Tag Archives: lithuania

World Cooking – Lithuania

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Lithuania
Progress: 23/193

When it comes to picking countries to cook from I have tried to pick places that I haven’t visited before (other than Belgium, which was prioritised because of the endives). There’s no real reason for this aside from wanting to try new things and to avoid front-loading this project with foods that I already know and love. I’ll tick them all off eventually, but for now why not space them out?

So today’s pick is Lithuania for the reasoning that I really wanted to fill in the gap on my map in the general Baltic Sea area. Also, I had a real urge to learn how to make cepelinai (giant filled potato dumplings in the shape of zeppelins). After all, with the colder months coming up, what better technique to learn than the art of making potato dumplings. More on those later, Lithuanian food is more than just cepilinai – although these are the national dish.

The cuisine of Lithuania bears the mark of the many nations that once ruled over it and Lithuania itself once ruled – which means Polish, Russian and German influences. Many guides are less than complimentary of the food of Lithuania (and it’s neighbour to the north Latvia), but it suits me right down to the ground. This is a cuisine that heavily features seasons ingredients (including a lot of mushrooms), dark rye bread, meat, potatoes and a bunch of soups. You also find pastries and freshwater fish on many menus.

Considering all this, there really was a lot of interesting things that I could have made… but my heart really was set on making some massive dumplings.

Main: Cepilinai

Look at these monsters! To be honest I was white-knuckling as these bad boys were boiling as I had the awful feeling that I hadn’t sealed them properly or that they would just end up dissolving. Lo and behold that not only did they maintain the distinctive zeppelin shape during the cooking, but they actually tasted really close to those that I had in Vilnius.

The recipe for these came from Lithuanian Home Cooking and I opted to make these just pork filled seeing how I was only making half of the recipe. Now, the big thing that I was not looking forward to was the endless grating of potatoes – but luckily the Kenwood I bought after the Russian incident (where my stand-mixer broke before being thrown out the kitchen and me then proceeding to cry in a heap on the floor) had a potato grating attachment for just this purpose.

These zeppelins were absolutely fantastic, although in the future I would brown the bacon more the gravy. This gives me hope that, for a future Christmas meal, I will be able to make homemade potato dumplings. Maybe I’ll even make some for when I eventually cover Germany?

Dessert: Tinginys

One rule I have set for myself when covering an already visited country is that one dish has to be something that I haven’t already tried. This is how I ended up with this recipe for tinginys (which translates into English as ‘lazy’), which is a really delicious cake-biscuit thing with very few ingredients and no baking needed whatsoever.

I have a feeling that there are a huge number of recipes for this out there, but I ended up following this one from Ethnic Spoon. It’s fairly similar to recipes for chocolate salami or rocky road, but there’s no actual chocolate in this – just cocoa powder. Whilst this tasted great and, for some unknown reason, malty – I had real trouble getting it to set in the fridge even after leaving it overnight. A brief stint in the freezer more than made up for this shortcoming and I have been chomping on frozen slices of tinginys for the last two days.

So, given that I’m going to busy over the weekends for the next month and a half, this will be the last food country that I will be posting for a while. Whilst the time taken to make the foods for Lithuania clocked in as one of the shortest – at 2 and a half hours – I won’t have the time to research, purchase and cook these entries for a while.

When I return to this challenge, it will be off to the Americas once more where I will be looking to make my first foray into Caribbean cuisine. Will I go for an easy pick or just for the nation with the prettiest flag… at this point your guess is as good as mine.

The Great EU Quest: Lithuania – Vilnius Museums

Whilst I have always tried to pick up on some of the history of a country/city during a holiday I don’t think I have been as immersed in a country’s past as I have been in Lithuania. Maybe it is because today (June 15th) was another anniversary for them.

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It was because of this anniversary that the Museum of Genocide Victims (housed in the old KGB building) was free to enter. In Lithuania it appears that museums like this wave the entrance fee since it is a day that people should probably be educated on what happened on this day. I can’t imagine attractions like the Cabinet War Rooms of London doing something similar on the anniversary of the end of World War Two.

The anniversary in question was 76 years since Lithuania lost their independence to the Soviet Union and the process of integrating them as a Socialist State was begun. Walking through the museum and seeing all the faces of Lithuanians that had been executed firstly by the invading Nazi Germans and then the Stalinist forces was sobering.

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The museum is incredibly well put together and for the few Euros that is would normally cost you to enter it is well worth it. As interesting as the historical parts are it is the prison in the cellar that delivers the biggest punch. Especially the execution chamber as it is a plain room with bullet holes in the wall, a small drain for washing the blood from the floor and a small chute to deliver bodies up to ground level for disposing in a mass grave in the local forest.

Considering the number of citizens from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia that were deported to the arse end of the Soviet Union for slave labour (something I never knew happened until visiting this country) I really can understand why the Ukrainian entry won Eurovision this year. That song would strike a chord with any community that had to deal with forced deportation at the hand of the Soviet government (and this includes native Russians too).

We needed a bit of a lift after that museum (where it is quite easy to lose a few hours). So instead of heading straight to the next one we stopped off for come cake in one of the many coffee shops on Pilies Street. We had great cake (especially the chocolate royal) and for the first time we’ve been in Lithuania we met a rather surly waitress (reminded me of home).
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Once we left the coffee shop what did we see? Only a large procession of Hare Krishnas! Not exactly the first thing I would have expected to see in Vilnius, but this does appear to be a nation that wears their religion (and their hope) on their sleeves. From what we have seen this city is incredibly tolerant of their population whether they be Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Jewish or even Hare Krishna. There was no laughing or pointing at this parade like there would be in London.

Another thing about Lithuania that really struck me was the amount and variation in their crafts. From what we later saw in the museum this is a nation of artisans. The majority of the crafts that appear to be going are the production of wooden crosses (which you will see pretty much everywhere in Lithuania whether you be walking along a road, through a forest or in a city).

However, there are so many other things like pottery, glassware, amber and wooden carvings of religious and non-religious imagery. If I had a way to transport all the things that I liked I would behave bought a lot of things, being practical I just bought a small mug with fish on for hub as a souvenir.

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After putting on a freshly bought Lithuania t-shirt in a pitch black bathroom (I couldn’t find the light switch) it was time to venture around their national museum.

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The first two rooms on the ground floor is a real mishmash of things which includes two items of Roman pottery and a random Egyptian sarcophagus. The best parts of this museum are the parts that focus on Lithuanian culture. Apparently you couldn’t find a decent portrait painter in 1700s Lithuania, but being a country of craftsmen you could find amazing toys like this wind-powered masterpiece.

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The section of the museum on local folk art (focused on religious iconography) was illuminating. We were laughing at some of the really bad items on display, but then watched a short film on the importance of cross making to Lithuanians. So important that people would be making loads of these during Soviet occupation under the cover of darkness. These wouldn’t all be professional craftsmen, most of these people were regular farmers who sought to protect their homestead.

Well, that shut us up. For a little while. Some were still incredibly odd.  Following this was another moving exhibition on the mass deportation of Lithuanians. Maybe if they want to win Eurovision next year they should enters a song called ‘1941’. For me the worst piece of information in this exhibit was that there were deportation quotas. That if the deportation officers couldn’t find the family of “political enemies” on the list then they would just seize a random family to make up numbers. Where are the reparations for this?

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It was still before five so we went into our third and final museum of the day: Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. This is clearly one of the newer museums, or at least very recently renovated, since you can still smell how freshly cut the wooden doors are.

Whilst the other two museums taught about the more recent history here it was all about the history of early Lithuania. The curious story of the politically motivated canonisation of St Casimir (Lithuania’s patron saint), how Lithuania used to extend all the way down to present-day Ukraine through Belarus and just how many royal houses in Europe (including the British Stuarts) ended up with blood ties to the Lithuanian line.

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It would have been nice to spend more time here, but there was some presidential function going on so there was security on our tail to make sure we were out of the museum by 10 minutes before closing. Still, we got a potted history that I am going to try and follow up on when I get back to the UK.

For dinner it was Bunte Gans, a German restaurant near the Gate of Dawn. We reserved a table here on our first night in Vilnius and 4 nights later she was able to call us by name without checking the book. She was possibly the nicest waitress I have had in any restaurant anywhere and there was no way (other than a very large tip) for us to thank her on places like TripAdvisor.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Carp

For starters it was deep fried carp strips with a chilli sauce. I have never had carp before, but I swear you can almost taste the freshness of the water it was swimming in. It’s not too fishy and almost a generic white fish taste mixed in with generic flatfish. It’s very nice though and hope to try some fillet of carp in the future.

Progress: 904/933

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For the main it was weißwurst with sauerkraut and potatoes fried with onion and bacon. I could bring myself to eat these the proper way by sucking the meat from the skin. Doing something SO phallic in public made me feel a bit too self aware.

We worked out at the end of the meal that all our food, train and bus tickets, museum entries and opera tickets cost just under 150€ for five nights. That’s without being too careful of money. It’s insane when you think about it.

When we left the restaurant the waitress came up to and asked “same time tomorrow?” to which we mournfully replied that We were travelling back to England in the morning.

“See you next year then, yes?” I hope so. It would be wonderful to be back for the Christmas markets in 2017. I can not overstate how amazing this country has been and how hard it is to leave.

Thank you Lithuania. It’s been great.

The Great EU Quest: Lithuania – Trakai

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One of the big problems of writing this so far in advance of posting is that things tend to lose their timeliness. At the time for writing this in my hotel room it is June 14th 2016. For Brits this date means nothing, but for Lithuanians today marked the 75th anniversary of the first mass deportation of their citizens to Siberia by Soviet invaders. We only really took note of it because of a concert in the cathedral square where Lithuanian flags were on show alongside Ukrainian and EU flags.

On this day 35,000 people were sent to their death. This is 10% of all Lithuanian civilian casualties and 50% of the civilian casualties suffered by Britain and her colonies in the whole of World War Two.

We, as Brits, have no idea what things like this feels like. In fact, we must be one of the very few nations in Europe who do not have natives alive that know what it is like to be occupied by invading forces. All I know is that this country finds new ways to move me.

Anyway, back to less preachy blog content.

When I was looking into what to visit on this trip to Lithuania there were two definite things that I wanted to hit up: the Hill of Crosses and the Island Castle of Trakai. Thanks to the cheap and reliable transport system in Lithuania we were able to make today’s return bus trip between Vilnius and Trakai for just over 3€. I swear I pay this much for a one-way trip within Zone 1 on the London Underground.

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As if I didn’t need convincing about Lithuania being 30% forest, the bus station of Trakai is on a fucking lake. In fact the bulk of the town of Trakai is on a peninsular and surrounded by water and forest.

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It’s a bit of a walk from the bus stop to the bridge connecting the castle to the mainland. The signs say 1900m, but I swear it was a fair bit longer. Maybe that was because instead of taking the direct route we made a right turn so we could follow the waterline. Worth it for the views. Okay, it isn’t Bled (then again what else is) but the sheer amount of sky and the clearness of the lake still have to give you pause.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 56/100 IMG_1508Sight: Trakai Castle
Location: Trakai, Lithuania
Position: #463

That first view that you get of the Trakai Island Castle is special. It just feels like one of those impossible structures and it is so incredibly red. Turns out it is red because the original castle was pretty much destroyed after an invasion and then general falling into disrepair. The majority of what we see now is because of extensive renovation and reconstruction conducted in a joint effort by Lithuania and the Kremlin. The reconstruction was effectively finished in the mid-1980s.

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Yes there is a disconnect between then vibrant red bricks and the original grey stonework, but they have done an axing job of revitalising this castle. It raises the question of whether this is still Trakai Island Castle or if it is a modern construction. For me, I think that whatever helps the Lithuanian people is good with me. Since this castle is such a point of national pride and has helped generate income for the area then it can’t be a bad thing.

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After venturing around the castle we partook in some kibinai (a fist sized Cornish pasty like pastry filled with lightly spiced meat) at one of the restaurants sitting on the edge of the lake. We managed to get ourselves a perfect view of the castle and just wiled away a few hours before making our way back to Vilnius.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksIMG_3379Food item: Borscht

For dinner we headed to Bernelių Užeiga, a Lithuanian cuisine place next to the Opera House as recommended by the Vilnius In Your Pocket guide.

I have having serious issues with any menu that showcases Lithuanian cuisine. Like when I was Japan (especially that ramen place in Kyoto), I just want to eat everything on the menu. Having a food list on the blog actually becomes quite help there.

Cold beetroot and cream soup (aka borscht) it was and it was lovely. I think that was more down to the very generous dollops of cream in the soup rather than the beetroot itself. I can really see myself having this for dinner on a war summer day where I have no interest in going anywhere near a hot appliance. Not entirely sure about the roast potatoes given as a side dish… I just dipped them in the soup. Maybe this was a faux pas, but I don’t think anyone noticed.

IMG_3380Food item: Pike

There are two fish from the list that I have been trying to find from the food list whilst in Lithuania: carp and pike. Neither of these are fish that we tend to eat in the UK (not sure why as they can certainly be found in our waterways) but I know that pike at the very least is eaten in the Baltics (carp is more a polish thing, but I live in hope).

In this dish the pike fillet was fried and served with pickled carrot and beetroot, mashed potato and some kind of cream sauce with peas. I am not the biggest fan of pickled beetroot, but the pike itself went down a treat. It’s a bit like haddock, but there is this richer taste that I can’t  quite put my finger on. It might be the sort of taste you get with carnivorous fish as I recall having grouper when I went to Australia. I’d definitely eat is fish if I saw it on a menu in the UK.

Another advantage to eating pike? They are horrible fish known to eat ducklings. I have had some form of revenge on behalf of the lost ducklings.

Progress: 903/933

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A slice of honey cake later (delicious!) and we were on our way to Cathedral Square for some of the event in Cathedral Square before calling it a night.

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One more full day in Lithuania. Really should have done a full week here, but alas it was not to be.

The Great EU Quest: Lithuania – Šiauliai

According to the Lonely Planet list there are two main sights to see in Lithuania. This is in comparison to neighbouring countries Latvia and Belarus, which have nothing in the book. Honestly, it is thanks to this book that I chose to go to Lithuania instead of fellow Baltic nation Estonia.

Today I chose to visit the first of these, which is 10km of the Lithuanian city of Šiauliai. Being based in Vilnius this means a literal cross country trip of over 200km. Whilst I know the bus would have been cheaper, there is something to be said for a country where return tickets for a 2½ hour trip are 18€. Putting that in perspective, in order to make a similar length trip from London to Cardiff for work can cost well over £150 depending on the time of day. Have I said how much I am loving the prices in this country?

I am aware that being based in Vilnius Old Town can give you a blinkered idea of what the average Lithuanian lives in. If every city was like Vilnius Old Town we would be living in a Disney movie sans dead parents (unless you’re Princess Aurora or Rapunzel, because why not).IMG_1483
Over the course of the train trip I was amazed at just how green Lithuania is. I mean sure there is the occasional lumber yard or factory as you get closer to the cities, but most of the trip is made up of farmland, forests or meadows. In many ways it makes this train trip very much like travelling through England. I guess I was expecting some example of harsh Soviet architecture as that is what movies from the 1980s thought us.

Now, if you are going to Šiauliai in order to visit the Hill of Crosses and you do NOT go with a guided group you pretty much have to fend for yourself. There are no real indications at the train station about where you need to go and, since the buses are hourly, you probably want to find the bus station sharpish.

We ended up stalking a few tourists as they walked on a dirt track on the side of a major road in order to make our way to the bus station. We probably could have used GPS to find our way… but that kept telling us to cross at weird junction points.

Actually, short note about Lithuanians that I have noticed: they are good and courteous drivers. Most of the crossings I have observed in Vilnius and Šiauliai are without lights and at no point have we had any people drive through it whilst we are standing there. In fact, some of the time they have seen us starting to meander in that direction and they start slowing down just in case. Italian and Egyptian drivers – please can you take note of this.

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78 cents later and we were at the bus stop for the Hill of Crosses. It’s a 2km walk from the bus stop and you have to back on yourself to find the turning point. It’s a lovely walk that just goes to show how much in the middle of nowhere this place actually is. The first sign that you are almost there is that rather than just a panorama of green there is a mass of brown and orange that is sparkling and shimmering in the distance.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 55/100
Sight: Hill of Crosses
Location: Jurgaičiai, Lithuania
Position: #387

The Hill of Crosses is one of those places that just feels distinctly Lithuanian. It’s the ultimate symbol of their humanity and their resilience despite constantly being destroyed or taken over. The hill (according to a nearby plaque) currently has over 200,000 crosses planted in it. Many of them are the small wooden ones that you can buy on your way in, but so many of them are completely unique.

Thanks to the Soviet Union’s move to destroy this most of the older crosses are no longer present. In fact, with the exception of one that could possibly have been from 1945 the vast majority are from the last 20 years. The newest I saw was only 10 days old – I may have shed a tear over that as the cross’s design looked like it could have been for a young child.

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Now I am not religious, but I could not help but feel moved by this site. To find the adjectives for it is difficult. I keep wanting to use phrases such as “bonkers, but beautiful” which don’t probably illustrate the sheer amount of respect I had for this place. It’s like a symbol for all the good there is in humanity.

Whilst this is a predominantly catholic site there were crosses from Protestants and Russian Orthodox faiths as well one or two Stars of David from Jewish citizens of Lithuania. People have travelled from all over Europe to leave crosses here, as have Christians from Korea, Canada, China and the USA.

With all this traveling and awe inspiration we both completely forgot about lunch. It also helps that we’re both in the throes of trying to lose weight and so were able to last most of the day on breakfast alone. By 4 I was a bit peckish so we went into the Rimi hypermarket attached to the bus terminal.

I swear that I have yet to visit a super/hypermarket in another country and think it is worse than the UK. In the deli section of a UK supermarket you probably get three types of ham and you have examples of this from more than one company. In Rimi they actually give space to a counter filled with cooked Silesian sausages, pork knuckle and a whole manner of deliciousness. The bread looks and smells amazing, also the sheer variety available puts British supermarkets to shame.

I know it is weird, but as a foodie I just have to see  the places abroad where people buy their food. It works against me as the sights and smells just depress me further when I have to turn off holiday mode and return to the UK. If a place like Rimi opened up in my home town there would be no question of where I did my grocery shopping, so long Tesco, bye bye Morrison’s, up yours Asda. Alas and alack.

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By the time we were back in Vilnius it was just after 8 and dinner was very much required. Since we were tired and feeling a bit lazy we went around the corner to the restaurant we visited on the first night. Instead of yet another Zeppelin I ordered what I thought would be pancakes wrapped around meat, but they turned out to be potato pancakes, which means this is the third night ins row with essentially the same meal.

We also ordered something that we thought would be breaded and deep fried spicey cheese… but it turned out to be this large lump of curd cheese with a thick layer of pepper on it. I felt so bad and embarrassed at neither of us liking it that I may have cut off half a chunk, wrapped it in tissue and stuffed it in my pocket. Now I have moist cheese pockets and my jacket has to dry out. If you saw the waiter you’d know why I did it. He’s basically the sweet shopkeeper from Frozen brought to life!

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At least mum’s meal of grandmother style mushroom soup in a bread bowl came out looking good.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books
IMG_3377Food item: Honey Cake

Speaking of good. We shared an order of honey cake for dessert (lovely Frozen waiter guy had to halved and served on two plates for us) and I was surprised at how nice it was. Honestly I was something a bit more saturated with honey or cloyingly sweet like baklava, but this was the right amount of density. They also chose to pair it with a strawberry coulis and that is a choice I am very happy with.

Progress: 901/933

Off to Trakai tomorrow. Halfway through this trip to Lithuania already. How has this happened!?

The Great EU Quest: Lithuania – Vilnius Old Town

Since this is just how things work out when booking time off, today was the first of two full days that we spent in Vilnius itself. It has to be noted that if you mainly wish to explore the old town (which is rather large for an old town) and the immediate surroundings there is no need for public transport. I was very close to buying a Vilnius Card to try and remove the hassle from public transport… but there really is no need to do so.

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Despite the classical surroundings of churches and beautifully stuccoed buildings it is hard to escape the feeling that Vilnius is a very young city. When you are in the fringes you will see a lot of murals, some of which take up the whole wall of a building. Of course when I saw this picture of Putin and Trump sharing a disgustingly wet kiss I knew that I would have to post this online.

It is also difficult to deny that there is still an underlying cultural scuffle between the Vilnusians who have completely rejected anything Russian (minus religion) and those who are able to accept it, albeit in smaller doses.

Then again, this is a city that recently celebrated 1000 years since being founded and has been invaded and occupied on numerous occasions. Russians, Poles, Napoleon, Germans and Swedes have all taken turns in making this city their own. It is therefore completely understandable that this country has a tremendous sense of national pride for their, still newly found, independence.

Also, the volume of EU flags that you see being displayed the town centre is almost akin to what I saw in Luxembourg. Their inclusion in the European Union and NATO within early 2004 (after just over adecade of independence) must have been the ultimate act of of recognition for this small Baltic nation, something that looks like is still deeply felt.

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We started our day of exploration at Vilnius Cathedral – one of those places that has borne the brunt of Soviet ire. Stalin had this Catholic cathedral turned into a garage for army vehicles. The three statues on top were torn down and destroyed (replaced by replicas in 1996). It is mainly thanks to the number of paintings inside and the unique neoclassical building style that this building was turned into an art gallery before being fully reinstated as a cathedral.

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When we first arrived there was a mass on (it was Sunday after all) so we had to make a return visit later in the day. It really did feel like an art gallery inside of a church with wealth of paintings on the walls. The real highlight was the baroque chapel of St Casimir. At the time it cost 0.5 millions gold pieces to produce! There are elaborate frescoes and marble work all over the chapel… to this Saint who devoted his (25 years of) life to charity work.

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In the cathedral square itself (which is huge) there is a slab known as a miracle stone. Here you turn 360 degrees and make a wish… but it won’t come true if you tell people the exact location (so hard cheese readers, I want my wish). The stone marks the end of a chain of people 2 million long that stretched from Vilnius to Tallinn via Riga in the late 1980s as an act of Baltic solidarity. Yet another poignant reminder of the recent past.

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After the cathedral we moseyed on up to the Gendimo Tower. It stands on a hill looking overlooking all of the old town and is a great place to snag some pictures. It is also one of those places that you can see from most locations in the Old Town, the Lithuanian flag proudly flying in the cold June breeze. The walk up isn’t too steep, but very cobbly. This is why we opted to pay the 1€ for the funicular railway down. Also, that was fun.

It was lunchtime and instead of opting for something too heavy we sought out some coffee and cake. Unfortunately a lot of people had the same idea, so a lot of places were full. We managed to get a table in Soprano and, yes, I had ice cream for lunch. It was basically a deconstructed banana split and it was gorgeous.

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A brief rainstorm later and we did some more church hopping. The first was the gothic St Anne’s church. The outside is a feels compact and yet imposing with its deep red brickwork. The arrangement of the bricks really make this church stand out – to the point that when I first saw this from the tower I really wanted to find out what this structure was.

The inside of St Anne’s was equally beautiful, just in a very different way. Ornate carvings depicting the stations of the cross and the incredibly detailed altar called to mind the Neumunster church in Luxembourg.

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The final Catholic Church we visited on the day was St Casimir’s, a church dedicated to Lithuania’s patron saint (conveniently located opposite our hotel). It’s massive on the outside with a large crown donning one of the spires. Inside it is a masterpiece of marble. I know I have been to visit enough churches that I should no longer be stunned, but the variety of marbles and the quantity of it that must have been used to construct the columns… well it boggles the mind.

On our old town walk I was able to get my first glimpse at the inside of some Russian Orthodox churches. In all three of them I was presented with the same question: where do worshippers go during a service? As far as I could see there were no seats, meaning that it’s either a standing or a sit on the floor affair.

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Also, the sheer number of pictures (or should I say icons) felt incredibly oppressive; something that is the complete opposite of the lovely outsides. The weirdest thing I saw on this day came in the Russian Orthodox St Nicholas church. For whatever reason they had placed colour changing LED crosses above three of the more prominent icons. It was like visiting that one person on the street who goes a bit too far with their Christmas decorations,

With opera tickets for 7 o’clock we needed to get in an early dinner. I had already clocked the TripAdvisor recommended restaurant Forto Dvaras during our earlier walk so that’s where we headed. Now, seeing how Lithuanians tend not to be clock watchers when it comes to food, but eat when they are hungry (oh wise people of Lithuania) we were presented with a restaurant that had massive fluctuations between 5 and 6:30. It weren’t from packed to nearly empty to people having to be turned away.

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Once at the Forto Dvaras it was actually hard to pick what to have, so I went for another variation of the Zeppelin dumplings. This time they were fried and presented with a sour cream and crackling sauce. I was in heaven. I had a try of the Gypsy Steak meal too, which was a pork steak baked in the oven with pickles and sauces. Have I found my culinary homeland? Only a family tree will prove otherwise!

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksIMG_3361Food item: Baumkuchen

I came to Lithuania with one piece of food to find: and here it is in all its glory. The waitress was kind enough to let us know that one portion was big enough for two… and by gum she was right. It was a lot harder than I expected, having the consistency of a harder and less buttery shortbread. Having watched videos of how this was made (because in the week leading up to this trip to Lithuania I became mildly obsessed with the concept of tree cake) I was definitely not disappointed. Maybe one day I’ll learn how to make this.

Oh and the whole meal came to less than 20€. What is this pricing here!

Progress: 900/933

It was opera time. So we made a flying visit to the famous statues of the three muses outside the national drama theatre before heading straight to the opera house.

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress: 4/501Title: Manon
Composer: Jules Massenet
Nationality: French
Year:
 1884

Manon is actually my second opera, but when I went to see La Traviata it was with school and in English. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that, 10 years later, this was my first real trip to the opera.

For 18€ apiece we had seats in the fourth row of the stalls, slightly left from centre. As in, nearly perfect seats with a complete view. The staggering of the rows helps with this, but we also only had older women in front of us so there was nothing we couldn’t see.

Whilst this opera was in the original French there were subtitles above the stage in both Lithuanian and English. Not Russian, not Polish, but English. Thank you again Vilnius for being so accommodating.

As for the opera itself, well it was 4 hours that just flew by. We were prepared to duck out at an intermission and just head back to the hotel. Nope. Utterly transfixed.

Everything in this production felt world class and like something that would have £100 of shown in the UK. The slightly modern stage production, which at one stage had Manon being lowered whilst clasping a bunch of balloons, worked brilliantly. Some of the more modern costume choices for the background women felt a little jarring at first, but in the world of opera you can get away with a lot before it feels out of place.

Despite being a famous opera of its genre all of the music was new to me. It was a fantastic score though and brought to life by two stunning leads as Manon and Chevalier. The woman playing Manon was particularly fantastic having to go from manic pixie dream girl to desperation in a heartbeat.

Where I liked Swan Lake I loved Manon. I honestly wonder if this trip to the  Vilnius Opera House has started something.

List item: See an opera
Status: Completed

The Great EU Quest: Lithuania – Arrival

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 14/28

I am in Lithuania. I don’t know why this is so hard for me to digest on this first night, but the idea of being in Lithuania is odd. When I stuck the “visit all EU countries” into my bucket list I would be lying if I said that I knew that Lithuania would I’ve crossed off before the likes of Spain, Greece, Ireland or Sweden.

Country: Lithuania
Year first visited: 2016

As I sit in this gorgeous hotel situated on a Vilnius town square (a hotel that has had guests such as Bob Dylan, Prince Charles and the Emperor of Japan, seriously how do I end up in these places) I can only be glad that my journey here is long over.

There is no way to sugar coat the fact that London Luton airport is a stress-laden craphole which lives up to the One Foot in the Grave episode title of ‘In Luton Airport No one Can Hear You Scream’. All trains getting there were either heavily delayed or cancelled and the number of people in the post bag scanning area add it feel like a game of sardines got wildly out of hand.

This is nothing compared to the flight. I have nothing against W!zz airlines as they were great. For a budget airline they had impressive legroom and I look forward to using them on future journeys to the likes of Slovakia, Macedonia and Latvia. However, as with all flights, we ended up in a child sandwich. The one sitting behind us was a Loud screaming child who kicked the seat for the vast majority of the 2 14 hour flight; the one sitting in front was jumping up and down, constantly playing with the tray table and the blinds.

We both got off the flight feeling highly stressed and in need of aspirin only to be faced with passport control. Three windows (one of which seemed to involved with the same couple for half an hour due to a documentation issue) and we got in at the same time as a flight from Minsk. You can guess how long the queues were.

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Still, once we arrived at our hotel it all melted away. I am always in Radisson Blu hotels for my work meetings, but this is the first time that I have actually stayed at one. The view from our window has St Casimir’s Church to the right and the Town Hall (with the accompanying square) to the left. Looking at it right now, all I can is that Vilnius is a beautiful place.

Obviously we arrived absolutely starving so we ventured around the local area to find a restaurant.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksIMG_3352Food item: Wędzonka Krotoszyńska

One thing I have learned from doing this food list is that a lot of these Eastern European dishes are widespread and just known by different names. The case in point is this smoked pork loin meat. It has this name in Poland after the town of Krotoszyn, but we had the Lithuanian version of it as part of this platter. It went really well with the sweet dark rye bread.

Progress: 899/933

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Any chance at desserts (which would have been honey cake) was utterly destroyed by the main course. We had not banked on the very large portion size of either meal… especially those large zeppelin shaped potato dumplings stuffed with meat. Maybe I’ll be able to grab a food list dessert tomorrow in the form of either honey cake or baumkuchen.

If the few hours we have so far had here say anything, I cannot wait to explore this country over the next four days. If only we had longer here.