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Trip Report Lithuania--Fodor's 1st trip report ever I think--beautiful Baltic Sea, charming old towns, wonderful wedding & a lovely rural country

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We knew nothing about Lithuania other than the fact that it is a Baltic country that had been forcibly taken over as a part of the former Soviet Union and probably would never have considered it as a travel destination (even though we’ve visited a number of other Eastern European countries) until our son met and became engaged to a girl from Lithuania. So, the purpose of this trip was to attend their Lithuanian wedding and to see some of her home country while we were there for the wedding. After researching the country’s history we became more impressed and interested in this as a tourist destination. At one time Lithuania stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and extended west into Germany and east into Russia.
After a two hour budget (think buying off the menu for even such things as water) flight from Dusseldorf booked on Air Baltic, but in reality flown on Air Moldava, whose name alone caused us some concern, we arrived in Vilnius. Just as we’d been warned by our son, we were asked whether or not we have health insurance. We didn’t need to show actual proof, but our son had nearly been detained & held in an immigration cell when he arrived a week earlier because he didn’t have his health insurance card with him.
The Vilnius arrivals airport is the most delightful airport I have ever been in. The building is probably about 100 years old with elaborate plaster moldings and a delightful design. We found the cash machine and then went in search of a restaurant to await our daughter and son-in-law whose flight came in 1½ hours after ours. Another pleasant surprise. There is a very nice restaurant within the airport, and better yet, it also has a separate seating area on an outdoor balcony. We settled in on the balcony for a light lunch snack and have our first taste of traditional Lithuanian food; my husband has a herring plate, and I have the potato pancakes. The only downside as far as my husband is concerned (and this lasts for the entire trip) is that he’d like a beer with his food, but the driving laws in Lithuania are very strict regarding alcohol and drivers—0% alcohol in the bloodstream is the allowable limit. So, he settles for a non-alcoholic drink instead.
Deciding upon a rental car firm had been a huge issue this trip because we needed a larger car than usual (one with a capacity for 4-5 people and luggage). All the quotes I got (including those from the usual good sources) were really high, so with quite a bit of apprehension I decided to rent from a local firm, Autobanga. Their fleet isn’t brand new, but they offered us a Chrysler mini-van at a price I couldn’t pass up. We had wanted to rent a mid-sized station wagon and were also concerned about renting a mini-van as our experience elsewhere in Europe has been that something as large as an American mini-van would be a huge hassle and we’d be the behemoths of the local roads. Another big surprise here. Cars in Lithuania are all large, with big American and luxury German cars all over so we didn’t feel at all out of place, and we really didn’t experience the usual European parking hassles. Our rental agreement included an airport delivery and an in-town drop-off. This turned out to be a personalized service where the young man who owns the firm brought the car out to the airport to meet us and then picked up the car at our apartment in the old town of Vilnius at the end of the rental period. We were very happy with the rental and plan to use this firm in the future when we return to Lithuania. Plus, we like to see our money go to support a young entrepreneur in a country that is rapidly changing.
My son and Lithuanian daughter-in-law had meanwhile taken a bus to meet us at the airport. With her as a guide, the six of us set off to visit the lakeside castle of Trakai which is outside of Vilnius. We rapidly left the city and entered some delightful rural
delightful rural countryside where we drove through a restored village that was representative of what the rural villages were formerly like. The town of Trakai itself is clean and charming—definitely spiffed up for the tourists it rightly draws. There were cute restaurants, the usual row of souvenir booths, an opportunity to rent boats on the lake etc. I could see spending an entire day or two relaxing here if one had the time. Before we went into visit the castle, our daughter-in-law directed us to the restaurant Kibine which had a delightful outside seating area on the lake with views of the castle across the lake. Here we tried more Lithuania food—a cold beet soup, kibinai which are meat pies specific to the Trakai area, more potato pancakes, kolduanai which are a type of ravioli and gira which is a Lithuania drink similar to Russian kvass. The gira was the only item none of us ever ordered again, but now we all know what a room temperature, fermented rye bread drink tastes like. We also discovered Kiss which we ordered all the time during our stay. This is served cold and is a pear based, slightly alcoholic lightly sparkling cider.

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