Friday, 20 July 2012

Lithuania – The first cepelinai

Lithuania – The first cepelinai

July 1, 4

So north we head, over the mystery that is Belarus, to the Baltics. There are three of them, and my final stop on this current adventure is the most southern of the trio – Lithuania. Home to arguably the stodgiest food on the planet.

Early flights are the norm when flying from Astana, so a 7am flight can almost be regarded as a blessing. We arrived in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, just after lunchtime via a quick transfer in Riga. It quickly became apparent that the pleasant weather had forgotten to board the flight. Looking up we saw a murky, overcast sky dominating the day ahead.

For reasons that will become apparent in the next blog, I had very little time to explore and enjoy Lithuania’s largest city. It is steeped in history, for this was the home of an Empire that ruled much of Eastern Europe in the 14th century. The large Gediminas Tower, and the models inside it, highlight the strategic importance of Vilnius throughout the epochs.

As with many cities in this part of the world, the ‘Old Town’ is the most culturally rich and interesting area for a traveller to see and immerse themselves in.

Of course, the aforementioned Empire has been redundant for a long time. Lithuania has long been carefully looking over her shoulder to the east, where a very large, powerful and occasionally aggressive nation sits. Lithuania was part of the USSR, but was the first country to claim independence in March 1990.

There is one amazing story about this, particularly the protests before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that started in Vilnius. Well, started or ended, depending on which end you were at. The square below, outside Vilnius Cathedral, says ‘stebuklas’, which is Lithuanian for ‘miracle’. In 1989 a human chain was made from Vilnius to Tallinn in order to protest against the USSR. Tallinn is in Estonia, hundreds of miles away. The chain spread over three countries. It is amazing what people can achieve when they work together!

Though the city has a nice vibe that befits its status as a small capital city, it seems to lack anything that would make it memorable. One potential attraction could have been the ‘breakaway’ republic (I know, another one) of Uzupis, a suburb of Vilnius. It was established by artists who felt restricted. It has its own constitution, amongst other things. Clearly the constitution doesn’t state that there should be anything of interest to people who aren’t particularly interested in art.

What does interest me is local food, and we had been informed in our wonderful little hostel that the national dish was called cepelinai. Lithuanian food was described to me as ‘peasant food’, and based on this particular meal I can understand why. These are large potatoes which seem to have been cooked for too long, giving them a wet and slightly soft, almost gelatinous texture. They are then personalised with a topping, and then served with sour cream. Two come on a plate – eating both is your meal for the whole day, even at breakfast. Bland and too heavy, though when I had them fried a few days later they seemed nice – more like squidgy potato wedges.

The beer snacks were better, particularly kepta duona, which is fried bread smothered with cheese. I would gain some serious weight eating these with beer on a regular basis if I ever lived in Lithuania.

It was after eating all of this that we watched the final of Euro 2012. I was stunned to find that most places showing the game were empty. Aside from a small group of passionate Italian fans stood in the drizzle, the streets seemed quiet, but the bars we went to were barely occupied. I guess it summed up Vilnius for me – nice enough, but a bit too quiet and lacking in passion for me to remember it too fondly.

 Love you all


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