Making My Way Through Lithuania's Cultural Hotspots
Updated: Jan 26, 2022
If I could boldly give one critique of Lithuanian tourism, it would be this: beyond word of mouth and some internet sleuthing, Steve and I didn't have a fully-formed understanding of its cultural and cartographic landscape before our move. More simply put: the internet and language barriers can only take one so far.
Yesterday, we tempered this curiosity by visiting the Vilnius Festivalai, a place to eat tree cake and dance to electronic music, but most importantly, receive brochures and information from locals about their particular regions. Our Lithuanian friend, Sandra, acted as a cultural liaison to each region (and their particular costumes!). As life-long adventurers, my husband and I reacted enthusiastically to Lithuania: Real is Beautiful's route guides to different cultural centers. Now that I have this information and accompanying websites at my fingertips, I wanted to share a few travel destinations with you, with the full intention to travel to them in the near future. But first, a pit stop a bit west of me:
Earlier this week, I took my first Lithuanian train ride out to Trakai to eat their famous kibinai and tour their 14th century castle on one of the deepest Lithuanian lakes. For my Texas foodies out there, kibinai are to Trakai what breakfast tacos are to Texas: they're everywhere. Brought by the Karaites - whose 15th century kenesa, or house of prayer, stands tall on a city street - these delicious national pastries can be filled with meat, cheese curd, lamb, apple - you name it. While I enjoy them in Vilnius, they're famous in Trakai, so I recommend eating them there when you visit!
But Trakai is where my current knowledge ends, and my new brochures and pamphlets symbolize a whole new cultural beginning for me. Here are some places I'm really looking forward to checking out:
Lake Snaigynas and its accompanying observation tour: I'm drawn to waterways like a fish to the sea, so it's no wonder that this lake and its surrounding area sit near the top of my list. Being married to a scientist, I like that the observation tour resembles DNA, but I'm excited for the natural landscape and views. Click on the link to view more!
Marijampolė: our flight into Vilnius had us speaking with a twenty year old from this region, stoking our curiosity before even setting foot in Lithuania. Reading more from my pamphlets, I quickly discovered that this region was populated by Jewish people and housed one of the oldest wooden synagogues. A Google search led me to learn more about this area as a former Jewish hotspot, and it now sits high on my list.
While I'm not a huge fan of beer (and very grateful for Vilnius's kvass and kombucha options!), I'm nonetheless excited to check out Lithuania's oldest brewery in the Biržai region. Given how many beer options I've seen since moving here, I'm not at all surprised to learn that Baltic pagans had their own god and goddess of beer, Ragutis and Ragutiene. Looks like I have a new site to visit in Vilnius, as well!
And lastly, Lithuanians have a close relationship with nature - and bees, in particular - so I'm uniquely excited to see the Ancient Beekeeping Museum near Stripeikiai. Especially after watching a talk last week on bee shamanism in areas including Lithuania, I will be carving out time to visit this spot as soon as I can.
The truth is that I could have found these things on the internet, but I was so focused on a well-rounded cultural understanding before our move that I didn't have time to get into the nitty gritty of these beautiful places. Now that I know they exist, ... watch out, Lithuania! I'm coming for your lakes and breweries and beekeeping museums.
Until next time - viso gero!