Country number: 55
When? March 2006
How? On foot in Vilnius
Who? With Martin
Lithuania’s capital, is known for its baroque architecture, especially in its medieval Old Town, but it’s difficult to discern any architectural features. This is partly because everything is covered in snow and partly because it’s almost too cold to be out on the street, let alone look around. We scuttle around, trying not to skid on the icy patches. I buy a felt Russian army hat with ear covers from a shop filled with war memorabilia. I’m not sure I look overly elegant, but it does the job.
This is the largest medieval old town in central and Eastern Europe. It’s UNESCO-protected, of course, as are the other Baltic state capitals. There is the usual melange of churches, parks, squares, bars, cafes and restaurants. The Vilnius Castle Complex is particularly picturesque, the grounds dotted with locals enjoying the snow. It makes a great Christmas card scene. The river alongside confusingly has two names, Neris and Vilnia. Take your pick. Užupis, the trendy neighbourhood on the other side of the river, declared itself an independent republic on April 1, 1997.
The countryside is mainly flat, so a more diminutive castle on top of a small hill is hard to miss. Though the climb to Gediminas Tower is tough in these conditions.
The best news is that Vilnius is incredibly cheap, especially the vodka.
The south-eastern shores of the Baltic Sea were inhabited by various Baltic tribes the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, the first and only King of Lithuania in 1253. Dukedoms followed. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe; encompassing present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia. In 1569, Lithuania and Poland formed a voluntary two-state union, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, which lasted more than two centuries, eventually disintegrating until the Russian Empire annexed most of Lithuania’s territory.
After World War I the modern Republic of Lithuania came into being but in the Second World War, Lithuania was first occupied by the Soviet Union, then by Nazi Germany. And then by the Soviet Union again. On 11 March 1990, a year before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare itself independent.
Lithuanian is one of the oldest languages in the world and the closest to ancient Sanskrit.
The national sport of Lithuania is basketball. Their men’s team is currently ranked third in the world behind the USA and Spain.
People of 154 nationalities live in Lithuania.
Sorry – I didn’t keep a record of my trip to Lithuania and I don’t have many good images. I shall have to go back – one day. My blogs vary considerably in length but I have much more to say and show in most of my other country posts. Please have a look!
To see the few photos of Lithuania, visit this page.