The Top 10 things the world doesn’t know about Lithuania(4)
Lithuania is a uniquely spectacular country and its biggest problem is that the world does not know how great it is. Below are the top 10 things we think you should know about Lithuania that you were probably not aware of.
1. More hot air balloons than anywhere else
There are more hot air balloons per head of population in Lithuania than in any other country in the world. From Spring to Autumn the strikingly coloured airships can be seen soaring over Vilnius and out north, south, east or west depending on the prevailing winds with most ballooners hoping sail out over Trakai with its spectacular lakes and castle. Whether reports that the large quantities of hot air needed to send the balloons up each day were being supplied free of charge by the Seimas cannot however be verified.
2. Divine food created for beer
From pig ears and baked corn to deep fried black bread doused in garlic and melted cheese Lithuania has a unique menu of food created specifically to accompany its tasty beers. In fact nearly every restaurant and bar devotes a section of its menu to ‘food to go with beer’ with often up to 10 dishes on offer. Kepta duono, the aforementioned deep fried bread with garlic and cheese (often mixed with mayonnaise) takes the crown as king of beer food, but žirneliai su spirgučiais, or slit peas with bacon bits, is a strong contender for the title. The simple dish consists of boiled split yellow peas with fried bacon bits, onion, salt and pepper as a companion for your favourite Lithuanian beer.
3. Unesco world heritage coastline
The natural marvel that is the Curonian spit with the beautiful fishing village of Nida at its southern end, is a geographical gem of world standing that few outside Lithuania know about. With its skyscraper-high dunes, lush forests, golden beaches and rich flora and fauna, this little piece of heaven is one of Lithuania’s best kept secrets.
4. The Lithuanian language
The Lithuanian language is a unique and ancient language, the oldest Indo-European living language, and the language that is the closest existing language to ancient Indian language of Sanscrit, so much so that archaelogists have used it to decode writing on ancient artifacts inscribed with Sanscrit. The age and provenance of Lithuanian mark it out as a language that is unique in Europe.
5. Huge former empire stretched to Black Sea
Though Lithuania is currently a small country (of just 65,300 square kilometers), it was once one of the largest countries in Europe. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which has existed in various forms since the 13th century, at times stretched all the way to the Black Sea, Smolensk and the Dniepr river. Lithuania and its allies turned back the Golden Horde from entering Europe, and the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was a serious European power before internal discord left the country susceptible to Russian invasion in 1792.
6. Unique ancient brewing culture
Lithuania has a unique beer culture that is slowly but surely receiving the attention of international beer lovers who think they've seen it all. Unboiled beers, unique hop varieties, hemp seeds, isolated yeast strains and live beer are just some of the quirks of Lithuania's thriving traditional farmhouse ale culture.
7 . Obsession with winning Eurovision
Lithuania has never won the Eurovision and it has become something of a national obsession given that both its Baltic neighbours have taken the top prize in the past and all the more galling given serial Eurovision winners Sweden are just a short boat ride across the Baltic away. This year Lithuania’s national television and radio station LRT reported every utterance, movement and style change of the country’s entrant “Donny Montell” while Lithuania’s President made a personal call to him ahead of the contest to assure him the whole country was behind him.
8. Lithuania is the geographical centre of Europe
Though a number of countries have laid claim to the geographical center of Europe, Lithuania's claim may be one of the most credible – possibly because it's one of the few cases in which scientists did not decide that the center was in their own country. In 1989, the National Geographic Institute of France found that the geographical center of Europe was near a town called Purnuškės about 26km north of Vilnius. A monument stands on the site today, and there is a nearby outdoor sculpture park that's also definitely worth visiting.
9. Lithuania’s ancient national sport
Lithuania has a historical sport unique to Lithuania that you've probably never heard of. Ritinis, which was first mentioned in a historical text in the 17th century, is played on a meadow (or football field) with two teams of seven, sticks that most closely resemble hockey goalie sticks, and a metal disc with an iron band around it (today replaced by hard rubber disks. The two teams roll the disk down the field at one another and block it with their sticks until one team gets it into the other team's endzone or goal. Literary sources say the game was a favourite among villagers.
10. Hannibal Lecter is Lithuanian
Yes indeed, the ultimate bogeyman and serial killer extraordinaire Hannibal Lecter was in fact Lithuanian. You won’t see his face adorning any promotional or tourist guides to Lithuania but the fictional central character in Thomas Harris’s series of thrillers was born in Lithuania. Just to cement the link, parts of Hannibal Rising, the prequel to The Silence of the Lambs was filmed in Lithuania, but good luck trying to find Castle Lecter, the ancestral home of everyone’s favourite forensic psychiatrist.