tub - from chocolate to cookies and cream. My basic assumption is that in somewhere like the USA or Western Europe, you can find the largest choice of exotic, tasty colourful ice cream - to buy over the counter or to take home in a nice plastic tub and watch in front of Friends, etc. Luxury!

Once the reserve of rich people with enough space to build an ice-house in their grounds, ice cream is now a luxury item enjoyed by millions across the world. I use the word luxury to mean something that serves no real function in sustaining life but is an otherwise enjoyable novelty. I know ice cream is technically a food, but it's not something you need, has very few nutritional properties and yet I think still has a special place in people's hearts! Hearing the ice cream van playing its monophonic tune still brings a smile to most people and what apple pie or dessert isn't made that extra bit special by a big scoop of vanilla-flavoured frozen milk products?

In the final days of milk being given to British children in schools, a friend of mine in Lithuania - Stepas (who used to play on the concrete slide, see E is for Entertainment) - would hide empty beer or lemonade bottles that he found in walls and under windows. When his mum asked him to pick something up from the shops, he would take one of his bottles from its hiding place and upon giving it to the shop-keeper would receive 20 Kopeks. This princely sum is also how much a portion of ice cream would cost.

From my observations of Lithuanians, particularly young people, ice cream is still a popular treat. You can't buy it for 20 Kopeks anymore but even in winter you can see people walking around licking from a cone. Whether it's from McD's or somewhere more expensive ice cream is readily available - though the choice isn't very varied, tending to be vanilla or chocolate. As with many things, Lithuania isn't far behind, but it doesn't yet have the quality of, for example, cornish cream, or the selection of your average Tesco.

However, one little gem in Vilnius is Soprano which is the Avant Garde of Lithuanian ice cream offering a wide selection in the Italian style (but it's website only in Lithuanian).

Another recommendation would be Gusto, a pancake cafe and a reasonably priced for desserts. For other cafes, most of which serve ice cream, take a look at the Vilnius Life cafes and bars section.

I'm sure others of you know good places to buy ice cream - write me a comment and let me and the world know.

I might even try a top 5 list of ice cream in Lithuania, or at least Vilnius...

H is for History

Kosovo might well be Europe's newest country, though currently we're still waiting for the international community to recognise it. Here in the Baltics Lithuania celebrated its own Independence Day last Saturday. Although most people might assume that this is from the Soviet Union, Lithuania actually celebrates 90 years since, in the midst of war and revolution, it first declared itself as an independent, sovereign democratic state. It had been a part of Russia's Northwest Territory yet at the time was occupied by German forces.

Although the borders changed as Lithuania fought with Poland over the capital Vilnius, Lithuania enjoyed independence until the secretive Molotov - Ribbentropp Pact led to occupation by German and then later Soviet Russian troops. Lithuania finally regained it's independence in 1991 during the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Walking through the snowy streets of Vilnius' Old Town in the bright sunshine and past Signatories House where the first declaration was made it is hard to imagine Lithuania's past. Young men try to impress their recent Valentine dates with their black BMWs and smartly dressed business men drink coffee or local beer in glass fronted cafs. Only eight days ago Vilnius held a meeting of NATO defence ministers.

Last weekend Lithuanians have been remembering the long, difficult and occasionally bloody history of its previous 90 years. Laisvė - freedom is very much a loaded and emotive word even amongst the young people and students who can't remember those times. Many of them gathered in the capital's Cathedral square for a free concert by some of Lithuania's most popular singers. Every year the square sees thousands gather, waving the yellow, green and red tricolour, often in snow and subzero temperatures to declare their love of Laisvė and Lietuva. The concert was entitled 9 steps and each one does give a good overview of Lithuanian history over the last 90 years.

The Act of the creation of the state. This is when the then ruling council declared independence as above. The Partisan War. What we would today term an "insurgency". This ran from 1941 until 1953.

Romas Kalanta. In 1972, this 19 year-old student set himself on fire in protest of the Soviet Occupation.

Sąjūdis (1988) - Meaning movement (as in a people's movement), this was a group of the Lithuanian intelligentsia with the aim to reform Lithuania and bring about cultural openness and political change.

The Baltic Way (1989) - Around 2 million Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians link hands from Vilnius, via Riga to Tallinn on the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

March 11 1990, The Lithuanian Supreme Council declares Lithuanian independence from the Soviet Union.

January 13 1991, 14 unarmed civilians are killed as Soviet tanks storm the TV tower. Civilians barricade and form a human wall around the Parliament building.

May 1 2004 Lithuania becomes a member of the EU. February 16 2008. Nothing actually happened on this day, except to remember the past 90 years and to remind Lithuanians of the cost of their freedom.

What the future holds for Lithuania and what the next steps might be continues to be a topic of much discussion for Lithuanians. Even today in the English language, Baltic Times President Valdas Adamkus is quoted as saying,

"let us purify our aspirations from anger, hatred and short-lived interests. Let us be worthy of our state and nation: let us be the architects of a new Lithuania. "Today we are walking down a path where we feel more secure from external threats than ever before in the course of our history. It is globalization and the rapidly changing world that create crucial challenges."


G is for Gimtadienis and Greetings

On Sunday evening I got a text.

"Dalyte, rytoj darome siurpriza Adomui 8:30..." (Dalia (a girl's name), tomorrow we're making a surprise for Adam).

I had been working over the weekend and hadn't slept for very long Friday and Saturday nights, so it was I looking forward to a lie-in and enjoying my birthday and a day-off at the same time. However, having been pre-warned I was showered, dressed and ready on Monday morning to receive guests.

According to plan, friends arrived with breakfast - oat cakes, croissants, bananas and apples and a feast of smiles all round. We laughed that I already knew they were coming. I'm not sure it's a very cultural thing to do, but it's now the second surprise birthday breakfast I have taken part in and I can recommend it to anyone. I've taken part in many birthday parties and celebrations in my time here in Lithuania. I think my favourite was Sergej's surprise barbecue party in a forest just outside Vilnius. It was exactly that - a lot of his friends in a forest, quite a way from anything with a barbecue made from half an oil drum. He arrived blind folded I think and then more people appeared from behind bushes and trees to greet him with a song. It was a hilarious time and one of the first chances to enjoy the start of the Lithuanian summer. It also involved something I have only ever experienced in Lithuania - the greeting circle.

The basic concept is that people in the circle say a few words to whoever is standing in the middle. This might involve a serious speech or just a few words, such as "I wish you joy", "I hope you have a good year." This basic form can be used at birthdays, weddings, celebrations of almost anything. I haven't been to a funeral yet. I don't think they'd do it there. The greeting circle comes in different levels of extremity; from the basic, whoever wants to give a greeting to the full blown, everyone present must say something and the person or people in the middle should respond with thanks and a greeting of their own.

For a culture that can be quite closed on first contact, this is the total antithesis. I've seen howls of laughter and full on tears as people have shared their stories and wished others fruitful and joyful futures. For a young Englishman this can all be quite overwhelming, especially when you know you're going to have to say something and instead of listening to what the people before you are saying, you're watching your turn come towards you like a rabbit in the headlights of an 18-wheeler.

"Come on Adam, think, think, what new words did you learn in lessons last week? What greetings do you know? Oh no, he just said that one. Right think of something else. Something quick, easy to say, that needs no extra explanation and maybe no one will notice you..." Deep breath... "Linkiu tau daug... iminties". Wisdom

Wisdom? Well, wisdom has become my standard response to these situations. Money, joy, happiness, a wife or a husband and success have normally gone by the time it comes to me. And let's face it, we can all do with a little bit more wisdom in our lives.

After a day of relaxing at home I made my way yesterday evening to Quiz Night at a local bar via Edgaras flat. We drank tea and at 19:20 I suggested we leave as we were going to be late. We walked out of his flat and soon afterwards walked into each other. "Where are you going?" I asked. "This way" he responded. I realised we weren't going to Quiz Night at all, but actually back to my flat where in the previous 30 minutes his girlfriend and various other friends of mine had let themselves in with his spare key and decorated the flat with balloons and again provided snacks and goodies for us to feast upon. This time the surprise really was kept under wraps. It is indeed a very strange experience to return only 30 minutes later to your flat and have it full of people!

I actually got away without having the greeting circle. However, I did receive two A3 pages with drawings indicating my future. Staying in Lithuania featured heavily, as did moustaches, teaching Russian and Lithuanian and a wife. In case you don't know, I am leaving Lithuania this summer, do not have a moustache, speak no Russian and don't yet even have a girlfriend...


F if for Festivals, or more precisely festival, in this case Ugavėnės (Shrovetide, Mardis Gras).

Across the country people dress up, make a lot of noise and even set fire to a mock-up of Winter herself. Just another Saturday evening for students some might say, and for others a little too reminiscent of the The Wicker Man.

In my dictionary, the nearest related words are ugavėjas and ugavimas, meaning, 'one who insults' and 'an insult'. This pretty much sums up what happens at this time of year. Whereas in the UK we might make a few pancakes on Pancake Day/ Shrove Tuesday and maybe give up something for lent until Easter, the tradition of Ugavėnės involves dressing up and making a lot of noise - with the aim of scaring away winter. This year, the winter has not been very cold, so there's not much to scare away - but nonetheless, the turn-out in Vilnius city centre was impressive. I'll let the photos do their own talking...


Tuesday, 29 January 2008

E is for Entertainment

I have spent the last few days travelling across Lithuania, to the towns of Klaipėda and Panevėys. There will be more about both these cities in future posts. In Panevėys I took a walk with a friend through one of it's parks. It was here that I was able to photograph another contrast, loosely related to the theme of entertainment.

Exhibit A

[See photo]

No, it's not an anti-tank obstacle or any sort of retro modern art. This testament to the beauty of concrete is a child's slide. Can you imagine the fun that must have been had as you passed through the first concrete cone, climbed the iron ladder and made your way to the launch platform, before launching yourself at a sharp 45 degrees! (If your ankles didn't shatter on the floor)

Just around the corner in the same park is a brand new skate park.

Exhibit B

[See photo]

BMX biking, roller blading and skateboarding is very fashionable and popular amongst the Lithuanian youth and such parks are popping up all over the place. There's one near the centre of Vilnius and on any day without snow it's the scene of many small boys making their first tentative descent on a half pipe and budding Tony Hawks pulling Funky Chickens, Elephant Glides and Firehydrants.

If extreme sports is not your thing or you're all grinded out then Lithuania still has plenty to offer in the way of entertainment. There are bars, cafes, theatres and cinemas - all of which you can find details about in a guide book. What you can't read in the guide books, but need to visit the Tourist Information Office or have a friend in a band, is the amount of free concerts that happen throughout the year, expecially in Vilnius. The producers of Palin's New Europe (BBC TV 2007) felt the need to show about 5 minutes worth of local people singing. It was embarrassing to watch. Lithuania is however a nation of singers as Palin sought to illustrate. The free concerts and performances that litter the calender are a truer testament to the singing heart of Lithuanians. The quality can range from blond haired girls singing cheesey pop at the annual Christmas Concert in Cathedral Square to traditionally dressed troupes singing folk songs. There was even a day last summer when almost anyone who wanted to was able to play and sing on Vilnius Street Music Day (photos below). The best advice for anyone coming to Lithuania - follow your ears!

You could of course stay inside and watch TV. Especially for the Dviračio ou - Literally The Bike Show - which includes two men dressed up as mice debating the current political goings-on. It's very Fast Show and Not The Nine O'Clock News.

Pasilik Lietuvoje (Stay in Lithuania) Concert - Encouraging young people not to travel abroad, but to stay and live and work in Lithuania (The organisers were foreigners who live in Lithuania). Childline Birthday Concert, Cathedral Square All below from Vilnius Street Music Day


Saturday, 19 January 2008

D is for Demographics

According to the last census, taken in 2005, this is the make up of the population in Lithuania. Since joining the EU in May 2004, tens of thousands of Lithuanian residents have left to work in Western Europe and America. Population decline is a regular news story. Therefore the figures aren't entirely accurate. Only time will tell how many of these people will return to Lithuania in the future.

Ethnicity Total
Total 3483972
Lithuanian 2907293
Pole 234989
Russian 219789
Belarussian 42866
Ukrainian 22488
Jew 4007
German 3243
Tatar 3235
Latvian 2955
Roma (Gipsy) 2571
Armenian 1477
Azerbaijan 788
Moldovan 704
Georgian 437
Estonian 419
Karaite 273
Chuvash 264
Other 3253
Not indicated 32921

I'm assuming that most people don't know who the Karaites are. In general, Karaism is a form of Jewish religious belief. The Karaites in Lithuania originate from the Crimea and speak a Turkic language. Around the late 14th Century AD, Grand Duke Vytautas invited several hundred Karaite warriors to be part of his personal guard at his castle and capital in the town of Trakai. This is were most of the Karaite community still live and today it is possible to visit one of their religious buildings called a Kenesa (When I went, the man who opened the door, spoke to me in a language I didn't understand - so I think he was a Karaite, or drunk).

I've never met a Chuvash, but I suppose I wouldn't know one if I did. The Chuvash are a Turkic people, predominantly Orthodox Christian. I currently don't know enough about them to know where they have come from and why they are in Lithuania, but most Chuvash people live in Chuvashia, a region of Russia 600 km east of Moscow. Are you Chuvash? Let me know.

The "other" includes various amounts of Ex-pats. Interestingly enough, the French lead the way in Vilnius with having the largest ex-pat community. They haven't been invited by the president to be his security, rather, in my experience of French people here, they are living out their retirement, studying, working for international companies and of course, falling in love.

Apart from the Caf de Paris, you won't really notice the French presence on the streets This is until France are playing rugby or football. Then you realise just how many there are as they squeeze into the Irish Bar to watch big screen sport.

From personal experience, I can also tell you there are 3 Egyptians living in Lithuania, until recently 2 Bangladeshis and a handful of Pakistanis.

The data above was taken from the Lithuania Department of Statistics, available in English at http://www.stat.gov.lt/en/ Apologies for not posting the proper table, I couldn't figure out how to get it to look right.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

C is for Contrasts, Changes and Character

Vilnius, as with the whole country, is a city of contrasts. On the same streets you'll see Humvees (I've counted at least three - one bright yellow, one shiny black, and one white stretch Hummer) cruising the streets being driven by rich young men and old Soviet Ladas being driven by older men. Every country and city has its own contrasts, it's old and new coexisting together, but somehow in Lithuania, they just seem starker and more apparent. It's one of the things I love so much about Lithuania.

North of the river, in one of the most recent developments, you'll find the City Hall, a bank HQ and shopping centre, all made from towering glass with fountains outside and not a hint of concrete to be seen. However, less than 2 minutes walk you'll find what could almost be a small village of wooden houses, each with their own plot of land and maybe one of the occupants washing their clothes in a bucket of water. I'll try and put photos up.

It's these architectural and clearly-seen changes that strike, not only a visiting Brit, but returnees to Lithuania. As residents of Stratford (London), East Anglia and Dublin will know, there are a fare few hundred thousand (probably) Lithuanians living and working in the UK and Ireland. I recently met a couple who had spent the last 8 years living in England. As we talked, they told me they had expected the numbers and quality of cars to rise, new buildings to be built, the roads to be improved and the choice of foods to increase (My local big supermarket now has a whole shelf dedicated to Eastern food. It's not big, but it's nice to be able to check your tongue can still handle the spice once in a while). However, they were also expecting the people to change more.

Lithuanians like to joke that of the three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania - right hand pinky remember?), they are the most open and friendly, while the Estonians up north are more reserved and quiet. This is true, but it by no means indicates that Lithuanians are throw-your-arms-wide-open give you a kiss and hug and shower you in reverence and awe on a first meeting. There is one guy like that in Lithuania. His name is Sergej. I'll talk about him another time. My new friends remarked that it still takes a long time to build friendships here. Indeed, first encounters can sometimes be awkward.

Despite my good looks, English charm and holding the door open for a lady, I'm no James Bond. Yet, often when I meet new people, particularly amongst young men, I feel like they are sizing me up.

"Is he here to steal our secret plans to infiltrate all walks of life, only to rise up and begin the United Kingdom of Lithuania, Great Britain and Ireland? Is he here to steal our above averagely attractive young ladies? We must know..."

I've never been interrogated, but that's part of the problem. I often don't feel like people are interested or at least they don't make the banal chat about the weather or our latest holidays that would perhaps be expected on those distant Atlantic battered shores. This is of course, a stereotype. Not every Lithuanian guy is a silent, sit in the corner, eyeing-the-new-guy type. As I said, there's Sergej.

The comment that most stuck with me from this couple, was that Lithuanians "don't want to belong to groups. They want to be individuals". Consumers not committers. "We're still not open to new people."


Friday, 4 January 2008

B is for Beginnings

My journeys and visits to Lithuania have always begun at Vilnius International Airport. When I first arrived it wasn't much different in size than the main train station. By the time the final passenger has left the plane, boarded the bus and been driven two hundred metres to "arrivals", the first passenger has probably been through passport control, collected their luggage and entered through the frosted "Stars in Their Eyes" doors. Through these doors lies Lithuania - all it's beauty, oddity, unknown. On the public side of these doors, your crowd awaits. All walks of Lithuanian life gather; old ladies, parents, students, children, all clutching gifts for their friends and family recently returned from "the West" - Ireland, the UK, Spain, etc. Despite the pushing and standing on tip-toes, straining for that first glimpse of a long-missed loved one, the crowd allows a narrow parting for people to walk down. Occasionally, when a reunion is a little too emotional, the narrow line to the doors can get blocked, but this is rectified quickly, either by an apologetic Englishman asking if it "would be possible to get past", or by the embracing women's father/ husband urging them to move, "we're paying for the car park remember".

Lined around this melee are the taxi drivers holding signs for names of investors, businessmen and sometimes tourists. Most of these names tend to be Scandinavian. Vilnius Airport is not a tourist airport. By which I mean it isn't primarily an airport where foreigners arrive on their holidays. It's not full of tacky shops or car hire booths or tour guides. It is functional. It has a single bureau de change, a small kiosk where you can buy bus tickets, magazines, chocolate and cigarettes, an information desk, which will be closed if you're arriving on any of the direct flights from the UK. Though I have never used it, there is a desk somewhere for car hire; at least, there is a sign to such a desk.

I first walked through those doors two years feeling apprehensive

"Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be Adomas".

I was met in the airport by Jurga and Edita (typical Lithuanian names). Blonde hair, blue eyes, long coats, scarves and I think one of them even wore a hat. Think, the French Resistance from 'Allo 'Allo, only with much better English. Out we passed into the Lithuanian day, cold, very cold, and made our way to our lift, Rita and her trusty Vauxhall (Opel) Nova. First language experience, "err, labas" I said, or something that probably sounded more like "lar-bars". Rita didn't speak English.

Like most people arriving in Vilnius, I headed straight to the centre, to Old Town Senamiestis. The drive from the Airport to the Centre is like unwrapping dusty newspaper. It's grey, dusty, and as a Londoner, I reflected, even less colourful than the Old Kent Road, which is where I had lived previously. You peel off the layers of newspaper, trying to read the Latin script, yet bewildered at every word, instead looking at the pictures. Suddenly you turn a corner, off with the last layer of the newspaper and in your hands sits the kind of wrapping paper your Mum would tell you to carefully unwrap and not spoil it - "You can use it next year". Vilnius Old Town, to everyone from the most hardened capitalist, to the stag-do drunkard would agree, that Vilnius's architecture, little streets and magnificent churches make a beautiful beginning to any visit in Lithuania. If it was edible it would taste of Gingerbread and cinnamon. Here begins your adventure in Vilnius, and hopefully of the rest of Lithuania. If you arrive in summer the small cobbled streets will be alive with tables and chairs and tourists and locals, all mixing together, enjoying the short lived sunshine. If you come in the winter, you'll find places to unwrap your layers from the snow and ice, and get cosy in one of the cafes or restaurants.

Friday, 28 December 2007

A is for Arrivals

"How's Latvia?"
"Lithuania."
"Sorry?"
"Lithuania. I'm in Lithuania, not Latvia, it's the next country south."

So begins the typical conversation with people when I return to the UK after spending time in the aforementioned Baltic country which has been my home for the last two years. With people I meet for the first time the conversation usually begins

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lampo viaggiatore from Italy Reply Dec 16th, 2010

really nice post! i visited Vilnius last year, i think is a beautiful city and all italians have to visit it! :D

Peter from United Kingdom Reply Feb 22nd, 2008

Excellent blog, well written indeed...