Difference between revisions of "Lithuania"
Revision as of 10:01, 20 August 2009
Lithuania (Lietuva)  is a Baltic country in Europe. It has a Baltic Sea coastline in the west and surrounded by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east, Poland to the southwest, and Russia (Kaliningrad) to the west.
Regional differences of Lithuanian culture reflect complicated historical development of our country. Since the 13th century five ethnographic areas, or regions, have historically formed in the current territory of Lithuania:
Žemaitija - Samogitia, literally Lowlands, north-western region
Dzūkija or Dainava - south-eastern region
Sūduva or Suvalkija - southern and south-western region
Lithuania Minor - sea-coast region
Lithuania is justly proud of its unfailing treasures of folklore: colourful clothing, meandering songs, an abundance of tales and stories, sonorous dialects and voluble language. This ethnographic heritage is nourished by ethnographic and folklore companies and barn theatres. Recent years have witnessed the revival of ethnographic crafts and culinary traditions. Folk craft fairs and live craft days are organized during many events and festivals.
Ports and harbors
Lithuania is an active member of the European Union (since 1 May 2004) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (since 29 March 2004). Lithuania is the only Baltic country with nearly eight hundred years of statehood tradition, while its name was first mentioned one thousand years ago, in 1009. Wedged at the dividing line of Western and Eastern civilizations, Lithuania battled dramatically for its independence and survival. Once in the Middle Ages, Lithuania was the largest state in the entire Eastern Europe, where crafts and overseas trade prospered.
In 1579, Vilnius University, an important scientific and education centre of the European scale, was opened. In 16th century, Lithuania adopted its First, Second and Third Statutes. Not only the Statutes were the backbone of the legislative system of the country, they had a major impact on legislation of other European states of the time. Despite losing its independence, Lithuania managed to retain its Third Statute in effect for as many as 250 years, which was instrumental in preservation of national and civic self-awareness of the public. The Constitution of Lithuania-Poland together with the French Constitution, both adopted in 1791, were the first constitutions in Europe (Lithuanian-Polish constitution was adopted few months earlier).
Transitional, between maritime and continental; wet, moderate winters and summers
Lowland, many scattered small lakes, fertile soil. The fertile central plains are separated by hilly uplands that are ancient glacial deposits.
Lithuania, first formed in the middle of the 13th century, was a huge feudal country stretching from the Baltic to the Black sea in the middle ages and in 1569 entered an union with Poland to form a commonwealth. Lithuania was part of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth until the Polish Partitions in the 18th. century when it became part of the Russian Empire.
Independent between the two World Wars, Lithuania was annexed by the USSR in 1940. On 11 March 1990, Lithuania became the first of the Soviet republics to declare its independence, but this proclamation was not generally recognized until September of 1991 (following the abortive coup in Moscow).
The last Russian troops withdrew in 1993. Lithuania subsequently has restructured its economy for eventual integration into Western European institutions. File:Http://i1.trekearth.com/photos/690/img 3844.jpg
Lithuania has joined the Schengen agreement, which means that you can enter on a European Union Schengen visa. There are no ID/passport controls at the internal EU borders. EU, US, and Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter Lithuania as well as citizens of many other countries. See the full list of countries, citizens of which are exempt from visa requirements, here: .
Majority of flights are operated by Airbaltic .
For destinations in Northern Lithuania Riga airport is an attractive option.
Major "Via Baltica" road links Kaunas to Warsaw and Riga/Tallinn. The Baltic road, which links Vlinius to Tallinn, was just reconstructed. It is a very easy and pleasant route. Overall, the major roads between the cities are of decent quality. Be extremely cautious when getting off the main roads in rural areas, as some of them may contain pot holes and general blemishes which could damage a regular car if you go too fast. While driving between cities there are usually cafes and gas stations with bathrooms and snacks.
Litrail  has services to major cities in Lithuania. Fares are low compared to Western Europe: Vilnius-Kaunas ~11 Litas, Vilnius-Klaipeda ~40 Litas, Sestokai (Lithuanian-Polish border) - Kaunas ~11 Litas.
Many of the long distance trains have compartments which can accommodate six seated passengers or four sleeping passengers. The headrest can be lifted up to form a very comfortable bunk bed, which can be used while people are seated below. The seats themselves form the other pair of beds. As some journeys are quite long (about 5 hours in the case of Vilnius-Klaipeda), it is common to see people sleeping on the upper bunks during daytime journeys as well.
Narrow Gauge Railway in Anyksciai offers short trips to a near-by lake. In summer it runs on regular schedule, rest of the time tours must be booked in advance.
Hitchhiking in Lithuania is generally good. Get to the outskirts of the city, but before cars speed up to the highway speeds. The middle letter on the older licence plates (with Lithuanian flag) of the three letter code usually corresponds with the city of registration (L for Klaipeda). Newer licence plates (with EU flag) are not bound to city of registration in any way.
Buses operate regularly between the main centres as well as the regional centres. Kautra  operates a number of routes out of Kaunas with the cost of ~20-30 Litas for most journeys. Other companies with intercity routes worth to mention are Toks (from Vilnius) and Busturas (from Siauliai). For students with Lithuanian student id, bus companies grant 50% discount around the year with the exception of July and August.
For buses and trolley-buses on routes within towns and cities it is usual to buy the ticket in advance from a kiosk, board the vehicle using the middle door and stamp the ticket using the punches located near the middle door. Tickets bought from the driver are more expensive and may also generate an off-handed response if the bus is late or crowded or you don't provide the exact change. Inspectors periodically check tickets and will issue a fine if you cannot produce a correctly punched ticket. The bus is exited by the middle door and it is important to head for the door before the bus has stopped - it can be impossible to leave once people have started boarding.
In addition to common buses, there are minibuses which usually operate express routes. For schedules, consult
Taxis are run on a meter and can be booked by the phone numbers shown on the door of the taxi,. Taxis are relatively cheap compared to western Europe. Beware however, some companies may not be as safe as others, common sense will keep you safe in this regard. "Taking the long way round" used to be common but had nearly been irradicated, western Europeans may still find themselves taking the scenic route, don't worry though, the maximum that this will add is a few litas. It is customary to give a small tip at the end of your journey.
It's usually cheaper to order a taxi by phone instead of taking one in the street, especially in bus stations or airports.
Recently (spring 2009) taxi prices, especially in Vilnius, have dropped dramatically from previous level during the boom years. If you don't need a fancy ride, taxi can be as cheap as 1.25 litas (37 euro cents) per kilometer.
Lithuania is great for cycling. There are two international EuroVelo cycle routes  across the country, EuroVelo No. 10 and EuroVelo No. 11. The international bicycle project BaltiCCycle  may provide you with a lot of information and help.
The official language of Lithuania is Lithuanian, making up one of only two languages [along with Latvian] on the Baltic branch of the Indo-European family. Despite the kinship of Lithuanian to many other European languages, the archaic nature of its grammar makes it hard for foreigners unfamiliar with the language even to form basic sentences. Russian is spoken almost universally amongst the older generation, whilst the younger generation is becoming more and more proficient in English. Polish and, to a lesser extent, German are also spoken in some places for historical reasons. Lithuanians are always eager for an opportunity to practice their English, but those who learn a few basic phrases of the local language are always amply awarded with good will and appreciation for their efforts. In Samogitia (Western Lithuania) most people talk in Smaogitian, which is somewhat different from Standart Lithuanian.
Vilnius recently became a shopper's paradise when plenty of massive shopping centres were opened all over the city. Akropolis (a chain of shopping malls in Lithuania) is one of them and definitely worth visiting, as it houses an ice skating rink, bowling lanes and a cinema.
Shopping center Helios City in Savanoriu ave offers to have dinner, to take a cup of coffee and to go shopping under the one roof. On the first and the second floors of the Helios City restaurants, cafes, small shops, beauty salon, dry cleaning and other service companies are located. The centre of the city or the Old Town and the new leisure and service centre are separated by less than 1,5km. It is convenient to access the Helios City from any place of the city – either by public or proper transport.
Gariunai is the baltic's largest open air market, located on the western edge of Vilnius. Thousands of merchants can be found there on a good weekend, from not only Lithuania, but also from as far away as Ukraine. Clothes, shoes, and even music and software can be bought there. Counterfeit goods are ubiquitous. A low price is guaranteed, quality is not.
Klaipeda is a major shopping center for people from Latvia and Kaliningrad. The main shopping centers are: Akropolis, Arena, Studlendas and BIG. Many people coming to the city on cruise ships shop in Klaipeda, due to the good value and price combination.
Kaunas is also a city of shopping centers, and the center of the city, Laisvės avenue is a pedestrian thouroghfare. There is even that symbol of "mall culture", which is new to Lithuania, Akropolis.
Lithuanian dinners usually include meat, potato, vegetables and sometimes a curd sauce of some sort. Case in point: the cepelinai, or zeppelins, which are meat filled potato-starch based zeppelin-shaped masses traditionally slathered in a sauce of sour cream, butter, and pork cracklings. Pork is traditionally eaten, beef much less so. Needless to say, vegans will have a hard time eating out, although some large restaurant chains will have vegetarian dishes on the menu.
Some fast food in Lithuania, such as Kibinai, (from the Karaim people) small turnovers usually filled with spiced lamb, and Cheburekai (a Russian snack), large folds of dough with a scant filling of meat, cheese, or even apples, can be found around the city.
Many restaurants have menus in English (usually in the Lithuanian menu) and to a lesser extent, Russian. Though use caution as sometimes menus in other languages may have inflated prices, although this is a rarity, and won't be found in Vilnius, or the better known chains such as Cili Pizza.
Lithuania is a beer drinking country, with the most famous brands being Svyturys, Kalnapilis, Utenos, Horn and Gubernija. A visit to a kiosk will show that there may be more than 50 different brands of beer in this small country. Alcohol percentages are displayed on the label, and usually range from 4 to 9.5 percent. Compared to other European countries, beer is usually affordable, in shops approx. 0.50 to 1 € per half litre, in bars approx. 0.75 to 2 € per half litre(beer is sold by the half or full litre, a full litre being found rarely). The beer tastes excellent, putting global brands to shame and it can be said that Lithuanian lager is of at least equal quality to Czech, Slovak, German, and Polish lager. A request for a Lithuanian beer always generates goodwill, even in a Chinese or other foreign-themed restaurant.
When you visit a bar or restaurant without intending to eat, try one of the bar snacks, which are very popular among Lithuanians. The most popular of these snacks consists of a bowl of pieces of garlic bread covered in cheese.
In addition to beer, rather cheap but high quality vodka (or "degtinė" in Lithuanian) is consumed, but not to the extent usually associated with this part of the world. Also, every region has its own home-made speciality of which "Samane" is most famous/notorious and is best avoided.
Lithuanian mead, or "midus" is a beverage produced exclusively under government control. It is commonly made from all sorts of Lithuanian flora, from leaves and berries to some tree bark. Alcohol percentages range from 10% to 75% (considered medicinal).
For tourists, quality sparkling wines, such as Alita or Mindaugas, and local liqueurs are popular choices to bring back home.
Keep in mind the law that came into effect from January 2009 that prohibits selling alcohol in shops between 10PM and 8AM (bars, cafes, restaurants etc. are exempt from this).
In shops and cafés different tea and coffee qualities are widely available. The selection in coffee ranges from northern European brands to French ones. In coffee houses, you should expect to pay up to 1.50 € for your coffee. Some cafés offer also a variety of special coffees with more or less special prices. Many cafes (kavinės) still make "lazy" coffee, which is simply coffee grounds and boiling water, unfiltered, with grounds at the bottom of the cup, often surprising the drinker - ask before you buy! Tea is usually sold at 50% of the price of coffee. Some of the wonderful drinks such as the Marganito are great for fun filled party drinks and rated one of the top kinds of wine in the country, perfect for weddings.
Unlike restaurants, or pubs aimed at tourists, bars (Baras) may be frequented by heavy drinkers and can therefore be somewhat rowdy. Nevertheless a visit may still be very rewarding, especially if you accept an invitation to participate in karaoke.
A law banning smoking in cafés, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, discotheques and other public establishments was passed in May 2006, and came into effect on January 1 2007.
Tap water is suitable for drinking.
Most large cities such as Vilnius have an abundance of hotel options from 60 litas and up. When traveling to a popular vacation spot in the summer (like Palanga) make sure to book a room in advance because demand may outnumber supply. Additionally, some of the Cafes on the main highways between cities also have rooms to rent.
Lithuania has one of the best educational systems in the World. Many universities participate in student exchange programs. Most popular international college in Lithuania is Lithuanian Christian College in Klaipeda . The best universities of Lithuania are the University of Vilnius (Vilniaus Universitetas) and Kaunas University of Technology (Kauno Technologijos Universitetas).
There are now many work options in Lithuania. Any EU national can work and live with no limits in Lithuania. Of course residence permits must be obtained, and employers must prove that there are not competent workers in Lithuania for such employment, which can be difficult. Especially there is a huge demand for work force in Klaipeda (most in construction, wholesale and port companies). However, Lithuanian law dictates that all business be conducted in Lithuanian language.
In general, Lithuania is a safe country. But you should take basic safety measures:
If you are searching for some health treatment or recreation the best resorts for that are Druskininkai and Palanga. Neringa is a great option for a nice, calm holiday for becoming one with yourself.
Basketball is the national sport, and the nation is basketball mad, (comparable to the british with Soccer and New Zealand with rugby). Lithuania is one of the most successful teams in international competition, winning medals in three out of four Olympic tournaments, (bronze), and finishing fourth in 2008. All this from just five Olympic appearances. Major domestic clubs are BC Žalgiris from Kaunas and BC Lietuvos Rytas from Vilnius. For this reason in almost every park and playground you will find a basketball court.
Lithuanians are Baltic nation, however, it's common for tourists to think that they are somehow connected with Russians.
Lithuanians form their own distinct ethnic group and speak their own language (Lithuanian), which is one of the oldest languages in the world, belonging to the Baltic not the Slavic branch of Indo-European languages.
It is a notoriously difficult language to master, but learning how to greet locals in their own language can go a long way. They will appreciate your efforts in Lithuanian.
Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union from the end of World War II until 1991. You should also try to remember that the Lithuanian capital is Vilnius, not Riga, which is the capital of neighbouring Latvia, a common mistake for travellers and an annoyance to locals.
Because of war time occupations by Tsarist Russia in the 19th century, the Soviet Union in the 20th century and the territorial disputes with Poland in the early 20th century, conversations revolving around disputes with neighboring countries are not a good idea for those not from the region.
Lithuanians may appear at times nationalistic, however it is with good reason that they are a proud nation as they have fought to maintain their cultural identity through dark times, and this has kept them a unique and in general a warm and charming race.
Land line phones
There is monopoly operator for land line phones - TEO (now it belongs to "TeliaSonera AB"), a subsidiary of Sweden (Telia) and Finland (Sonera). Land line phones are easy to find in all country. Phones are used with cards, witch you can find in kiosks, "TEO" or newspaper stands.
There are three mobile phone operators in Lithuania: Omnitel, BITE and TELE 2. About 97% of the country's surface is covered by the standard European GSM 900/1800 MHz network, the remaining 3% are non-walkable forests.
To call abroad from Lithuania:
If you're bringing a laptop, Wireless LAN Hot-Spots are available in distinct places (mostly "Zebra" from - TEO), sometimes free, otherwise not very cheap. Best chances of finding one are at airports, railway stations, in cafés, shopping malls, universities, various places. You can ask in your hotel, but be prepared to pay. For those who need to connect at an Internet cafes, major cities do have internet cafes.
With your mobile phone you can use: CSD, HSCSD, GPRS or EDGE, but the cost may be unattractive. UMTS is only available in some bigger cities. If your phone is not SIM-locked, you may consider purchasing a pre-paid SIM card designed for data access.
If you want to communicate with your friends or locals using internet, you'll need two programs Skype or ICQ. The most popular chatting program is skype, all of which can be used in English as well. As well in Lithuania social websites are getting very popular. The most popular is ONE.lt, My space exists, but it is not widely used.