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Lithuania

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269



L I T H UA N I A • • H i g h l i g h t s 270

HIGHLIGHTS

Lithuania

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Rebellious, quirky and vibrant, Lithuania (Lietuva) is Europe’s best-kept secret. Shoved
successively between Russian pillar and Nazi post, tenacious little Lithuania stunned the
world when it played David and Goliath with the might of the Soviet Union – and won its
independence just over a decade ago. Today the nation that vanished from the maps of
Europe is back with a vengeance: it’s part of the EU, was the first of the 25 EU players to give
the European Constitution a stamp of approval and is a fully fledged ‘n’ fighting partner of
NATO – home no less to four F-16 military alliance jet fighters used to police Baltic skies.

This is a country with a colourful history, once boasting an empire stretching from the
Baltic to the Black Sea. Its raw pagan roots fuse with Catholic fervour – the Polish inheritance
that sets it apart from its Baltic brothers – to create a land where Catholics and Orthodox
mingle happily in the forest to pick wild berries and mushrooms from nature’s altar. Its
capital, Vilnius, is an incredibly small place (can this really be a capital city?) with astonishing contrasts – eerie shadowy courtyards, eccentric artist community, awesome arts and
beautiful baroque. Its natural treasures – forests, lakes, a magical spit of sand and a soggy
delta – shimmer, while its oddities – the Hill of Crosses and a Soviet sculpture park – add
a flavour found nowhere else.

FAST FACTS
„ Area 65,303 sq km
„ Birthplace of composer and painter

Čiurlionis
„ Capital Vilnius
„ Country code

%370

„ Departure tax none
„ Famous for causing the USSR to collapse;

Europe’s largest baroque old town
„ Money Lithuanian litas; €1 = 3.45Lt;

UK£1 = 5.04; US$1 = 2.84Lt
„ Population 3.4 million
„ Visa most nationalities don’t need one;

see p391 for more information.

euro currency converter 1 = 15.64Kr / 0.70Ls / 3.45Lt

„

„

ITINERARIES
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Three Days Devote two days to Vilnius (see
p290) and spend the third day in Trakai
(catch your own lunch and sleep in style
on the lakeshore).
One Week Combine a few days in Vilnius with day trips to Trakai and Druskininkai’s Soviet sculpture park, plus a
couple of days canoeing in the Aukštaitija
National Park or dune dancing on the
Curonian Spit.
Two Weeks Vilnius to Klaipėda: explore
Smiltynė, the gateway to the Curonian
Spit. Explore the dunes of Nida, sweat it
out in a seaside sauna in S...
LITHUANIA
269
euro currency converter 1 = 15.64Kr / 0.70Ls / 3.45Lt
LITHUANIA
www.lonelyplanet.com
euro currency converter 1 = 15.64Kr / 0.70Ls / 3.45Lt
L it hua ni a
Rebellious, quirky and vibrant, Lithuania (Lietuva) is Europe’s best-kept secret. Shoved
successively between Russian pillar and Nazi post, tenacious little Lithuania stunned the
world when it played David and Goliath with the might of the Soviet Union – and won its
independence just over a decade ago. Today the nation that vanished from the maps of
Europe is back with a vengeance: it’s part of the EU, was the first of the 25 EU players to give
the European Constitution a stamp of approval and is a fully fledged ‘n’ fighting partner of
NATO – home no less to four F-16 military alliance jet fighters used to police Baltic skies.
Politicians have come and gone, including the young, tenacious Rolandas Paksas, who
wooed electors with big talk of a land of plenty and flamboyant aerial stunts in a small
plane – until his fall from grace on corruption charges in 2004. Now the country is back
in the hands of a couple of old stalwarts who, age aside (we’re talking 74 for the prime
minister, 80 for the president), lend little Lithuania a definite air of confidence.
This is a country with a colourful history, once boasting an empire stretching from the
Baltic to the Black Sea. Its raw pagan roots fuse with Catholic fervour – the Polish inheritance
that sets it apart from its Baltic brothers – to create a land where Catholics and Orthodox
mingle happily in the forest to pick wild berries and mushrooms from nature’s altar. Its
capital, Vilnius, is an incredibly small place (can this really be a capital city?) with astonish-
ing contrasts – eerie shadowy courtyards, eccentric artist community, awesome arts and
beautiful baroque. Its natural treasures – forests, lakes, a magical spit of sand and a soggy
delta – shimmer, while its oddities – the Hill of Crosses and a Soviet sculpture park – add
a flavour found nowhere else.
HIGHLIGHTS
Vilnius ( p287 ) Get lost by day in the cob-
bled heart of this beautiful baroque cap-
ital; dine come dusk on an atmospheric
street terrace.
Curonian Spit ( p362 ) Gaze in awe at the
drifting sands of Nida’s golden Par-
nidis Dune ( p368 ); cycle through pine
to Juodkrantė ( p364 ) and sail to Venice
( p370 ).
Hill of Crosses ( p341 ) Plant a cross on this
awe-inspiring mountain of crosses; visit
the chapel of the neighbouring papal-
inspired monastery.
Palanga ( p355 ) Party like mad in Palanga:
drink and dance the night away then
watch the sun rise over its pier.
Aukštaitija National Park ( p320 ) Go boating
and berrying in this serene land of lake
and forest; fish for your supper and sleep
in a little wooden house .
ITINERARIES
Three Days Devote two days to Vilnius (see
p290 ) and spend the third day in Trakai
(catch your own lunch and sleep in style
on the lakeshore).
One Week Combine a few days in Viln-
ius with day trips to Trakai and Drus-
kininkai’s Soviet sculpture park, plus a
couple of days canoeing in the Aukštaitija
National Park or dune dancing on the
Curonian Spit.
Two Weeks Vilnius to Klaipėda: explore
Smiltynė, the gateway to the Curonian
Spit. Explore the dunes of Nida, sweat it
out in a seaside sauna in Smiltynė, then
head down the mainland to Rusnė and
explore the backwaters of the Nemunas
Delta by boat. Double back, go to the
eerie Hill of Crosses via the Orvydas
Garden, the Soviet missile base and Lake
Plateliai. Back to Vilnius via Kaunas.
CURRENT EVENTS
Valdas Adamkus (b 1926) made Lithuania’s
EU dream come true. Smashed at the polls
in 2003 by a man 30 years younger, the
80-year-old Lithuanian émigré and former
US citizen was re-elected president for a five-
year term in June 2004. His return followed
the impeachment of charismatic young dy-
namo Rolandas Paksas , whose alleged deal-
ings with Russian mafia served as a harsh
reminder of Lithuania’s relative immaturity.
In a country where public accountability is
scarcely more than a decade old (not to men-
tion where everyone led a different life pre-
1991), the past is sensitive: in January 2005 a
national newspaper exposed Lithuanian for-
eign minister Antanas Valionis as a former
officer in the KGB reserves, prompting a
parliament inquiry into his Soviet past.
True to form, bold Lithuania unabash-
edly ratified the EU constitution in No-
vember 2004, becoming the first of the 25
EU member countries to do so. Giving the
green light with practically no political de-
bate or public referendum, the move high-
lighted the nation’s over-riding eagerness
for all things European, including the euro,
which many Lithuanians are gagging for.
Former president and current Prime
Minister Algirdas Brazauskas (b 1932),
picked by the president and backed by the
141-seat seimas (parliament) to form a gov-
ernment in late 2004, is one of its staunch-
est supporters. Leader of the Communist
Party in Soviet Lithuania, the wily leftist
politician subsequently reinvented himself
as Social Democrats party leader and cur-
rently heads a power-sharing coalition with
a clutch of other political parties, including
the young Labour Party, formed in 2003.
Since joining NATO, Lithuania has been
the first former Soviet republic to host the
military alliance. It has also taken it upon
itself to mediate between old East and West.
This was made quite clear, to the disconcer-
tion of some fellow EU members, during
HOW MUCH?
Cup of coffee 1.70Lt to 5Lt
Taxi fare 1Lt/km to 1.5Lt/km
Public transport ticket 1.40Lt
Bicycle hire 6/35Lt per hour/day
Sauna 80Lt to 150Lt
LONELY PLANET INDEX
Litre of petrol 2.6Lt
Litre of bottled water 2.5Lt
50cl bottle of Švyturys beer 2Lt
Souvenir T-shirt 20Lt to 35Lt
pancake 3.45Lt
LITHUANIA •• Highlights 270
FAST FACTS
Area 65,303 sq km
Birthplace of composer and painter
Čiurlionis
Capital Vilnius
Country code
%
370
Departure tax none
Famous for causing the USSR to collapse;
Europe’s largest baroque old town
Money Lithuanian litas; €1 = 3.45Lt;
UK£1 = 5.04; US$1 = 2.84Lt
Population 3.4 million
Visa most nationalities don’t need one;
see p391 for more information.
© Lonely Planet Publications
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