Lithuania

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Introduction to Lithuania

Lithuania owes much to the rich cultural currents of central Europe: it once shared an empire with neighbouring Poland that stretched from the Baltic Sea almost to the Black Sea. Its capital Vilnius boasts a Baroque Old Town that is the largest in Eastern Europe and praised as the 'New Prague'.

Any country that gives pride of place to a memorial statue of singer Frank Zappa has got to be worth a visit. The Lithuanian people are regarded as much more outgoing and less organised than their Estonian and Latvian counterparts; you'll make many friends.

Rebellious, quirky and vibrant, Lithuania is Europe's best-kept secret. Vilnius is a strange capital, in an eccentric and quirky way. It's a small city with astonishing contrasts - eerie shadowy courtyards, eccentric artist community, disturbing history and a beautiful baroque old town. Lithuania's natural treasures - including the forests of the south, the magical Curonian Spit and Nemunas Delta on the coast - glitter. The Hill of Crosses near Šiauliai and the controversial Soviet sculpture park in southeastern Lithuania both vie for attention.

Full country name: Republic of Lithuania

Area: 65,200 sq km

Population: 3.59 million

Capital City: Vilnius

People: Lithuanian 80.6%, Russian 8.7%, Polish 7%, Byelorussian 1.6%

Language: Lithuanian, Russian

Religion: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Russian Orthodox, Protestant, evangelical Christian Baptist, Islam, Judaism

Government: parliamentary democracy

Head of State: President Valdas Adamkus

Head of Government: Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas

GDP: US$30.8 billion

GDP per capita: US$8,400

Annual Growth: 4.5%

Inflation: 5.1%

Major Industries: petroleum refining, shipbuilding (small ships), furniture making, textiles, food processing, fertilizers, agricultural machinery, electronic components, agriculture

Major Trading Partners: Russia, Germany, Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine, Poland, Denmark, Italy, Finland

Member of EU: Yes

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Lithuania does not require visas for most tourists staying for 90 days or less. Citizens from fellow EU countries, the Baltic states, Australia, Canada, Japan, the US, nationals of Andorra, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong (SAR), Iceland, Israel, Korea (Rep), Liechtenstein, Macau (SAR), Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Switzerland, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela do not require a visa for tourist stays of 90 days or less. A valid passport is required by all visitors.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2

Dialling Code: 370

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

The most emotive cultural event is the National Song Festival, held every five years (the next one will be in 2005). Over 100,000 people are expected to join in with the singing of several hundred choirs from the Baltic region. Midsummer celebrations are keenly celebrated in these latitudes: the night of 23 June, considered to have magical powers, is the climax of events. The Baltika folk festival rotates among the Baltic capitals - it's due in Lithuania in July 1999.

Other popular cultural events include horse races on Lake Sartai in Dusetos, near Utena, on the first Saturday of February; St Casimir Day, Lithuania's patron saint's day, on 4 March; April's International Jazz Festival, which attracts top musicians from all over the world to Kaunas; and the Life Theatre Festival, a week-long theatre festival that features avant-garde productions in Vilnius in May. Also in Vilnius is a week-long Summer Music Festival of street theatre, dancing, masked parades and craft fairs in the Old Town in July; and Vilnius City Days, three days of musical and cultural events in theatres, concert halls and on the streets in mid-September. Velines (All Souls' Day) commemorates the dead with visits to cemeteries on 2 November.

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Best time to Visit

Summer and spring (May through September) are far and away the best times of year to travel in Lithuania. The majority of foreign tourists come during July and August, when low-budget hotels and hostels can be fully booked. While there's usually a picturesque sprinkling of snow on the ground in winter (November through March), there's also only a few hours of daylight each day.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Litas

Meals

Budget: Lt5-15

Mid-range: Lt15-30

High: Lt30-90

Deluxe: Lt90+

Lodging

Budget: Lt5-60

Mid-range: Lt60-120

High: Lt120-400

Deluxe: Lt400+

Travel in the Baltic States can still be bully for budgeters. Hostel accommodation is rarely more than US$10 and can go as low at US$2 for a bed in a shared room. This style of accommodation combined with eating in cheap canteens or cafeterias, or self-catering, and travelling in small bursts by bus or train can keep daily costs down to under US$10 per person. If you prefer homestays or mid-range hotel accommodation and eating in quality restaurants, daily costs may tick up to around US$40 to US$60 per person.

Currency exchange isn't a problem in Lithuania, although cashing travellers' cheques is best done in large cities such as Vilnius, Kaunas, Siauliai and Klaipeda. Numerous ATMs give cash advances on Visa, MasterCard and Eurocard, while credit cards are common methods of payment in hotels and restaurants. Make sure whatever cash currency you bring in is in pristine condition. Marked, torn or simply very used notes will be refused.

Lithuania has a value-added tax (VAT) of 18%, and it's automatically included in all accommodation and eating costs. Tipping isn't compulsory in Lithuania, but it's common to give waiters 5 or 10% by rounding up the bill. Some bargaining (but not a lot) goes on at flea markets.

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Attractions

Vilnius

Lithuania's capital city has an international flavour due to the influence of the big Lithuanian diaspora and because it has always been exposed to influences from central Europe and beyond. In the 16th century, Vilnius was one of the biggest cities in eastern Europe.

Vilnius played a part in Poland's 17th-century 'golden age' and became an important Jewish city in the 19th century. Germany, Poland and Russia have all played pass-the-parcel with Vilnius last century. Post-WWII, Vilnius developed into the chief focus of Lithuania's push for independence.

Curonian Spit

The typical Baltic coastal scent of mingled ozone and pine is at its headiest on the northern Lithuanian half of the Curonian Spit, which dominates Lithuania's Baltic coast. This area is made up of four settlements, none of which are more than a couple of kilometres from the coast.

There's a magical air to this isolated 98km (60mi) thread of sand, which is composed of dunes and pine forests inhabited by elk, deer and wild boar. Here you can savour fish freshly smoked to an old Curonian recipe, hire jet skis or paddle boats, go ice fishing, or get some vodka into you.

Druskininkai

This resort's status stems from its mineral springs, which have been in demand for their curative powers since the 19th century. Druskininkai is also known as the birthplace of modern sculptor Jacques Lipchitz and the home town of romantic painter and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis.

In recent times, a new 'attraction' has hit the outskirts of town. Stalin World (officially the Soviet Sculpture Garden at Grutas Park) is described by the canned mushroom mogul behind its construction as combining 'the charms of a Disneyland with the worst of the Soviet gulag prison camp'. Druskininkai is in southern Lithuania, on the Nemunas river, not far from the border with Belarus.

Hill of Crosses

Lithuania's most incredible, awe-inspiring sight is the legendary Hill of Crosses. The two-humped hillock is covered in a forest of thousands upon thousands of crosses - large and tiny, expensive and cheap, wooden and metal. Some are devotional, to accompany prayers, others are memorial.

It's thought that the tradition of planting crosses here may have begun in the 14th century. In the Soviet era the crosses were bulldozed at least three times, only to spring up again. It's an eerie place, especially when the wind blows and the silence is broken by the rattling of crosses and rosaries. The Hill of Crosses is 10km (6mi) north of Siauliai, which in turn, is 140km (87mi) north of Kaunas and has good rail and bus connections with both Kaunas and Vilnius.

Palanga

This small city is quiet in winter, but in summer it's transformed into Lithuania's premier seaside resort with a long, sandy beach backed by pine-covered dunes; a large botanical park with a rose garden; a hill thought to have been the site of a pagan shrine; and an excellent Amber Museum.

Palanga hosts a grand opening of the summer season on the first Saturday in June; the closing of the season, on the last Saturday in August, is marked by a massive street carnival, market, song festival and pop concert.

Palanga is 30km (18mi) north of Klaipeda and 18km (11mi) south of the Latvian border. Kretinga, the nearest train station, is served by daily trains from Klaipeda and Vilnius. Bus services abound. Motorists have to pay a small entrance fee to drive into Palanga.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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