Well what an adventure I have been on. There is so much to write about I don’t even know where to start.
First thing is first. Lithuania is amazing.
To get to this amazing country we got a train to Warsaw and then from there a 7 hour bus trip to Kaunus. The Neman river meanders through the city and nestled in a river bend, in the middle of a forest, is Donata’s family home. It’s like being in Hansel and Gretel, although luckily the gingerbread witch was missing! Auguste, Donata’s sister, had prepared some kluski for us for breakfast. These are my favourite Polish food, small dumplings that are just the cosiest things to have after a long trip. I also tried these cottage cheese bars covered in chocolate (varškės sūrelis) which were super tasty! By the end of the morning I had met all the family and tried out my first Lithuanian words, Laba Diena (Good day) and Ačiū (Thank you). Ačiū is easy to remember because it just sounds like a sneeze (A-choo). Donata’s grandma was particularly excited to meet me. Apparently she kept saying how cute I was and that she can’t believe I was doing a PhD because I’m so tiny. She sent us away with half a pineapple, some wine and dark chocolate. Yum!
A walk in the forest was a nice wake up. Still hadn’t slept from the previous day so the fresh air did us good. From the forest we moved to Kaunus centre, via a retro style electric bus, and I was shown St. Michael the Archangel Church. It is a very grand and huge building. It looks a little worn but I think this adds to it’s character. First of many impressive building I got to see on this trip. We met Donata’s friend Sigita and then Auguste and we all got on a bus to Vilnius, the Capital. For the trip we bought these amazing sushi sandwiches. For anyone that likes sushi, I urge you to find these. Perfect travelling snack!
We arrived in Vilnius after a couple of hours and had an explore of this beautiful city. We walked down the Old Town and came to a huge bell tower. For a few euros we got to go inside and so me and Donata climbed to the top for a birds-eye view of the city. It was beautiful. There are lots of churches dotted around, all very impressive. My favourite was the Church of St. Anne. It looked especially old and really gothic. From the top we had a great view of the Castle on the hill. A popular landmark of the Lithuanian Capital. Once down from the tower, we headed to the Cathedral. Wow! A lovely building. We went inside and had a look around. It was extremely beautiful. During all this travelling Donata found out she had passed her Masters degree so we went to her favourite bar for a celebratory Long Island ice tea! We also tried another Lithuanian dish of fried bread with cheese sauce (Duona su česnaku). This is probably the best food I tried the whole trip. It would be incredible after a hard night on the town. Move over cheesy chips, fried bread is where the action is! After the refuel we headed to the concert hall and saw Imany. She was absolutely fantastic. Such a talent. And yes, this was all without any sleep. After the concert Donata and I stayed at her friend, Agnė’s, house in the city. That night I slept like a log. Exhausted, but what a day!
Up the next day and ready for more adventure. Me, Donata and Agnė went for breakfast and then me and Donata headed to Trakai, the castle island. The weather was miserable but it did not dampen our spirits! Oh no! En route to the castle, a fellow tourist joined us. A woman from Turkey who was on a fleeting visit. All three of us wandered around the castle and tried to take in all the information. It was a really interesting place and once the Capital of Lithuania. The castle is situated on an Island in the middle of a huge lake. It’s really medieval and different to anything I have seen before. I got to send some post cards home with the official castle stamp! After the castle we headed back to the bus stop and managed to grab some traditional kibinai for the journey. Kibinai are a sort of pasty, but probably half the size of the British cornish pasty. They are a lot lighter too. We had one filled with chicken and another with spinach and cheese. Both were delicious. Lithuanian food is good!!! Bus back to Vilnius and then a double decker train back to Kaunus! I was so excited, I’ve always wanted to travel on a double decker train.
We got back home and had a wash and change before our next journey. Me, Donata, Auguste and Justas, Donata’s brother, all piled in the car and made our way to the coast. This was about 2 hours in the car. This was really nice because I got the chance to see the beautiful Lithuanian countryside. I saw lots of white storks and a fair few cranes too. We arrived at the city of Klaipeda in the evening and stayed with Donata’s grandparents. Her grandmother had made a feast for us, including lots of amazing sweet treats. My favourite was the honey cake. It was like a dream. I noticed that the Lithuanian recipes often use sour cream, for both sweet and savoury dishes. It’s really tasty and gives a different flavour than recipes I am used to. I only use sour cream for a mexican fajita! There was lots of chat that evening, mostly in Lithuanian, but it was nice. The Lithuanian language sounds really bubbly and fluid. A bit like a lullaby. Full of amazing food and adventure, we all went to sleep ready for the next day.
Waking up to the smell of pancakes was just divine. Fresh pancakes, omelette, coffee and more honey cake greeted us in the living room. We feasted until we were full and then wandered to Klaipeda Old Town for a quick sight seeing tour. It was lovely. At around 11 Donata, Auguste and I jumped in the car and got to the ferry to cross the Curonian spit. This is a huge lagoon formed between the mainland and a small strip of land cutting off the Baltic Sea. It’s beautiful. A 10 minute ferry and we were across, and we had entered paradise. First stop was a Dolphin and Sea Lion show. From here we drove across the sliver of land to Juodkrantė, a town in the middle of the Curonian spit. Lithuania’s largest cormorant and heron colony is situated here. It was amazing to see. The sounds from the nesting birds were brilliant and the smell was powerful too… Unfortunately the cormorant droppings are really acidic and so their presence is actually having quite a negative effect on the forest. One of those complicated conservation stories. We walked to the town passing fishing nets that had been hung out to dry. Lunch was in a tiny house with a few tables. The menu was great though and the food, surprise surprise, was delicious. My favourite part of my Lithuania trip was in this lovely town in the form of the hill of witches. This is a short walk where you can find lots of wooden sculptures of witches, devils and folklore characters. They were so impressive and it was just so interesting. Donata and Auguste were telling me all the old folk tales. One involves a women turning her children into trees because her snake husband was killed. The usual stuff…
Next we headed to the end of the Lithuanian part of the Curonian spit to a town called Nida. We were informed of a free concert in the town so decided to go. We stayed for a few songs, the musicians were amazing. By this point Sigita had joined us again and all 4 of us decided to go for a walk along the lagoon edge. There were two swans who started a courtship dance which was amazing to see. I’ve never witnessed it before, they were very elegant. That evening was spent splaying board games, drinking wine, dancing and laughing.
The sun beaming through the curtains woke me up. Yes, the sun was finally here. We all got ready and headed to the town for breakfast. I got to try traditional potato pancakes. They were delicious. The Lithuanians certainly know how to spruce up a potato. I also tried Kvaas, a bread based drink. It is very similar to beer but it is non alcoholic. Really tasty. We made our way to the sand dunes after breakfast. This was the most beautiful part of my Lithuanian trip. They are magnificent. We climbed to the top of the dunes and found the sun clock, and it actually worked! I’m not sure when this was built but it is a huge stone structure sat right on top of the largest dune. From this place you can see the Lithuania- Russia border. Luckily it’s not that easy to get to it so there is no risk of stumbling across.
From the dunes we then went to the seaside. The beaches have bright white sand, like a paradise island. We all walked for a while in silence, the sound of the waves and the smell of the sea was hypnotising and we all fell into a trance for a while. Bloody lovely! A quick lunch break in town allowed me to try yet another traditional dish of cold beetroot soup. This was so refreshing, probably my second favourite meal after the fried bread! We wandered around the town again for a while and managed to find some traditional smoked fish to try later in the day. We all bundled into the car, got the ferry, and went back to Donata’s grandparents. The smoked fish was amazing. Donata’s grandma had once again cooked up a storm and she had also bought a Šakotis cake. Šakotis is a spike cake that is made by pouring batter over a cylinder placed over a fire. This means the batter drips and bakes at the same time making it look like a spikey tree. Really tasty. That evening us four girls and Justas went into Klaipeda city for a drink. Another amazing day.
Another day and more seaside adventures. We said our goodbyes to the grandparents and then us 4 girls headed to the Dutch hat. This is a lovely beach further along the coast. Again, we became hypnotised and just wandered along in thought. So peaceful. After the Dutch hat was Palenga. This is a seaside resort town filled with alsorts of attractions. We ate these amazing waffles on sticks. I got mine covered with coconut. Yum! We went to the sea and walked out onto a bridge that extends quite far away from the shore. It was loaded with fisherman that day, all waiting patiently for the perfect catch. When we reached the end of the bridge we all through a cent out to sea. This is a tradition done by many people here, wishing them a healthy year so they can return to Palenga once again. We walked through a lovely park and then all piled into the car again. For lunch we went to a strange little resort in the middle of nowhere. It was a few buildings of touristy things and then a huge restaurant in the middle. With a huge queue. We eventually got a table and ordered a selection of traditional dishes. Including cepelinai (meat filled potato dumplings), potato pie, chicken shashlik and more fried bread and kvaas. All so tasty. I’m starting to think I must be slightly eastern european in origin. I love the food too much. After lunch we made the 2 hour drive back down to Kaunus. What a lovely weekend. That evening we just relaxed and chatted.
Last full day in Lithuania. I got to try Lithuanian white cheese with honey for breakfast. A prefect combination and something I need to try again. A wander into the forest followed. We found an ornithological site near a reservoir and managed to see lots of common merganser which was nice. Being in nature is always lovely, especially when you’re in enchanting forests surrounded by the chorus of what seems like a thousand birds. Donata’s mum had prepared some amazing turkey for lunch so we had this with a salad. No potato in sight, for a change. In the afternoon Donata, Auguste, Justas and I drove into Kaunus so I could see the Old Town. It is a beautiful city, and seems to contain restaurants with cuisine from all around the globe. We walked to a point where the two largest rivers in Lithuania meet. That was really beautiful. Apparently from above you can see how the rivers have different colours. We also managed to get to a view point to look across the city from above. A perfect evening stroll. We got back to the house and had a small celebration for an early Lithuania Mothers Day. We had cake and I got to try Lithuanian beer. The rest of the evening was spent watching a film and relaxing.
Wednesday, and back to Poznan. We set off mid morning and after 7 hours on a bus, a 3 hour wait in Warsaw and then a 3 hour train journey, we were back.
I just want to say a massive thank you to all of Donata’s family for hosting me and making me feel so welcome. Auguste was the best driver and a brilliant tour guide! And thanks so much to the wonderful Donata for all her planning and inviting me in the first place!!
Lithuania was just beautiful. What an adventure. I climbed dunes, ate amazing food, laughed, danced, saw witches, smelt the sea, explored castles and wandered through forests.
I’ll be back again Lithuania.
I did throw my penny off the bridge after all…