Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuva, German: Litauen) is a comparatively small country (roughly three million inhabitants) in the Baltic region located at the Baltic Sea (Ostsee).
It is the southernmost of three Baltic states (from north to south: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), which in their entirety are called Baltikum in German, and possesses the largest population of those three countries.
Lithuania belonged to the Soviet Union for decades but gained its independence in 1990. Since then, it underwent a rapid development both politically and economically.
Like in the other two Baltic states the currency is Euro, so one doesn’t have to deal with cash machines offering questionable conversion rates or to puzzle about prices in restaurants and supermarkets.
2. The Baltic languages
Despite having three big Slavic neighbors and sharing a common history with Poland, Lithuanian does not belong to the Slavic language group.
It represents a so-called Baltic language, with many similarities to the also Baltic Latvian.
But it is an Indo-European language like German, Polish or Russian, which in this regard differentiates it from Estonian or Finnish (or Hungarian).
Almost everyone does understand English in Kaunas of course, below you’ll find a few examples for Lithuanian words and phrases however:
yes – taip; no – ne; thanks – ačiū; good morning – labas rytas; hello – sveiki
Kaunas is the second largest city (some 300.000 inhabitants) in Lithuania after the capital Vilnius, which is situated eighty odd kilometers westwards of Kaunas quite close to the border to Belarus.
Since Lithuania’s total area is not very large by comparison, Latvia, Poland and Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast) are not far off as well, so you can combine your stay in Lithuania respectively Kaunas with a short trip to one of those countries (for the Kaliningrad Oblast you need a special Visa though).
In the following, I’ll illustrate three selected sights in Kaunas which I consider as absolute must-see.
At the western edge of the old town, immediately next to the confluence of the rivers Neris and Nemunas (Memel), the Kaunas Castle (Kauno pilis) is situated.
A predecessor castle appeared for the first time presumably in the 14th century at this site.
Parts of the castle complex had been reconstructed in recent decades, but other parts remain in a more or less dilapidated state.
Inside the tower, which is open to visitors, there is a museum with a small archaeological exhibition comprising artifacts excavated in the castle grounds.
The tall and eye-catching Town Hall (Kauno rotušė), which gives the square where it is erected upon its name, houses also a museum.
The exhibition includes ancient prison cells in the cellar of the building, and former offices of the majors of Kaunas.
The tower is accessible, but it is rather bleak inside and you can take pictures solely through a glass pane.
The bulky edifice (Švento Arkangelo Mykolo Bažnyčia) was erected as an Orthodox church in the 19th century, but became a Catholic cathedral after the 1st World War.
The church is situated at the eastern end of the “Freedom Avenue” (Laisvės alėja) and impossible to miss.
“Bardakas” is a popular bar in the city center (also in the “Freedom Avenue”) that we frequented a couple of times. Crowded is this place naturally on Fridays and Saturdays.
I got also a recommendation about the “Anna Mesha” club near the Garrison church, but I hadn’t been there so I can’t give you a first-hand rating (but I was in the Irish pub “Rebels” next to it which is not a bad place for a quick beer).
There are a lot of souterrain restaurants in Kaunas, and you’ll find many of them near the Town Hall. Here you can taste a great variety of different beers and some of the fine Lithuanian dishes (popular are cheese and honey).
If you have some days off and there is a cheap direct flight, then why not? Stay a few days in Kaunas and combine your holiday with visits in Poland or Latvia.
Or visit the picturesque Curonian Spit and the former German city Klaipėda (Memel).
And since there exist big universities in Kaunas, I can recommend joining the nightlife as well.
Mingling with people is (not just for me) always the preferable alternative to taking pictures of buildings and buying T-shirts in the souvenir shops.