"Veins, do, i no!"
I quickly placed my spoon atop a plate and reluctantly reached for yet another glass of Lithuanian moonshine. Six glasses in, the burning that accompanies each shot subsides quicker than the last, however locking eyes with my dinner mates it appears that I am not the only one feeling the effects of this Samotogian spirit.
Dining under candle light, a roaring fire beating away the the coolness of a summer not quite arrived we eat cold herring soup, and potatoes smothered in cannabis seeds and sour cream.
Illegal liquor and cannabis - Lithuania, you are full of surprises.
When we were invited to experience this hereto unexplored country, I had no idea what to expect.
You see, whilst I have met many Lithuanians, I've yet to meet anyone who has visited this wonderful Baltic country on a vacation - East Europe has become increasingly popular for long-weekends and budget backpackers, yet curiously Lithuania has been left out of the party.
As it turns out, Lithuania is, well, kind of awesome. Beautiful old cities, pretty beach towns, sand dunes, stunning lakeside hideaways - and a whole lot of weird. But in a fantastically, wonderful sort of way.
Top things to do in Lithuania
Vilnius is the very definition of a perfect weekend break. It's got cool bars, a beautiful old town, oodles of history, epic views, a thriving coffee shop scene and some great street art - we're actually kind of surprised that we'd never considered it.
Waiting on the other side of the river, it also happens to have something rather unusual... an independent republic where cats rule supreme! Created by bohemians and artists on April Fools' day in 1997, Užupis is a home for the dreamers, and a place where the only requirement for entry is a smile.
In fact, there's so much to do here, that we've written an entire article dedicated to great things to do in Vilnius - we think you're going to like it!
The Tree-Top Walking Path
Located in one of the most famous forests in Lithuania, The Treetop Walking Path is the first of its kind in Eastern Europe - allowing you to discover the nature from above, at the level of treetops.
It would have been lovely - had it not started to pee down about halfway along! We even had to miss the biggest stone in the country (yes, it's a thing here). Still I'm sure it would have been a lovely way to spend a couple of hours, had the weather co-operated.
Useful information: There is also a 5km ground-level trail that passes through truly beautiful woodland, and a campsite should you be unable to tear yourself away.
The Hill of Crosses
They say it all started with a vision, and a pilgrimage across the country to save the life of a farmer's daughter. A single cross for a miracle, which multiplied to include hundreds of thousands.
Perhaps the most unusual of sites in all of Lithuania, the Hill of Crosses in the north of the country is a must-see on any road trip through the country.
Even on a sunny day, as I weaved between the overflowing rows, fascination gave way to dark thoughts. Rotting handmade wooden crosses sat alongside colourful rosaries, beautifully ornate stone crucifixes and garish metal constructions.
A group of schoolkids once tried to count them, but so many arrived overnight it proved futile. They got to just over 300,000. It seems that many in Lithuania want a miracle of their very own...
Useful information: There is no entry fee for the site, but getting there is difficult without a car, although it is possible to take a Joniškis-bound bus (€1.20, 10 minutes, up to seven daily) from Šiauliai to the 'Domantai' stop and walk for 15 minutes, or grab a taxi (around €20)
If you're driving, the hill is 12km north of the central city of Šiauliai along Hwy A12 near the village of Jurgaičiai. From the highway, it's another 2km east from a well-marked turn-off ('Kryžių kalnas 2').
There is a gift shop in the car park where you can buy a variety of different size crosses to add to the Hill's collection.
The Dead Dunes and the Hill of Witches
If Lithuania is as unfamiliar to you as it was to us, vast sand dunes are probably not what you'd expect from this little-known Baltic state. And yet here, in the Nagliai Nature Reserve (located on the Curonian Spit), vast dunes are indeed what separates Lithuania from the cold water of the Baltic Sea.
Formed by wind and time, they hide as many as ten towns and two cemeteries, lost to this world from as long ago as 1675; deforestation in the region causing the dunes to move up to 15 metres a year.
Because of this, the dunes are now very much a protected attraction, and as tempting as it may be to sneak off the designated footpath and get the perfect photo, it is strictly prohibited.
Minutes from the dunes, within woods of century old pines, it is another local legend that lends its name to a hill. A forest of devils, witches and diabolical acts, played out through beautifully rendered wooden sculptures. Trace the path up to the top of the hill and pass creatures of fairytales until you reach the highest point with spectacular views over the spit. Those not so keen to look evil in the eye, may want to make a quick descent back to the road - and keep to the right!
Oh, and in case this place couldn't get any weirder, Europe's largest colony of cormorants live down the road, and their poop (yes, their poop!) has killed all the trees!
The pretty seaside town of Nida
Colourful clapperboard houses, fishing boats and holiday homes. In the warmer summer months, Nida feels distinctly Scandanavian - and is a hugely popular spot for weekenders and holiday-makers.
A top spot for outdoorsy types, with ample opportunities to kayak or canoe on the lagoon, cycle or run along the waterfront path or hike into the forest it's also a got some great beaches and a vibrant restaurant/bar scene. It's kind of the perfect summer town!
The Alpine Coaster
In a world of high-speed roller-coasters and death defying theme park attractions, you may think that a small, trundling ride, powered it seems by gravity alone, could not be that enjoyable. Yeah, you'd be wrong - The Alpine Coaster is awesome! Especially when you get to go four times before the big group of 10 year olds turn up.
NB - apologies for no photo - turns out I look dreadful screaming my lungs out!
Useful information: Open every day from 10 a.m., closes at 5 p.m. Nov-Apr and at 6 p.m. May-Oct. They also have ziplines and zorbing.
At the edge of Beržoras lake, set deep within a national park lives a little taste of history and a truly beautiful place to spend a few days. Pas Tevukus (translated as 'at my parents' place') is a family run homestead replete with stunning wooden cabins, hand-made saunas and some of the prettiest lake-side views I've ever seen.
It's also the place where two women who should know better force-fed us all far too much moonshine. But that's beside the point.
Like many small communities across the world, history, heritage and tradition is incredibly important to Jurgita and Marijona (the mother and daughter duo who run Pas Tevukus), and it is impossible to spend time here and not learn a little of Samotogian culture. The clothing, the food and the way of life are strikingly different to outside of this region - even the language was difficult for our guide and driver to understand.
You can of course simply stay for the peace, the quiet and the relaxed way of life, but we'd implore you to have at least one traditional meal in the family home - if only for the potatoes, cannabis seeds (purely nutritional we're told) and soured cream, it really is rather excellent!
For more information, including prices and to make a booking, see this link.
Sailing boats and bristled fishermen, colourful Germanic style buildings and world-class restaurants, Klaipeda has a lot going on. Rarely visited by foreign tourists, it has something of a weekend-break feel - it's just nobody seems to know it yet!
A place perfect for exploring on foot, if only embarking upon the pseudo-treasure hunt dispersed throughout the old town. You see, the local council had a fairly novel concept of wishful thinking, and have placed several sculptures around and about to grant wishes. Half the fun is to track them all down, but be sure not to miss the magic mouse - and whisper, ever so quietly, your secret dreams. Maybe they'll come true...
I may just have to write that guide to Klaipeda.... I'm sure the rest of Europe will get there one day.
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Thanks so much to the Lithuanian State Department of Tourism for inviting me to experience the best of this surprising destination.