• Population: 3.4 million (UN, 2005)
  • Capital: Vilnius
  • Area: 65,300 sq km (25,212 sq miles)
  • Major languages Lithuanian, Russian
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 66 years (men), 78 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Lithuanian litas = 100 centas
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    The Republic of Lithuania is the land of eccentric and avant-garde thinkers ahead of its time like Hermann Minkowski. “Hermann” who, right? Hermann is a mathematician who taught Einstein, only the greatest mind of all time. Quirky enough, we hear of the likes of Hannibal Lecter that though a fictional cannibal is still depicted as a genius by author Thomas Harris. Lithuania seemingly has shaped modern culture more than anyone can ever ask, think, or imagine. And, surely, there’s Robert Lee Zemeckis, who is of Lithuanian descent, and celebrated Academy- award director of movies as Forrest Gump, Back to the Future, Polar Express, A Christmas Carol, and Beowulf.

    Also of Lithuanian origins are Sean Penn, and music legends Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Bob Dylan, and Harley Davidson. There’s only one direction to look at it. Lithuania in blood or as birthplace contributes to such an achievement. Its fresh originality easily translates toward its people through the landscape of castles, forests, and lakes. In fact, in movies shot in the country like Defiance, Lithuania’s wilderness is the star of the show. The geography is essentially the same as it has been, that’s why. Lithuania, although long suspected as an odd place, it is one of Europe’s better secrets.

    GEOGRAPHY

    Lithuania (56 00 N, 24 00 E) lies at the geographic centre of Europe and is a sprawling country of generally fertile, flat, and low lands smoothened by glaciers, in the centre and towards the eastern and western borders. The maximum elevation is only at 294 m, the Juozapines Kalnas. The country has an area of 65,300 km2 of eastern and western highlands bisected by central plains of the Middle Lithuania Lowland. Also, the terrain has abundant lakes, rivers, wetlands, and a forest zone that covers 33% of Lithuania.

    CLIMATE

    Lithuania’s climate is transitional between maritime and continental. Hence, the climate is relatively mild with four distinct seasons. Summer and winter are wet and moderate with mean temperatures ranging 17 to 20 °C and -5 to -20 °C respectively. The level of precipitation varies by region, though less in the central plains. July is the best time to see Lithuania.

    PEOPLE

    The Lithuanian population is estimated at 3,555,179, with the majority of ethnic Lithuanians and their subgroups and have not been replaced, thus the high probability that their genetic composition have been preserved. Poles are the largest minority. Then, there are the Russians, Belarusians, Germans, Latvians, Jews, etc.

    LANGUAGE

    LITHUANIAN is the strong and flourishing official language of the country spoken by the native Lithuanians. Lithuanian has been the subject of immense linguistic curiosity because the peculiarities of the prototypal Indo-European tongue have remained unchanged phonologically and morphologically. Also widely used are POLISH and RUSSIAN, the latter with 60% of the people fluent in it while not necessarily native speakers. ENGLISH is spoken by about 40% especially by city and young Lithuanians.

    RELIGION

    Christianity is the predominant religion in Lithuania with Roman Catholic is the principal denomination adhered to by about 80%. Other Christian sects include Russian Orthodox and Protestantism.

     

    ATTRACTIONS

    Fresh but unchanged, original and yet traditional…this is Europe’s preserved and still up-and-coming travel niche. The people, the language, and the landscape are homogenous and untouched as they have been for centuries, and Lithuanians have long decided to not be swayed and keep it such. Lithuanian folk songs of the long-gone days resonate of blue lakes and rivers, green forests, and swaps. That is Lithuanian Literature and Geography 101 in a song-amazing and ingenious as are the people of Lithuania? But true enough, there is much to write and sing of the staggering scenery here with 2,833 scenic lakes, 758 vigorous rivers, and Heritage Sites. Anybody easily becomes poetic at one point. What is also scenic is Lithuania in July, not only because the summer sun is favourable, but also for the sea of white and flowers as the country’s traditional wedding season.

    Vilnius is among Europe’s most alluring cities but least known, least heard though it boasts rich heritage and a vibrant cultural scene at the same time through the Baroque architecture of towns and churches and Vilnius’ Jazz Festivals. Nothing is frivolous about Vilnius. Besides, Vilnius is one of the easy-to-read places in Lithuania, so coming here is a painless suggestion. The Baroque Old Town is a must-see, as is St. Catherine’s Church and many others. Another capital is Trakai and its imposing Trakai Castle with the lovely Lake Galve shining on everything its light touches are nothing anyone will ever see anywhere. But the nature in the Heritage Site of Curonian Spit National Park with its rare flora and fauna is unparalleled. But fun amid beauty is achievable Nida, that’s as famous for the paragliding, windsurfing, sailing and kiting as it is for the Nida Lighthouse.

    FOOD

    Lithuania is also a haven for food adventurers who have a rebellious and quirky taste for food, like pig ears. Starting with the mundane, the dark rye bread or ruginė duona is the “staple starch” and centrepiece of Lithuanian cuisine. Potatoes are in almost all cooking pots as the most widely used veggie, be it boiled, baked, mashed, fried and so on. The Lithuanians have hundreds of ways to the potato, like mushrooms and berries, which are classic favourites here too. The mushrooms are added for flavour to soups, stews, and potato dishes like in a voveraitė dish (a kind of mushroom). Berries, on the other hand, while used as well for seasoning chicken and turkey makes a wonderful companion to pancakes or crepes (blynai) and as cold berry soup. This good ol’ nosh is not as eccentric as one initially thinks.

    As we do know that legend Bob Dylan is arguable of Lithuanian ancestry, a palatable dish of meat-stuffed potato-based dish with a slather of sour cream, butter, and pork crackling is called “zeppelin” or cepelinai. And with the explosive rock-star flavours, it’s just too much of a coincidence now. Kibinai is a meat pastry of ethnic Karaites that’s possibly like Spanish empanadas or British meat pies. Pastry done best is pastry done sweet, and in Lithuania, there is more than a handful of these. From Spurgos or preserve-filled and glazed donuts similar to a berliner; Šakotis like the German “tree cake”; Ledia, simply ice cream; Žagarėliai or twisted fried pastry; or vanilla-, chocolate-, or mocha–filled tortes for a more festive occasion, the Lithuanian kavinė will be your second home. Down everything with any one of the 50 brands of beer in this beer-drinker’s haven, just to reinforce the already apparent fact that nothing, even the beer, is trivial about Lithuania. 

    ***

    Josh Boorman

    Editor-in-chief

    Backpacking Addictz

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