Travel: Kaunas – rich history, top basketball and eateries

Travel: Kaunas – rich history, top basketball and eateries

Sam Shedden visits Kaunas, Lithuania and finds an emerging foodie destination, rich sunshine and history in the Baltic.

It’night in Lithuania&rsquo s my second;s second city and throughout me folks are biting nails, edging forward within their chairs and anxiously chatting. Guidebooks will let you know the national country has two religions, Basketball and catholicism, and watching the crowd because the local team play on a huge screen in an essential play-off, it’s easy to understand why.

Basketball in Lithuania may be the nation's hottest sport and Kaunas local team (in green) BC Zalgiris certainly are a big deal. Picture: WikiCommons

Basketball in Lithuania may be the nation’s hottest sport and Kaunas local team (in green) BC Zalgiris certainly are a big deal. Picture: WikiCommons

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The weather is pleasant (definitely not Baltic) and the buildings, the social people, the tree trunks and the meals I&rsquo even; m served are adorned with white and green, the colours of BC Žalgiris. Regardless of the score line in the Lithuanian’s favour it’s tense and the locals come to mind they shall throw their lead away. Déjà vu. It’s like watching Scotland play just.

Green city

Green is in Kaunas everywhere, the largest city in the united kingdom following the capital Vilnius. I have to confess I knew little of Lithuania before departing on my three excursion except it comes with an abundance of trees – woodland accocunts for a third of the united states – also it was the final pagan country in Europe, converting to Christianity in 1387, your day considering British tribes dumped paganism around 600 AD late in. Peering out the window of the plane when i descended into Kaunas I possibly could start to see the vast, dark forests where Lithuanians believed their gods lived once, encircling my destination and stretching to the horizon.

A third of Lithuania's land is forest and Kaunas is surrounded by trees. Picture: Sam Shedden

A third of Lithuania’s land is forest and Kaunas is surrounded by trees. Picture: Sam Shedden

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Kaunas airport is simple and compact to navigate. My flight was thanks to RyanAir who offer two flights weekly to the town from Edinburgh Airport (Saturday and Tuesday) and the journey takes just over two . 5 hours.

My home for another three nights was the named straightforwardly, Kaunas Hotel, directly on the primary pedestrian thoroughfare, Laisves (Liberty) Avenue, connecting the old and new districts of the centre. It made a perfect base to explore from. My room was spacious and quiet and the wider hotel includes a pool and spa area for all those seeking just a little R & R.

The WiFi in my own hotel and all public places around Kaunas is lightning fast. Actually, Lithuania ranks top on earth for internet speeds regularly. A former Eastern bloc this certainly ain&rsquo backwater;t.

Knights battle through the Hanseatic Days Festival. Picture: KaunasIN

Knights battle through the Hanseatic Days Festival. Picture: KaunasIN

Medieval fayre

up for me personally was the Hanseatic Days Festival

First, a weekend-long celebration of the city’s 610th birthday and its own links to the historic Hanseatic League, a north European trade powerhouse of the center Ages comprised of around 200 cities in seven countries at its peak. I fuel up at Višta Puode (https://xn--vitapuode-m3b.lt/), a chic bar-restaurant one block from the glimmering white domes of St Michael the Archangel Church at the foot of Laisves Avenue, offering traditional and modern meals alongside some excellent coffee truly.

Sufficiently caffeinated I venture to the festival that was centred round the city hall in the Old Town and Santakos Parkas (park). Hanseatic Days is really a true medieval ‘fayre’ day trip in glorious sunshine and clearly a significant event with thousands enjoying what’s ostensibly a large.

I meandered from stall to stall, sampling local beers, watching knights fight in tourneys and tried my hand at axe throwing (as you do) even while eating kepta duona: strips of dark rye bread, fried until crispy, then salted and rubbed with a lot of garlic – the real number 1 bar snack in Lithuania.

St Michael the Archangel's Church. Picture: Sam Shedden

St Michael the Archangel’s Church. Picture: Sam Shedden

Discovering the relative back of my neck is really a little sunkissed (okay, burnt) I seek refuge at Medžiotojų užeiga (www.medziotojai.lt/en). The restaurant, which means Hunter’s Inn, is cozy, furnished and atmospheric with sturdy oak tables, wooden beams and stuffed animals on the walls. It’s an eatery for meat-lovers, (although you can find vegetarian options) with a massive selection of local produce on the menu. On the recommendation of the exceptionally friendly staff I ate exquisite red deer medallions with boletus mushrooms, potatoes and hazelnuts gratin.

After devouring Bambi’s extended family and filled with local wheat beer I call it a night and return to the hotel with the festival celebrations still completely flow.

“Staying on the map”

morning

The next, Your day i meet my guide for, Linas, and lay out for a tour of the Old Town. First stop is Aleksotas viewpoint where I’m treated to panoramic views of the populous city, gazing out at the Old Town and the confluence of the rivers Neris and Neman. From my vantage point it seems the encompassing forests want the land back. Trees line every city street and corner nearly, their branches stretching around the red rooftops.

Linas informs me a lot of Lithuania’s history is struggling to “stay on the map.” Kaunas, like many cities in this corner of the global world, has endured invasion from foreign powers on numerous occasions. In the 13th century it had been targeted by the Pope and legions of Germanic and Polish crusaders raided the territory. Regardless of the hostile neighbourhood, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania stood from 1395 till 1795, once the Russians moved in and didn’t leave. Kaunas eventually became a temporary capital because the Poles and Bolsheviks fought over Vilnius after the Lithuanians declared independence in 1918.

In a whirlwind tour through the Old Town we ingest the city Hall, referred to as the ‘White Swan’, the most beautiful buildings at the heart, the jam packed 15th century Vytautas church (it had been a Sunday and Lithuania is 80% Catholic), the city’s ornate Cathedral (the inside has been restored, but it’s still worth seeing), in addition to Kaunas Castle.

We visit Celsius 273 (https://celsius273.com), an creative art gallery-come-cafe, that is emblematic of the city’s modernism and cultural scene. Lunch reaches Hop Doc (http://www.hopdoc.lt) a gastropub stocked with a broad collection of Baltic beers and gourmet burgers.

Next up, I’m whisked to Kaunas&rsquo away; 9th Fort museum, A sombre but important site I would suggest to all or any visitors. The fort documents the horrors inflicted upon Lithuania’s 200,000 Jews through the Second World War, 95% of whom were destroyed by the Nazi occupiers and detailing life under oppressive Soviet rule in the post-war years.

Lithuania’s second religion

I rush back again to town for a live streaming of a basketball game at the Presidential Palace yard. Kaunas side BC Žalgiris narrowly defeat rivals CSKA Moscow and I join the Lithuanians around me in celebrating the victory until late in to the night.

Waking with a fuzzy head slightly, Day in the town with a guided tour of modernist architecture in the city&rsquo i round off my final;s New Town – that is pushing for UNESCO recognition – accompanied by a perfect meal at Uokstas (http://www.uoksas.eu) among the city’s top restaurants that is riding the wave of the Baltic’s emergence as a must-visit region for foodies.

I crammed a whole lot into my three day jaunt around Kaunas also it whet my appetite for more of Lithuania. Whether visiting for a city-break or because the start point of a fly and drive tour through the Baltic states, Kaunas is really worth a trip with trendy bars, rich history and fabulous eateries.

THE FACTS

RyanAir fly from Edinburgh to Kaunas twice weekly with prices starting. Flights in the summertime starts from around £25 a proven way. To learn more also to check fare price visit www.ryanair.com

Kaunas Hotel is situated on Laisves av. 79, LT-44297 Kaunas. To book visit http://www.kaunashotel.lt

Activities were arranged through KaunasIN http://kaunasin.lt/

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