With so many emigrants coming back to Lithuania after they earned some pocket money abroad, there must be something about Lithuania that makes it distinctively different from other countries. I have not come across a lot of nationalistic rituals, but there is definitely a feeling of national pride. Today`s question: why should people come to Lithuania and what should they go see and do?
One of the first thing people mention is the capital city Vilnius. Together with Linz (Austria), it will be the cultural capital of Europe in 2009 and many buildings are currently being restored in preparation to the event. Vilnius has more than 40 churches that were all built in different eras and different architectural styles. Night life is booming and there are plenty of students around. Drinks are inexpensive compared to Western European standards and so is food.
`I`m proud of my country, but not always of the way fellow Lithuanians behave abroad`
Kaunas and Klaipeda are the country`s second and third city but they are not as popular, not as metropolitan and not as multicultural as Vilnius. They attract fewer international visitors, but make good destinations for backpackers willing to see all three Baltic countries. That is probably why there are so many Australians, Americans and Canadians visiting Lithuania. Western European or even Asian tourists have not yet found their way to Lithuania, which makes it a place that is still worth exploring in an adventurous way.
Transportation in Lithuania is inexpensive but services have not been upgraded to a level that many tourists would expect of their holiday destinations. Trains and buses tend to run once or twice a day only even between major cities. Budget lodging is scarce, and Kaunas does not even have a youth hostel. English is widely spoken in Vilnius and Klaipeda, but hardly anywhere outside these cities. Older people speak Russian, and this is also the language most Lithuanians will use when travelling to Latvia or Estonia.
The national pride in terms of beer is called Svyturis and it comes in a variety of different versions. Food favourite is Cepelinai (English: Zeppelin): potato dumplings filled with meat or mushrooms and often served with sour cream. Lukas (19) would add the beautiful Lithuanian girls to the menu if he could. He says it is a reason for many men to come to Lithuania. He advises people to come to Lithuania in the summer because 'it rains all the time in spring and winter is just cold and unpleasant`. He tells how many Lithuanian people come to the coast and the Curonian Spit during the long summer holidays. The countryside is also popular and many people join their families across the country. Another local tourist highlight is the lake district in the north east, although from what I learnt today, the beaches there are not always very tidy.
On the Corunian Spit
Regina (22, photo) is one the many people on the ferry from Klaipeda to the Corunian Spit. She will go there for the day and sun-bathe on the beach. She is studying to be a doctor and usually travels to the UK or US during the summer holidays. She worked as an au-pair in the United States and as a caretaker for the elderly in the UK. Both jobs helped her make use of her studies and gain some social experience. She would like to work abroad in the future, because being a doctor in Lithuania does require 10 years of studying but does not really pay off. As I wrote a few days ago, being a doctor brings some prestige but not the salary meant to go with that.
I ask Regina how proud she is of her country. Quite proud most of the time, although she also feels ashamed sometimes for the way some Lithuanians behave abroad. Along with that, she is sad about the many people living on the countryside, not being able to study and/or find a job and spending their days drinking beer. She says it`s not a good promotion for the country and will scare people off.
That may well be the case, but I enjoy myself greatly on the well-paved and still very quiet cycle path on the Curonian Spit. Increasing tourism may be a sign of increasing economic prosperity. Yet at the same time, it risks ruining the original character of places. Conclusion for the day: it may not be a bad thing that mass tourism has not yet landed in Lithuania.
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