Lithuania by zhouwenjuan


Any country that gives pride of place to a memorial statue of singer Frank Zappa has got to
be worth a visit. Lithuania is the most vibrant Baltic state, shown not only by its
antiestablishment statues but more deeply by its daring and emotional drive for
independence in 1990-91.

Lithuania owes much to the rich cultural currents of central Europe: with neighbouring
Poland it once shared an empire stretching from the Baltic Sea almost to the Black Sea. The
Lithuanian people are regarded as much more outgoing and less organised than their
Estonian and Latvian counterparts, and most still practice the Roman Catholicism which sets
them apart from their Baltic neighbours.

Although small and less than spectacular, Lithuania boasts attractions ranging from the
intriguing Curonian Spit and the strange Hill of Crosses to the urban pleasures of Vilnius, the
historic, lively capital.

Full country name: Republic of Lithuania
Area: 65,200 sq km (25,212 sq mi)
Population: 3.7 million
Capital city: Vilnius (pop 590,100)
People: Lithuanian 80.6%, Russian 8.7%, Polish 7%, Byelorussian 1.6%
Languages: Lithuanian, Polish, Russian
Religion: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Russian Orthodox, Protestant, evangelical Christian
Baptist, Islam, Judaism
Government: Parliamentary democracy
President: Rolandas Paksas

GDP: US$17.6 billion
GDP per head: US$4900
Annual growth: 4.5%
Inflation: 5.1%
Major industries: petroleum refining, shipbuilding (small ships), furniture making, textiles,
food processing, fertilizers, agricultural machinery, electronic components, agriculture

Facts for the Traveler
Visas: Lithuania requires visas from most nationalities except citizens of the Baltic states,
Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
Health risks: None
Time: GMT/UTC plus 1 hour
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
Weights & measures: metric
Tourism: 950,000 visitors a year
When to Go
Summer and spring (May through September) are far and away the best times of year to
travel in Lithuania. The majority of foreign tourists come during July and August, when low-
budget hotels and hostels can be fully booked. While there's usually a picturesque sprinkling
of snow on the ground in winter (November through March), there's also only a few hours of
daylight each day.

The most emotive cultural event is the National Song Festival, held every five years (the
next one will be in Vilnius in 2000). Over 100,000 people are expected to join in with the
singing of several hundred choirs from the Baltic region. Midsummer celebrations are
keenly celebrated in these latitudes: the night of 23 June, considered to have magical
powers, is the climax of events. The Baltika folk festival rotates among the Baltic capitals -
it's due in Lithuania in July 1999.

Other popular cultural events include horse races on Lake Sartai in Dusetos, near Utena,
on the first Saturday of February; St Casimir Day, Lithuania's patron saint's day, on 4
March; April's International Jazz Festival, which attracts top musicians from all over the
world to Kaunas; and the Life Theatre Festival, a week-long theatre festival that features
avant-garde productions in Vilnius in May. Also in Vilnius is a week-long Summer Music
Festival of street theatre, dancing, masked parades and craft fairs in the Old Town in July;
and Vilnius City Days, three days of musical and cultural events in theatres, concert halls
and on the streets in mid-September. Velines (All Souls' Day) commemorates the dead with
visits to cemeteries on 2 November.

Money & Costs
Currency: the Litas (plural form Litu)

Relative Costs:

 Budget: US$1-5
 Mid-range: US$5-15
 Top-end: US$15 and upwards

 Budget: US$2-25
 Mid-range: US$25-75
 Top-end: US$75 and upwards

Travel in the Baltic States can still be bully for budgeters. Hostel accommodation is rarely
more than US$10 and can go as low at US$2 for a bed in a shared room. This style of
accommodation combined with eating in cheap canteens or cafeterias, or self-catering, and
travelling in small bursts by bus or train can keep daily costs down to under US$10 per
person. If you prefer homestays or mid-range hotel accommodation and eating in quality
restaurants, daily costs may tick up to around US$40 to US$60 per person.

Currency exchange isn't a problem in Lithuania, although cashing travellers' cheques is best
done in large cities such as Vilnius, Kaunas, Siauliai and Klaipeda. Numerous ATMs give
cash advances on Visa, MasterCard and Eurocard, while credit cards are common methods
of payment in hotels and restaurants. Make sure whatever cash currency you bring in is in
pristine condition. Marked, torn or simply very used notes will be refused.

Lithuania has a value-added tax (VAT) of 18%, and it's automatically included in all
accommodation and eating costs. Tipping isn't compulsory in Lithuania, but it's common to
give waiters 5 or 10% by rounding up the bill. Some bargaining (but not a lot) goes on at flea



Lithuania's capital city has an international flavour, partly due to the influence of the big
Lithuanian diaspora and partly because it has always been exposed to influences from
central Europe and beyond. In the 16th century, Vilnius was one of the biggest cities in
eastern Europe; it played a part in Poland's 17th-century 'golden age' and became an
important Jewish city in the 19th century. Germany, Poland and Russia have all played
pass-the-parcel with Vilnius this century. Post-WWII, with the Poles and the Jews mostly
gone, Vilnius developed into the chief focus of Lithuania's push for independence.
Particularly dramatic and tragic events took place here in January 1991, when Soviet troops
trying to destabilise the situation stormed the city's TV installations, killing 13 people and
injuring many others.

Vilnius lies 250km (155mi) inland from the Baltic Sea on the banks of the Neris river. It's in
the southeast of Lithuania, just a stone's throw from the Belarus border. The centre of the
city is on the southern side of the river, and its heart is Cathedral Square, an open square
with the cathedral on its northern side and Gediminas Hill rising behind it. The Old Town,
the largest in eastern Europe, stretches south from Cathedral Square. A church spire can be
seen from every one of its winding streets, which, coupled with its countless hidden
courtyards, make it intriguing to explore. Other landmarks include Vilnius University, the
President's palace, an observatory and the old Jewish quarter and ghetto. Restaurants,
pubs, nightclubs and cafés abound. Three Crosses Hill overlooks the Old Town and is a
long-standing landmark. Crosses are said to have stood here since the 17th century in
memory of three monks who were martyred by crucifixion on this spot.

The New Town lies 2km (1mi) west of the Old Town and was mostly built in the 19th
century. City hall is situated here, as is the Museum of the Genocide of the Lithuanian
People, housed in the former Gestapo and KGB building. The guides here are all former
inmates and will show you round the cells where they were tormented. South of the river
there's a bronze bust memorial to American rock legend Frank Zappa. Vilnius' Soviet-era
suburbs are north of the river. There are plenty of accommodation options in and around the
Old Town; this is also the best place to nose out a good restaurant.

Curonian Spit

The typical Baltic coastal scent of mingled ozone and pine is at its headiest on the northern
Lithuanian half of the Curonian Spit which dominates Lithuania's Baltic coast. This area is
made up of four settlements - Juodkrante, Pervalka, Preila and Nida - none of which are
more than a couple of kilometres from the coast. There's a magical air to this isolated 98km
(60mi) thread of sand, which is composed of dunes and lush pine forests inhabited by elk,
deer and wild boar. Savouring fish freshly smoked to an old Curonian recipe is a highlight of
a visit here. In summer you can hire jet skis or paddle boats in Nida; ice fishing and drinking
vodka are the principal winter pursuits.

Check on the cleanliness of the waters of the lagoon and the spit before you dive in - they're
often not fit for swimming. The dunes along the peninsula are delicate, and their continual
steady erosion is of great concern to environmentalists. It's for this reason that you should
only walk along marked tracks and should not pick flowers, since they help to stabilise the

Buses run along the spit from Smiltyné, at its northern tip. Ferries cross to Smiltyné from the
mainland town of Klaipeda, which has bus and rail connections to Vilnius and other centres.

Hill of Crosses

This two-humped hillock is covered in a forest of thousands upon thousands of crosses -
large and tiny, expensive and cheap, wooden and metal. Some are devotional, to
accompany prayers, others are memorial. It's thought that the tradition of planting crosses
here may have begun in the 14th century. In the Soviet era the crosses were bulldozed at
least three times, only to spring up again. It's an eerie place, especially when the wind blows
and the silence is broken by the rattling of crosses and rosaries. The Hill of Crosses is 10km
(6mi) north of Siauliai, 2km (1mi) east off the road to Riga, the Latvian capital. Siauliai is
140km (87mi) north of Kaunas and has good rail and bus connections with both Kaunas and


This resort's status stems from its mineral springs, which have been in demand for their
curative powers since the 19th century. Druskininkai is also well known as the birthplace of
modern Jewish sculptor Jacques Lipchitz and the home town of outstanding romantic painter
and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, who is the subject of a large stylised statue
and a memorial museum. In recent times, a new 'attraction' has hit the outskirts of town.
Stalin World (officially the Soviet Sculpture Garden at Grutas Park) is described by the
canned mushroom mogul behind its copnstruction as combining 'the charms of a Disneyland
with the worst of the Soviet gulag prison camp'. Druskininkai is in southern Lithuania, on the
Nemunas river, not far from the border with Belarus. The resort has direct bus and train
connections with Vilnius.


This small city is quiet in winter, but in summer it's transformed into Lithuania's premier
seaside resort, and accommodation is at a premium. It features a long, sandy beach backed
by pine-covered dunes; a large botanical park with a rose garden; a hill thought to have
been the site of a pagan shrine; and an excellent Amber Museum. Palanga hosts a grand
opening of the summer season on the first Saturday in June; the closing of the season, on
the last Saturday in August, is marked by a massive street carnival, market, song festival
and pop concert.

Palanga is 30km (18mi) north of Klaipeda and 18km (11mi) south of the Latvian border.
Kretinga, the nearest train station, is served by daily trains from Klaipeda and Vilnius. Bus
services abound. Motorists have to pay a small entrance fee to drive into Palanga.

Off the Beaten Track
Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant

Should you harbour an inexplicable urge to be the progenitor of generations of mutants, then
a visit to the world's largest RMBK Chernobyl-style reactor plant may leave you with a warm
inner (and outer) glow. The Visaginas town centre, 2km (1mi) west of the plant, features a
Geiger counter that records daily radiation levels. The plant boasts two RMBK reactors,
which are graphite cooled and have no containment system; if an accident occurs, radiation
is immediately released into the open air. Visaginas is 120km (74mi) north-east of Vilnius. If
you don't have private transport, trains connect Vilnius with the town of Ignalina, 50km
(31mi) south of the plant, from where you can catch a local bus or taxi to Visaginas.

Centre of Europe

In 1989 the French National Geographical Institute named a spot on the road to Moletai,
25km (15mi) north of Vilnius, as the centre of Europe. It's marked by a small, granite
sculpture that has been vandalised, but a new sculpture - a pyramid with all the European
capitals and their distances from the centre marked on it - is planned for the site. To get
there, turn right off the Vilnius-Moletai road at the 'Europas Centras' sign.


This old Lithuanian capital is now a small, quiet town in an attractive country area of lakes
and islands. Most of the town stands on a peninsula dotted with old wooden cottages, many
of them built by the Karaites - a Judaist sect originating in Baghdad that adheres to the Law
of Moses. The Karaites were brought to Trakai by Vytautas the Great around 1400 AD to
serve as bodyguards, and about 150 of them still live here. Their numbers are dwindling
rapidly, giving legitimacy to fears that Lithuania's smallest ethnic minority could die out.
There's a small Karaites museum here and an early-19th-century Karaites prayer house,
both of which were renovated in 1997. Trakai is just 28km (17mi) west of Vilnius, connected
to the capital by both train and bus.

Cross-country skiing, ice skating and toboganning are all popular winter sports;
Aukstaitija National Park, in eastern Lithuania, has the best cross-country skiing trails. The
national park is also a good canoeing area - trips can be organised and equipment rented
from the park's tourism and recreation centre. The west coast of the country attracts large
numbers of bird-watchers, especially to the town of Vente, on the eastern side of the
Curonian Lagoon, which is home to an ornithological preserve.

The Fisherman's Club in Vilnius provides advice on all types of fishing and arranges fishing
trips in Lithuania. In the depths of winter, ice fishing is popular on the frozen Curonian
Lagoon. Skydiving and ballooning can be arranged in Vilnius. There are plenty of
opportunities to rent bicycles and there are some fun (and mostly flat) cycling tours.

The ancestors of the modern Lithuanians were known as Balts and probably reached the
area from the south-east around 2000 BC. By the 12th century the Balt peoples were split
into tribal groups, all practising nature religions. The two main groups in Lithuania were the
Samogitians in the west and the Aukstaitiai in the east. In what is now south-west Lithuania
and in neighbouring parts of Poland were the Yotvingians, also a Balt people, later to be
assimilated by the Lithuanians and Poles.

In the mid-13th century Mindaugas, leader of the Aukstaitiai, unified the Lithuanian tribes for
a short time under the Catholic mantle. Pagan princes fought back, then were subjugated by
another Christian, Vytenis, who became grand duke in 1290. His brother Gediminas, grand
duke from 1316 to 1341, took advantage of the decline of the early Russian state to push
Lithuania's borders south and east. It was Gediminas' grandson, Jogaila, who converted to
Catholicism and married the crown princess of Poland in 1386, thus forging a 400-year bond
between the states. The Aukstaitiai were baptised in 1387 and the Samogitians in 1413,
making Lithuania the last European country to accept Christianity. By the end of the 16th
century Lithuania had sunk into a junior role in its partnership with Poland, especially after
the formal union of the two states at the Treaty of Lublin in 1569. Lithuanian gentry adopted
Polish culture and language, Lithuanian peasants became serfs, and the joint state became
known as the Rzeczpospolita (Commonwealth).

Poland-Lithuania began to cast interested eyes over Livonia (Latvia) and Estonia, as did
Sweden and Russia's Ivan the Terrible. Ivan invaded first in 1558, initiating the 25-year
Livonian War. It took Poland-Lithuania and then Sweden many years to expel Ivan and his
Russian compatriots. After they managed this in 1592, Catholic Poland-Lithuania and
Protestant Sweden settled down to fight each other in the Baltics. The Swedes won,
securing Estonia and most of modern Latvia. Meanwhile, conflict continued between Poland-
Lithuania and Russia, with the Russians eventually invading the Rzeczpospolita and
annexing significant territory. A Prussian revival in the 17th century further weakened the
Rzeczpospolita, which was eventually carved up by Russia, Austria and Prussia, with most
of Lithuania going to the Russians.

Lithuania was involved in two Polish rebellions against Russian rule in the 19th century, and
its peasants weren't freed until 1861. The Russians persecuted Catholics and, from 1864,
books could only be published in Lithuanian provided they used the Russian alphabet, and
publications in Polish were banned altogether. During WWI Germany occupied Lithuania,
but on 11 November 1918, the day Germany surrendered to the Allies, a Lithuanian
republican government was set up. Matters were complicated by the re-emergence of an
independent Poland. Polish troops took Vilnius in 1919 and retained it, apart from three
months in 1920, until 1939. In 1920 Soviet Russia signed a peace treaty with Lithuania
recognising its independence.

Lithuania suffered a military coup in 1926 and from 1929 was ruled by Antanas Smetona
along similar lines to Mussolini's Italy. But on 23 August 1939 Nazi Germany and the USSR
signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, which placed Lithuania under the Nazi
sphere of influence. When Lithuania refused to join the Nazi attack on Poland, it was placed
in the Soviet sphere. Lithuania regained Vilnius in October 1939, when the Red Army
invaded eastern Poland; Germany invaded western Poland at the same time. By August
1940 Lithuania had been placed under Soviet military occupation, communists were in
government and the nation had become a republic of the USSR. Hitler invaded Lithuania in
1941, and during the Nazi occupation nearly all of Lithuania's Jewish population was killed in
camps or ghettos. The Red Army reconquered Lithuania by the end of 1944, and it took until
the late 1980s for the nation to take its first steps towards regaining its sovereignty.

A popular front, Sajudis (The Movement), formed as a direct result of Mikhail Gorbachev's
policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), and Lithuania led the Baltic
push for independence from the USSR. Sajudis won 30 of the 42 Lithuanian seats in the
March 1989 elections for the USSR Congress of People's Deputies and, in December, the
Lithuanian Communist Party broke away from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
This pioneering act was a landmark in the break-up of the USSR and, equally daringly,
Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to legalise non-communist parties. Sajudis won a
majority in the elections to Lithuania's supreme soviet in February 1990, and on 11 March
this assembly declared Lithuania an independent republic.

In response, Moscow carried out weeks of intimidatory troop manoeuvres, then clamped an
economic blockade on Lithuania. Sajudis leader Vytautas Landsbergis agreed to a 100-day
moratorium on the independence declaration in return for independence talks between the
respective Lithuanian and Soviet governments. However, Soviet hardliners gained the
ascendancy in Moscow, and in January 1991 Soviet troops occupied strategic buildings in
Vilnius, killing 13 people in the storming of the TV tower and TV centre. Everything changed
with the 19 August 1991 coup attempt against Gorbachev in Moscow. The western world
finally recognised Lithuanian independence and so too did the USSR on 6 September 1991.
On 17 September 1991 Lithuania joined the United Nations and began to enjoy its
rediscovered nationhood. In early 1998 the fruits of the Lithuania diaspora became apparent
when Valdas Adamkus, who had spent most of his adult life in Chicago working as a senior
policy expert for the US Environmental Protection Agency, was elected president.

Lithuania has the most ethnically homogenous population of the three Baltic states. Modern
Lithuanians are descended from the Balt tribes, and the Lithuanian diaspora is by far the
biggest of any of the peoples of the Baltic states, mainly due to emigration for political or
economic reasons in the 19th and early 20th century and during WWII. Lithuanians are
stereotypically gregarious, welcoming and emotional, placing greater emphasis on contacts
and favours than method and calculation. Cooler Estonians and Latvians see Lithuanians as
hot-headed and unpredictable. The independence campaign of the late 1980s and early '90s
illustrated the contrast between Lithuanians and their Baltic neighbours. In Lithuania the
struggle was romantic, daring, cliff-hanging and risky, with at least 20 deaths. In Estonia it
was gradual, calculated and bloodless, leading to the unkind saying that 'Estonians would
die for their freedom - to the last Lithuanian'.

Lithuanian is one of only two surviving languages of the Baltic branch of the Indo-European
language family. Low Lithuanian is spoken in the west and is a different dialect to High
Lithuanian, which is spoken in the rest of the country. The Catholic Church is a conservative
force in Lithuanian society, and its head is the Archbishop of Kaunas. Russian Orthodoxy is
practised in the country, and there are also Old Believers, a sect of the Russian Orthodox
church that has suffered intermittent persecution since the 17th century. There are also
pagans in Lithuania, highlighted by the Romuva movement, which has congregations in
Vilnius and Kaunas as well as among Lithuanian communities overseas. The movement
works towards rekindling Lithuania's ancient spiritual and folklore traditions.

The first major fiction in Lithuanian was the poem Metai (The Seasons), by Kristijonas
Donelaitis, describing the life of serfs in the 18th century. Jonas Maciulis, known as
Maironis, is regarded as the founder of modern Lithuanian literature thanks to the poetry he
wrote around the beginning of the 20th century. Lithuania is also the birthplace of several
major Polish writers, among them Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel prize for

An interesting Lithuanian folk-art tradition is the carving of large wooden crosses, suns,
weathercocks or figures of saints on tall poles that are placed at crossroads, in cemeteries,
village squares or at the sites of extraordinary events. In the Soviet period, such work was
banned, but it survived to amazing effect at the Hill of Crosses near Siauliai.

Dairy products and potatoes are mainstays of the Lithuanian diet, and pancakes are
particularly popular. A traditional (and unforgettable) meal is cepelinai, a zeppelin-shaped
parcel of a glutinous substance (allegedly potato dough), with a wad of cheese, meat or
mushrooms in the centre. It comes topped with a sauce made from onions, butter, sour
cream and bacon bits. Sakotis is a tall, Christmas-tree shaped cake generally served at
weddings, while dinner on Christmas Eve consists of 12 different vegetarian dishes. Utenos
and Kalnapilis are the best local brands of beer, perhaps preferable to midus (mead), which
can be as much as 60% proof. Those who prefer to make their own decision about when to
lie down should look out for stakliskes, a honey liqueur.

Lithuania is the biggest of the three Baltic states and covers an area roughly the same size
as Ireland. It borders Latvia in the north, Belarus in the south-east, the Baltic Sea in the west
and Poland and the truncated Kaliningrad Region of Russia in the south-west. It's a
predominantly flat country, and its highest point, Juazapinés, measures only 294m (964ft).
Lithuania's Baltic coast extends about 100km (62mi), half of which lies along the
extraordinary Curonian Spit - a pencil-thin 98km (61mi) long sandbar that's up to 66m (216ft)

Just over one quarter of Lithuania is forested, in particular the south-west of the country. Elk,
deer, wild boar, wolf and lynx inhabit the forests, though you're unlikely to bump into any
without some guidance. Lithuania also has about 2000 otters, and Lake Zuvintas, in the
south, is an important breeding ground and migration halt for waterbirds. There are five
national parks in Lithuania and a number of nature reserves, the highlight being the Kursiu
Nerija National Park, a special environment of high dunes, pine forests, beaches, a lagoon
and seacoasts.

The Lithuanian climate is temperate. From May to September daytime highs vary from about
14°C to 22°C (57°F to 72°F), but between November and March it rarely gets above 4°C
(39°F). July and August, the warmest months, are also wet, with days of persistent showers.
May, June and September are more comfortable, while late June can be thundery. Slush
under foot is something you have to cope with in autumn, when snow falls then melts, and in
spring, when the winter snow thaws.

Getting There & Away
Frequent flights operate between Vilnius or Kaunas and most European capitals. There are
no direct flights between Lithuania and North America, Australia and Asia. Vilnius airport is
5km (3mi) south of the city centre, in the suburb of Kirtimai, while Kaunas airport is 10km
(6mi) north of the Old Town.

Buses are the cheapest but least comfortable method of reaching Lithuania, with direct
buses from Belarus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Poland, Russia and
Sweden. The buses between Poland and Belarus and Lithuania are notoriously subject to
long delays: motorists have had to queue for as long as four days at the border between
Ogrodniki, Poland and Lazdijai. Lithuanian border guards are pretty nonchalant nowadays.
They don't bother stamping passports and have even been known to smile.

The Berlin-St Petersburg train passes through Vilnius. If coming from Poland, you can take a
direct train from Warsaw to Kaunas, then pick up one of the frequent connections to Vilnius.
The direct train from Warsaw to Vilnius passes through Belarus - make sure you have a
Belarus transit visa if you require one. The daily Baltic Express, which links Poland with
Estonia, stops at three Lithuanian destinations. Ferries link the west coast port of Klaipeda
with Århus, Fredericia and Copenhagen (Denmark), Kiel and Mukran (Germany), and
Harwich (England).
Getting Around
Buses and trains are the best ways to get around, as they go just about everywhere.
Although buses are quicker and slightly cheaper, train travel is far from dear: you can track
100km (62mi) on little more than small change in general seating class. Driving isn't a bad
option since the main roads are good, traffic is light and distances are small. It's best to bring
your own vehicle, because car rental is very expensive. Lithuanians drive on the right and a
zero blood-alcohol level is strictly enforced. Cycle touring hasn't really taken off in Lithuania,
but the country's flatness, small size and light traffic make it good pedalling territory.

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