Before embarking on this past round the world trip, I didn’t know much, or really anything, about the Baltic States. I couldn’t tell you any of its history, what there was to do there, or even what countries made up the Baltic States! But after a few weeks exploring the three countries, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, I was in love. Perhaps it was the nouveau architecture, the laid back lifestyle, the warm and friendly people. I’m not sure. All I know is that I didn’t want to leave.
So which countries are we talking about? Technically, if referring to the Baltics it could be any country bordering the Baltic Sea; Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia. If referring to the Baltic states, however, you are talking about Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The three stepping stones from Poland to Russia. So now that we’ve got that covered, let’s narrow this down and talk about the first Baltic State I traveled to, Lithuania.
Despite being pretty ignorant about Lithuania, I knew early on I was going to like it. As I rode in by bus, my first taste of the country was the beautiful countryside, calling my name to go run and sing through the hills. Once in Vilnius, I was then greeted by the nicest Uber driver who welcomed me with a ‘Vilnius’ chocolate bar and a friendly and warm smile.
I spent almost two full weeks in the tiny capital of Vilnius and, honestly, I could have easily stayed longer. Granted, about 4 days was wasted on me feeling like I was going to die from illness, the city itself was compelling enough to stay for such a long period of time.
So what is Lithuania all about you ask?
Vilnius, well Lithuania in general, is a very historically rich place. It is said that the first people, (the Balts), arrived in Lithuania around 2,000 BC with the first recording of the name “Lithuania” in 1009 AD.
Throughout the years Lithuania has been part of Poland and Russia, and has been used as a base for both German and Russian armies during the world wars. Soviet control had power over the land up until 1991, after the “Sajudis” movement, involving demonstrations and voting for Lithuanian power finally won out. It is thanks to those who believed in freedom that Lithuania was finally recognized by Russia as an independent country and nowadays it is proudly a part of the EU and UN.
After struggling through the recession in 2009, the country is finally starting to see some good things happening. The Euro was adopted, employment is rising, and more and more people are taking in interest in seeing this cultural city. Going there is like getting a glimpse of Russia, without having to jump through hoops to get a visa.
If you head to the capital, Vilnius, today you can find a unique mixture of Christianity, Soviet and Polish influence, all mixed with Nordic vibes. It is a place unlike any other and you will find that as you walk through the streets.
Here you can enjoy classic dishes such as Cepilinai, Zrazai, and Rugnie Duona. Many are typical Eastern Europe foods, all with their own special Lithuanian twist.
Lithuania may have their own language but like many other countries, a good handful of the people can speak English as well. That doesn’t mean you should completely ignore it and not try to learn at least a few words but I found the country somewhat navigable with my broken words. And if English and Lithuanian are failing you, try a bit of Russian. A tip I learned at the end of my journey through the Baltic states, instead of learning three very different languages for all three countries, learn a bit of Russian and most people will understand you.
Have you been to Lithuania yet? Leave me a comment below and tell me how you enjoyed this gorgeous small country!