Traveling and living abroad provides an unparalleled opportunity to learn about cultures and histories that may be completely different from your own. It is your chance to open your mind to foods, experiences, religions, festivals, and more.
Lithuania, a country that only recently regained its freedom from the Soviet Union, has a rich history of food, culture, and bravery. Because it was part of the Soviet Union and only joined the EU recently, many people don't have a clue about Lithuania or what to expect when visiting. Actually, when I first moved to Lithuania, I also had no idea what Lithuania would be like and my parents were pretty nervous about the move. What I've found, however, is a wonderful home full of unique food culture where potato is king, a rich tradition of harvesting wild plants and fungi, and strong national pride.
If you happen to be visiting Lithuania or have recently moved here, I've created a list of 15 different ways that you can experience Lithuanian culture.
1) Mushroom PickingMushroom picking was one of my favorite experiences of all time in Lithuania. Shortly after the birth of Baby ISO, J's colleague took us mushroom picking in the suburbs of Vilnius. If visiting Lithuania, I have to suggest asking a knowledgeable local to take you mushrooming.
Uzgavenes is a traditional Lithuanian festival occurring 46 days before Easter and involved dressing up in wooden masks, singing, and going door to door to collect candy. The celebration culminates with the burning of a more to scare away winter. Enjoy the merriment on the streets on Vilnius or at the Rumsiskes Open Air Museum.
3) Kaziuko Festival
The Kaziuko Festival is the best festival in Lithuania and occurs at the beginning of March. At this festival, you can expect thousands of folk crafters selling their goods such as carved masks, wooden bowls and platters, painted eggs, jewelry and more! Plan your visit to Vilnius to coincide with the awesome Kaziuko Festival.
4) Coffee Tasting
Coffee culture is single-handedly changing the face of Lithuania and creating a counterculture. Cafes are providing upbeat meeting places, jobs, and workspaces for freelancers. With the increase of cafes comes pop-up festivals and markets, and improvement in parts of the city that were once kind of yucky (e.g., the Stotis area). One of my first and favorite coffee experiences in Vilnius was a coffee tasting at Crooked Nose and Coffee Stories. The owner is awesome and hosts frequent coffee tastings (see "kavos degustacija" on their FB page) at their airy cafe. Tastings can also be given in English, so no worries if your Lithuanian is as bad as mine!
5) Open Kitchen
I've shared my love for Open Kitchen probably too many times on In Search Of, but it is a highlight of the summer season in Vilnius and will provide a lively snapshot into hipster life in Vilnius. If you are visiting Vilnius in the summer or early fall, pop over to Tymo Turgis where they hold Open Kitchen.
6) Beekeeping Museum
The Beekeeping Museum has remained on my Lithuanian Bucket List since we moved to Vilnius, and I still have yet to visit <-- blame that on the bad weather most of the year. Both beekeeping and honey are culturally very important in Lithuania and there are even Lithuanian gods of beekeeping. Honey is used a sweetener in numerous desserts including gyrabai cookies, which are my personal favorite.
7) Maker Popups
Along with the cool cafes, there have been quarterly maker popups with great artisans. These events are always packed and I think they are a great way to support small businesses.
8) Jewish Museum in VilniusAnother location that I haven't yet had the chance to visit is the Jewish Museum in Vilnius. My Mother-In-Law, who is Jewish with Lithuanian ancestry, did visit all of the Jewish sites in Vilnius + surroundings, and she said they were incredibly moving.
9) All Saints Day
All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1 all over Lithuania with families visiting cemeteries to light candles and pay respects to the dead.
10) 9th FortLocated just outside of Kaunas, the 9th Fort is a museum, memorial, and historic site in remembrance of the 50,000 people murdered there during WWII.
11) Street art walk
Vilnius has recently started street art festivals and projects meant to rejuvenate parts of the city as well as celebrate its history. Taking a self-guided tour of Vilnius' street art paints a picture of Lithuania's creativity and politics.
12) Mead tasting
Lithuania is widely known for its mead, which was previously used in pagan religious ceremonies. Mead tastings are available in Vilnius at Lietuviskas Midus in old town.