Family & I will be visiting Lithuania in a few weeks. For those few who have visited this Baltic country & have rented a car, can you share what your driving experience was? How are the roads? Can you compare them w/ other countries. What are Lithuanian drivers' idiosyncracies? We know enough not to use a car in Vilnius. My impression from the various travels books say that it's generally an overall pleasant experience. What say you?
isailtheseas: I saw your website. Beautiful pictures! Interesting that you should mention surreal when describing a couple of your photos. That's the exact word I shared w/hubby when we decided to visit Lithuania. Yes, we will visit Trakai, the castle in the middle of a lake. How long did it take you to get there from I assume Vilnius & by bus? Did you notice the drivers on the road? If you did what were they like?
It was 30-40 minutes on the express bus...
On the way back, we made a "rookie mistake" that turned out fantastic!
We got on the backroads back to Vilnius bus...which is designed like our local busses with constant stops...and seriously in the middle of lithuania somewhere..but it was a fabulous way to see the countryside!
We went to Riga first (thank goodness) how we describe the 2 countries is Riga jumped right into the tourist thing...like a teenager that thinks they can handle anything and ended up with A LOT of stag parties from the UK and Vilnius on the other hand has sat back and thought this may take some time before the tourists really kick in but lets do this right, signage is in many languages, if people don't speak English they would find someone who did, very gracious whereas Riga is worn out from their interactions with stag partys. Don't get me wrong, I REALLY liked Riga!
It is very very important to get to Trakai about 30 minutes before they open. As busses loads go there...this way you can get some great pictures, it was an easy slight up hill walk from the bus stations to the castle. Some overpriced souvenier stands outside of the lake area along with restaurants-you pay for the view...just pack snacks...there's a grocery store in town near city hall I think it's IKI but i might be thinking of the wrong store in the wrong country :).. great deals there. The Amazing Race went to Vilnius and it didn't do it justice...i was dissappointed in that as there were so many places that could've been showcased. At the TI they have very reasonable souveniers and English books. I bought a couple of Canvas bags that I use for everything farmers markets, etc. for only 1 Euro.
Euro was widely accepted, so were credit cards.Every restaurant we ate in calculated in the tip at 18% shocking, but maybe it's because we were American, so check the reciept.
How's the fruit compote in Lithuania? I recently discovered that Lithuanians were into that dessert! I thought it was my grandmother's version of fruit cocktail & her weird way of getting fruit into the menu along w/the usual starch, meat, fish, & mushrooms. How I miss her cooking!
the tip was a non issue as I usually tip that or more and because not many US Citizens go to Vilnius, we kind of wanted to be goodwill ambassadors, so to speak before the UA (ugly american) surfaces!
Take the funicular up to Upper Castle...anyway EXCELLENT views!
Gedimo 9 shopping center was overrated with the shopping you have NYC and I have in the bay area
The roads seemed to be in good condition, at least the one the bus to Trakai was on...the bus station is MASSIVE ...
i;m goin to get out our check lists..
let's see this is what we saw
National Museum, St. Anne's, St. Casimers, Gates of Dawn, Cahpel of Blessed Mary, Holy Spirit Church, St. Thersa, St, Nicholas,Royal palace, Vilnius Cathedral, St. Johns, Presidential Palace, St. Michaels, Town Hall, Amber Museum, Artillery Bastion, Church of the Assumption, St. Catherines, Romanov, St. Peter and Paul, Tile with the Mystical Sign in Cathedral Square-make sure you twirl 3 times
What, no KGB Museum? In your opinion is the euro equally acceptable as the local currency, the latas? They supposedly will switch over to the euro in 2010.
my DH thinks he might of had it, but thought it was just a fruit cocktail...
Castle, Trakai History Museum (do this- but they only take Litas- Lithuania money), Penensula Castle Ruins, Karaites Ethnographic Museum..maybe this is the musuem you should do ...sorry I'm submerged in Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro planning right now...and my brain is fritzing...hahahahahhahahaha
check with your DH feel free to post a list of questions..just remember we didnt drive!
oh, total of 4 nights June 4-8, 2007 was spent there after our Skan/Russia cruise...
did KGB before elsewhere...once is enough!!!
I would have a mix of Litas and Euros...I think we used Litas more...we order money from our bank before we left...I think equivalent 100 USD ...we have a very low fee to do that compared to ATM withdrawal and then maybe another equivalent to 80 was withdrawn. Technically, the euro is not thier currency and could be consider illegal to take. this is a very gray area, but a place could opt to say that or give you a poor exchange rate
just want to clarify when i said grocery store in town...that;s Vilnius i'm referring to
1 thing I remembered from my father & grandmother, they were fiercely anti-Russian which is the Lithuanian general attitude or so I am told. That's why they have the KGB Museum, in a bldg where interrogating prisoners took place, & Grutas Park nicknamed Stalinworld. My impression from reading various items is that they do not want the younger generation to forget the atrocities the Soviets committed on their elders. I think that idea is used similiarly for the Holocaust museums. I don't know if I will see everything you saw, bringing 3 kids w/us, but at least I am thinking of visiting most of the sites you saw. Thank you for the loads of info you packed in your postings.
very anti-russian, but at the same time you just never know..
I agree with the never forget our history and I try to go to one museum of such, for example the Danish Resistance Museum in Copenhagen, Latvia also has a museum about the occupation-very intense
We did have to take breaks during our days as they were having a heatwave of 110 degrees each day...so we were out at 7am back to the hotel by 1pm then back out around 4:30pm...
Vilnius is very walkable..
when we disembarked the plane in Vilnius and walked into the terminal, I thought I had stepped into some bad spy movie...it was truly surreal...i know your kids will be taking up your attention, but try to take a second to observe that feeling..wierd wierd wierd...but in good way...
i'm sure you will feel has excited as we were to be there for thier re-birth...it's so hard to explain but there's something in the air!!
Trikipiki, just saw the road photos. I guess those travel books weren't kidding about being an overall pleasant driving experience even if there are more cars. For the Double Coffee, are those menu pictures accurate? Holy cow! I knew Lithuanians eat well, but WOW! Someone must tell Michael Schneider of New Paltz, that his full breakfast menu in Europe has been found. I think I'll do alot of speed walking on this trip.
audrius: Sorry for misspelling litas. I must have "latas" things on my mind!
The pictures are accurate!
We ate all our lunches at Double Coffee..
the portions were generous, the menu was extensive..it's the type of place you and i could just meet there for coffee or split a sundae or have full meal.
the prices were soooooo reasonable...and the service excellent. It was like going to our local nieghborhood restaurant each weekend...
We mixed things up for dinner to try lithuanian food (well, besides the pizza night)
you know what I discoverd I LOVED was the dark bread...forget the little mini croissants on the breakfast buffet...I told my husband to cover me while I stole the bread basket That's a joke everyone! :) :)
Oh boy, I want to go back to Lithuania..
Hi. Are you going to come soon, or in summer? Now the weather is rather ridiculous, wet, rainy, cloudy, not a best time for visit.
The main roads are like this: http://www.i-manager.lt/upload/200610/Vilnius-Kaunas_1.jpg
, or this: http://www.ker.lt/admin/images/get.php?id=521
, it's a road Vilnius - Kaunas. And Trakai Road is similar.
Usually there are traffic jams closer to Vilnius at weekends, and generally the roads look more busy, than in these pictures.
Isailtheseas's comments are very interesting and sounds exremely positive, so to say ;). It's good to read about positive experiences ;).
Grutas park is nice (and funny) place, http://www.grutoparkas.lt/index-en.htm
. The road to Grutas (i.e. road Vilnius -Druskininkai) you can see here: http://photo.day.lt/keliones/ziemos_keliais
. If the weather is good it's a nice trip to drive to Grutas, and 8km further to Druskininkai (SPA town), nice nature and large forests around...
Hi, usual tip in Lithuania is 10 percent. The 18 percent, which is included into the receipt, is NOT a tip, but a VAT - value added tax. Tip is not included into the receipt in Lithuania.
National currency here is LITAS (LAT is a Latvian currency unit). Lithuania was going to introduce Euro this year, but didn't succeed because of the inflation, which was only 0.1 percent higher than required. Next goal is 2010. Anyway, litas is pinned to euro at a constant rate 1 EUR = 3.5 LTL. You can pay Euros for the hotel or souvenirs traders, but shops, restaurants, bars, clubs don't accept them. You can cash Litas at tne bankomats (bank mashines are found on almost every corner) or pay with your credit card, which are accepted everywhere in Vilnius ant bigger towns. Vilnius, its's old city should of course be seen by foot, ask at the hotel for the trasnportation to Trakai - they usualy offer comfortable minivan and a guided tour. Have a nice stay here:)
Best time to come here is June-September. Now the weather is not pleasant for any trips. Grutas park, or Stalinworld, is wort visiting in summer only, and if you'll go there, drop for a day into Druskininkai - a SPA resort few miles from Grutas. There is a huge new waterpark there, which is said to be the biggest one in Central Europe. Dozens of all kind of baths/saunas/turkish thermals for adults and various attractions for kids. Most of the roads are excellent here. Concerning idiocrysies ... overspeeding i guess.
this is interesting regarding the tip thing..
i'm looking at a receipt from Coffe Nation and the restaurant thats on the main square where city hall on a corner kind across from the grocery store you walk downstairs to get into and they both have 3 lines..total, tax 18%,service 18%
do you think they add that in for tourists?
"...they add that in for tourists..."
Not for tourists, but for everybody. For every client.
ok, we have no problem tipping 18% percent, but just wanted to let JC so know the tip (service) might be added in already.
Do you know the ice tea drink I mentioned about Coffee Nation?
Is there anyway you can find out how they make that????
It was just so delicious...
Every Sunday when I go to the farmers market,
I bring my Keep Smiling bags I bought in Vilnius to put my vegetables and fruit in
one other side note...
We flew Air Baltic and the service was excellent!
Are you sure it was Coffee Nation? Anyway, check this: http://www.doublecoffee.lt/eng/menu/tea/
, but i haven't tried that. Warm days are rather scarce here, so cold drinks actually don't impress me at all ;).
First, I owe you a total apology, I believe Coffee Nation must of been another country...
Second, that's the ice tea! It was so refreshing! I'm going to see if I can recreate it!
I know when we were there in June, the weather was quite surprising to everyone because it was sooooo hot, I think also the marble by the Cathedral and stone road that was being created in front of the town hall made the sun especially bright..
Thank you so much for finding this for me...
and to JC..the crepes and ice tea are NOT at Coffee Nation but Double Coffee! The ice cream sundaes are good too!
Also, another inexpensive place to eat with your kids is a PICA place (pizza place) I know the one we ate at was delicious, inexpensive, BIG portions and the service was great! right in the old town area
isailtheseas, move over to the Lithuanian food posting & I'll tell you something about black bread, at least that's what we called it.
Yes, the main roads are not bad indeed.
Here are some more photos to get an adequate impression about the other roads and paths in LT:
a paved rural road http://www.vtv.lt/images/stories/transportas/kelias2.jpg
, typical unpaved rural road http://img207.imageshack.us/img207/732/kaime22wr1.jpg
, unpaved road and a small village http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/lt/7/72/Plenakiai%2C_2006-08-05.JPG
, a typical field and the edge of unpaved road at the bottom http://img207.imageshack.us/img207/5140/kaime24ac3.jpg
, typical rural path http://www.zarasai.info/userimages/lobiai.jpg
Here is a path in the forest: http://www.motomanai.lt/templates/tpl/images/editable/0216182522_Kelione%20aplink%20Lietuva%20(Custom).JPG
.And here is a typical info shield in the rural recreation area http://www.nemunovvg.lt/images/01/apzvalgos%20takas.jpg
, and here - a forest near the sea (slightly different than elswhere) http://www.six.lt/blog/uploaded_images/P6170872.JPG
And if you want to buy a "black bread", just visit any (so-called) super/hyper market, there are the hills and mountains of various bread. The nicer label - the worse the bred, I'd say ;). The more expensive - the better. You can buy some, bring home and put it into a fridge (t ~+3C - +7C) to store for a long time, say, few weeks. The older bread is healthier, according to doctors (but I'm not a doctor).
Suggestion: "Rugelis" - a dietic black bread, "Bociu" - most popular and tasty bl.br. (w caraway seeds), "Ajeru" - bl.br. baked on a sweet-flag (my fav), "Palangos" - a different one, called "white", though it's "pale-black" :).
The most of others is nothing special.
Can't say anything about "restaurant food", since usually everybody prefer a "home-made" food, it's rather different "worlds", so to say ;).
Just noticed that the "plan your trip" in this website is totally out of date. Some things are accurate and correct, and some others already gone long time ago.
Visit www.inyourpocket.com , click 'Lithuania' and you'll have correct info. This is a short online version, full version available anywhere in LT, and in Riga (LV). This is NOT a Lithuanian guide - it's written by an aussie guy (who live in LT) for the foreign visitors, and the company is british.
Thank you all for sharing your Lithuanian knowledge. Sharing it w/me certainly makes my research easier.
We used Lonely Planet, in your pocket, and Bradt to plan our trip. Along with the Lithuanian websites that were extensive -just google those. The TI's in Vilnius were very well stocked with brochures, pamphlets, maps, and each person there spoke excellent english. Also, they had a great selection of postcard, pins, pens, books, and various other souvenier trinkets VERY reasonable priced...and if I didnt have the awful weight restriction on Air Baltic I would have bought much more!
Also, I want to give credit to the McDonalds by the bus station for thoughtfully pointing us along our way in perfect English, when we zigged instead of zagged!