Ruth and I will have been to 27 destinations in 2011 after we travel to the Colorado Rockies during Christmas week. One of them soared immediately into our top 3–Lithuania.
There are 5 national and 30 regional parks in Lithuania, which is about the size of West Virginia. 1/3 of the country is forested.
85% of the population is ethnic Lithuanians. At one time there were 105 synagogues here. Now there’s 1.
Perhaps the best meal in Vilnius is found in the Ramada Inn’s restaurant, California Gourmet. Old Town’s Ramada is also considered the city’s best hotel. Sting has stayed there. There are Uzbek (Caichana) and Mexican (Tres Mexicanos) restaurants in Vilnius.
Lithuanians are crazy about basketball. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics the Lithuanian team won its 3rd Bronze Medal in the sport and came within a few points of beating the gold-taking American team. It did, however, get two golds in men’s discus throw and women’s trap.
Lithuanians are also crazy about beer and the excellent local brews contain more alcohol than is usual. The small size is really large.
Lithuania’s only powerful dynasty was the Jogailan that created a kingdom from the Baltic to the Black Sea in the 14th century.
There’s a huge diorama of the 1410 Battle of Grunwald, one of the great contests in Medieval Europe, in the Lithuanian National Museum. It’s the only thing they’ll let you photograph. In the next room we watched grimacing field trip students kneel on a thin piece of material covering rocks, a common school punishment not all that long ago. The female guard we spoke to recalled having to do it as a child.
The Lithuanian Music & Theater Academy on affluent Gedimino Avenue offers free concerts almost every evening performed by students of great talent and training.
In the Vilnius Picture Gallery, I laughed at the double entendre under one lady’s portrait, “Daughter of Gothard Kettler, the First Duke of Curonia”. But the best portrait in the place was of a King of Ethiopia that I dubbed Little Richard in Drag. Lady Gaga would drool.
The Gediminas Castle & Museum seemed a bit pricey and they charged extra for the funicular. But it was worth every litas.
Skip the Applied Arts Museum unless they have a special exhibit like the current tribute to Nobel Prize for Literature winning Czeslaw Milosz, a professor at California’s Berkeley U in the 1960s. He won the Nobel in 1980. “Two Centuries of Fashion” was also great but temporary.
Literatu gatve (street) has an outside wall filled with plaques, some vandalized, commemorating writers who have any kind of Lithuanian connection like Jonathan Franzen and Thomas Harris. Romain Gary and Jonas Mekas were the most interesting to me.
Vilnius has the 2nd largest baroque quarter in Europe. Prague in #1.
The Cathedral-Basilica of St. Stanislaus & St. Ladislaus is deemed “Essential” by Vilnius in your pocket and it is. The current version dates from the 15th century and looks Greco-Roman. The Genocide Victims’ Museum is also essential and I’ll tell you about it later.
Reasons to go back as soon as possible:
Vilnius is way cool.
The Curonian Spit, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a source of 50 million year old amber.
Kaunas, pronounced Coe’ nus, is Lithuania’s second largest city and the home of The Devil’s Museum, which sounds intriguing.