Why you should visit Lithuania…

Last week, I went to Lithuania. As I’ve detailed in my previous post, my reasons for visiting were primarily to uncover more about my paternal history. But, this being said, I would recommend Lithuania to any traveller for the following reasons:

1. The coffee

Perhaps an unexpected entry at Number One.┬áBut, as I’ve previously detailed, the coffee in Spain leaves, well, how do I put it, “a lot to be desired”? In Lithuania, the coffee game is (to use a euphemism I loathe) on point. OK, so the flat whites are not really flat whites. But that is a small concession to make for a coffee which is palatable and tastes GOOD!

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2. The quietness

Compared to Madrid or Sydney, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is positively quiet. And this is marvellous! The experience of going for a walk, without being shoved out of the way, was incredibly refreshing. And when I went to bed in my apartment at 8p.m., I was able to sleep the ENTIRE NIGHT without being disturbed. This was fantastic.

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3. The food

If, like me, you are a fan of potatoes in all forms, then Lithuania is for you! There were so many delicious potato dishes to try, from dumplings to potato bake. It was like a dream come true. And not only were the potato dishes delicious, they were also incredibly affordable.

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4. Not overrun by tourists

Sure, there were tourists in Lithuania. But the whole feeling was very different to Spain. For instance, last year, I went to Barcelona to see the Gaudi buildings. The whole place was FULL of tourists, climbing from one escalator to another. It made me feel incredibly depressed, as if the city was only a manufactured experience. But Lithuania didn’t feel like this. There was tourism, but it was more subtle. The city wasn’t a caricature of itself.

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5. English speakers welcome

Although my father is Lithuanian, my knowledge of the language is minimal. However, in Lithuania, almost everyone speak English. I would certainly recommend learning a few words to improve your experience, but in total, Lithuanaia is a very welcoming place for English-speaking travellers.

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6. Superfast internet

Now THIS was a bit of a surprise- the internet in Lithuania is incredibly good. There’s free wi-fi almost everywhere, and the broadband speed is one of the fastest in Europe, if not the world. I find it interesting that a country which is not generally thought of as one of the leaders in technology is able to have such fantastic internet speeds and coverage, whereas in Australia, the NBN is still a national joke.

I’m not going to deny that I may be a little bit biased… ­čśë But in total, I would recommend Lithuania to any tourist who is interested in history, and who wants to have a holiday which is fun, relaxed, and not too difficult!

A visit to the fatherland…

For as long as I can remember, I have thought of myself as “half-Lithuanian”. My father came to Australia after WW2 as a “Displaced Person.” He was only 7 years old. When he arrived, there were no ESL classes, or modifications made to assist students who didn’t have English as their first language. Rather, my dad was thrown into a class of students who had spoken English all their lives, and expected to survive.

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That’s what happened then.

I have incredible admiration for my father. His parents worked extremely long hours, doing manual labour, to support the family, and he effectively had to bring himself up. He was an exceptional student, and won a scholarship to the University of Sydney to study to become an English teacher (note the irony).

It might sound weird, but I have always STRONGLY identified as being from a working class, migrant background. (Aside- one of my favourite Australian authors is Christos Tsiolkas, because I think he “gets” what it means to be a migrant, and how you kind of fit in, but kind of don’t). “Stasa” is not our real name. Rather, it is an Anglicised┬áversion of┬áStankevi─Źius, which was too difficult to pronounce. As an unmarried daughter, my name should be┬áStankeviciute. But, well, it’s not…

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Sometimes, I feel incredibly angry about the whole situation. Why should my grandparents have changed┬átheir surname, because people were too lazy to pronounce something different? Why am I running around with what is effectively a “fake” name, which sounds like the East German secret police (the Stasi)? I don’t know. Perhaps for the same reason that┬á L├íszl├│ ├ťrge, the football commentator of Hungarian background, calls himself Les Murray?

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My upbringing was not what you would call “distinctly Lithuanian.” Sure, my grandma spoke with an accent. There was Lithuanian memorabilia around the house. Every Christmas, we would go to the Lithuanian Club’s Christmas party. I know what kugalis and borscht are. But I can’t speak the language, apart from saying “hello” and the colours of the flag (to show I’m a true patriot- the irony, again).

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All the same, I do FEEL Lithuanian. Or at least partly. When a Lithuanian rider is in the Tour de France, I cheer for him. And, I am not ashamed to admit, sometimes, in the basketball, I support Lithuania over Australia, because they are such a small country, and winning a match means a lot more to them.

My father has never wanted to go back to Lithuania. He remembers the rotting horses on the road through Vilnius, and the terror of the war. When a knock on the door in the middle of the night could mean your salvation or your death.

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But I have always wanted to see what it’s like, because I feel that it’s a part of me. About 10 years ago, I visited Scotland, where my mother’s family is from, to see if I felt something for that country. Although I loved the landscape and the people, I didn’t feel anything particularly profound. Will the same happen in Lithuania? I honestly don’t know. It may leave me cold. I may end up feeling more Australian than ever.

Anyway, I am going on Friday to see what it’s like. It may be the best experience of my life, and leave me feeling like I know where I belong. Conversely, I may end up feeling more adrift than ever. Who knows? But I think it’s something that needs to be done.

Wish me luck!

(P.S. Did you know that Anthony Kiedis is also half-Lithuanian, on his father’s side? I guess it could be MUCH worse!).

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