Thursday, April 12, 2012

Makaiya: "Lab’ukas!"

So, I want to introduce myself:  I’m a senior at New York University studying Human Rights and Literature – although I’ve taken this semester off to intern for the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania.  In preparing to come here, it was a bit of a challenge to find English information about Lithuania, so I wanted to write a bit down, in hopes that any potential travelers can pick up a few tips.

When I first flew into Vilnius, I remember being a little shocked.  I looked out the plane window and saw this flat landscape, stretching for miles and miles, with SNOW absolutely everywhere.  Then I got off the plane, actually felt how cold it was outside – when I left my hometown it was 26º Celsius (78 º Fahrenheit); when I arrived in Vilnius, it was -8º (17 º Fahrenheit).  This past winter, weather got as low as -30 ºC (-22 ºF)!

Needless to say, I’ve gotten used to the weather here and now, seven weeks later, I am completely, utterly, head-over-heels in love with Lithuania.  Yes, the snow can be daunting at first, but it can turn this city into such a beautiful wonderland.  (Just remember to layer!)  I’m looking forward to warmer weather, too.  I hear that Vilnius really comes alive sometime during late spring and that the Old Town (the old part of Vilnius) suddenly fills up with people strolling around, and eating at outdoor cafes.

For any potential visitors to Vilnius, I would recommend Gediminos Prospektas, which is basically the epicenter of Vilnius.  It’s a beautiful, historic street running through Old Town.  (On February 16th, one of Lithuania’s Independence Days, 16 bonfires lined this street in celebration, and groups of Lithuanians were gathered around them, singing Lithuanian folk songs.  If you’re around Vilnius during that time, you should definitely go.)  Also, there are some great coffee shops along Gedimino.  My favorite thing to have is the “Winnie-the-Pooh” at Coffee Inn.  It’s a latte with honey!  Yum. Plus Coffee Inn is a cool little place that’s always full of students, and local artists have their work up.  It’s a chain, and sometimes the bigger venues even have musical performances.

Lithuanian food is pretty great.  There’s this great desert called šakotis, which you’ll see everywhere, it’s this big spiked cone of a cookie, basically.  And you should definitely try the kepta duona (fried bread with garlic and cheese), gira (a Lithuanian drink made out of fermented bread), and kibinai (a pastry with meat inside.  Technically, it’s not from Lithuania, but the Lithuanians seem to have perfected them!).  If you’re feeling a bit healthier, I’ve found the seafood and salads here to have been consistently amazing.