At this point we’d been living in Europe for a year. We’d done the usual countries, the expected cities, and seen the typical sights that one associates with Europe. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Eastern Europe is not to be missed, and the Baltic States should not be overlooked. So, Lithuania was our next stop. It was not a country I had ever planned on visiting, but I’d tasted most of Western Europe at this point so it was time to try the Baltics. A few people asked us why we wanted to go there. I’d simply respond, “Why not?”
One of the most convenient aspects of traveling to Lithuania was the currency exchange. We found out quickly that we could get a lot for our money in this country which was refreshing since we’re used to traveling on strict budgets. Once we realized we could live like queens (only a slight exaggeration), we let loose on spending and tried to drink in as much of Lithuania as possible. We walked along Gedimino prospektas, the posh main street in Vilnius lined with restaurants and well-known shops, and ended at the Vilnius Cathedral. The clean white building situated next to the clock tower was the first cathedral I’d seen of its kind. The architecture in Vilnius is unique and in a league of its own. It’s simple but with sharp details that make it elegant. We stumbled upon church after church as we journeyed up and down Vilnius’s narrow, stone streets. Many souvenirs were purchased on a street that has not changed since the foundation of Vilnius. The buildings were in tones of warm colors and sandwiched together all housing small shops and restaurants. I made my amber ring purchase, and we were both tempted by the hand knit sweater socks that kept begging us to buy them. We passed Vilnius University, the oldest in Europe, on our way to the Uzupis neighborhood where we found beautiful graffiti and a brightly lit park as night was descending upon us.
After crossing a wooden bridge over the creek that led us to the park, we had a fun photo shoot with the memorial statues outside of St. Anne’s Church. Since it was freezing, and we’d been walking the city for hours, it was time to immerse ourselves in some Lithuanian cuisine, and most importantly, beer. After making use of the wifi at an English pub, we headed to Snekutis and didn’t hesitate to order way too much food. Two pints of golden ale, a plate of smoked cheese, potato dumplings with meat, and two pancakes with cheese left us full and satisfied. Not thinking we could handle any more food was our mindset until we found a mini tree cake, so of course we had to try it. Walking back to the center of town helped us digest the rich food we’d consumed so we stopped for more beers and witnessed some faithful Lithuanian football fans sing their national anthem in support of their team. Wanting a change of atmosphere, we headed to La Boheme for a glass of red wine to end our day. Just past the entryway of this cozy wine bar are mattresses to use as opposed to a table and chairs. The restaurant was situated in an old building with stone interiors and was lit with candles. A popular spot for locals, the wine bar was crowded but the atmosphere was cozy. I always find it fascinating just sitting in a bar and sharing conversation while listening to the foreign languages being spoken around us. I didn’t understand a word of what people were saying but being surrounded by languages other than English was the norm in my life. Our host for the weekend met us at La Boheme after we had finished our wine, and we headed north of the city to sleep for the night.
Trakai only being about an hour away from Vilnius made it a must-do day trip while we were in Lithuania. We’d fallen for the pictures we’d seen of the castle online, so we had to experience it firsthand. A quick train ride brought us to the tiny town on Lake Galve, and we made the cold walk from the station to the island castle. Trakai is a simple little town with mostly houses and a few shops and restaurants. A row of small houses colored yellow, red, green, and blue added to the town’s character and charm. Of course the main attraction is the Castle at Trakai, the rustic orange, 15th century home to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. We crossed the long, wooden planked bridge and paid a small fee to go back to the Middle Ages and explore the castle’s rooms and courtyards. Climbing steep staircases and dancing on drawbridges, we had a blast inside the castle walls. We weren’t at all disappointed by the castle, but we were cold, so after walking in the steps of royalty and making friends with an old accordion player who played “America the Beautiful” for us, we lunched on warm, homemade soup and kibinai at a small restaurant owned by a Lithuanian couple. The kibinai is a typical dumpling from Trakai, and it was perfection.
We finished our meal, bundled up and prepared ourselves to face the half hour walk in the cold back to the Trakai station. Despite the weather, Lithuania was still a special place with lots of history, unique sights, and wonderful food. Someday soon I’ll be back to see the rest of the Baltics, but I’m glad Lithuania made my list.