2014 is the year of the 126th Estonian Song and Dance Celebration (4-6 of July) and the 90th World Lithuanian Song Festival (2-6 July).
These are two truly spectacular and unique events, where you can witness 18.000 singers on stage at the same time. The festival has a total of around 30.000 participants and up to 100.000 people in the audience. The Estonian, just like the Latvian, celebration takes place every fifth year, and the Lithuanian every fourth.
The Estonian Song celebration is the oldest one of the Baltic countries’. It first took place in Tartu in 1869 and featured 51 male choirs, with 845 singers and musicians performing in total. This was at the height of the Estonian National Movement (also known as the Estonian National Awakening), when Estonia, occupied by the Russian Empire, started acknowledging themselves as their own nation.
The same movement was taking place in the neighboring Latvian and Lithuania and the reoccurring song celebrations played a big part in the shaping of their own national identity and the demand to become independent nations. It is even said that the baltic people sang themselves free from the soviet occupation during the Singing revolution.
The singing revolution started in 1988 at the Estonian Song Festival, when over 300.000 people gathered to sing patriotic songs and make political demands. In 1991 the countries broke free and restored their independence.
Today the number of participants at the festivals can reach up to 30.000, with up to 100.000 spectators. This years Celebration in Tallinn will be record high, with 1046 choirs and a total of 32000 singers.
With that many choirs participating it is easy to think that any of the country’s choirs can sign up to participate in the celebration, but that is certainly not the case. In fact, only the country’s best choirs gets to perform during the festival. The competition is tough and the choirs usually rehearse their repertoire years ahead.
Lithuania never ceases to impress. The land of fields and forests has much more to offer than just agriculture and natural beauties. Its capital, Vilnius, is boasting a long and exciting history that makes this a perfect city to visit!
This second largest Baltic city was the home to Grand Dukes of Lithuania already in the 14th century and in the following decades it really established its multicultural character by accommodating Lithuanian, Jewish, Polish, Russian and many other ethnic groups. The city never lost its initial importance and despite having many troubles to overcome this is now a flourishing capital of Lithuania. The country joined European Union in 2004 and held EU presidency in the second half of 2013 with most important events being held in Vilnius.
Best way to see the city is by truly submerging yourself in the best experiences each location has to offer. Everybody can take a map and go around, but what really stays with you is the unusual, different and exciting adventures.
Start your day hopping on a hot air balloon and see the city from the bird’s perspective! Try to spot Gedminias’ tower, St Anne’s Church, Užupis Republic and the Jewish quarter from your balloon. Be sure to wear warm clothes as it might get pretty chilly up there.
Tick off the must-see sights of Vilnius with a 3-hour guided tour that will take you all around the city on foot and by bus. Sometimes it’s nice to hear the story behind the building or a sight, especially if you’re visiting Užupis Republic or Literatu Gatve. We heard the mayor himself comes for a beer to Užupio kavine on his segway! Finish your night in style – dine on the top of Vilnius’ TV Tower with views on the city night panorama. If you want to be more down-to-Earth (pun intended) then try a popular Busi trečias (“Be third” in Lithuanian) with their selection of flavoured beer. Caramel beer? Might sound weird but it’s delicious!
Užupis Art Zone
Climb the Three Crosses Hill for more panorama. Sit in for lunch at popular gastropub Kitchen. Visit Adam Mickiewicz’s house. Go to the flea market across the river. Admire amber, the gold of the Baltics! Excitement is around every corner!
Despite its romantic character and colourful streets Vilnius still has some reminders of the Soviet times and a definite tourist favourite is KGB museum. This will give you a chilling insight into the lives of Soviet prisoners as the cells remain unaltered from Soviet times. For a lighter museum tour try Lithuania’s Open Air Museum. It is located near Kaunas and it offers an abundance of artifacts – buildings, beehives, furniture, wells, household items, etc. Artifacts come from different regions of Lithuania and if the weather permits this should be a wonderful beginner’s guide to Lithuanian culture. Combine this with a detour to Pažaislis monastery or maybe a full-on visit to Kaunas.
Pažaislis Monastery near Kaunas
In this second Lithuanian capital walk down Laisves aleja until you reach the old town. Don’t miss the Kaunas castle, confluence of Nemunas and Neris river and a tiny little church just behind Laisves aleja that houses a room of candles. In the winter you can ice skate in the old town and visit the unusual Devils Museum and more traditional Historical Presidential palace. Also highly recommened is a stop in Berneliu Užiega restaurant that serves traditional Lithuanian dishes at an affordable price.
Don’t leave Lithuania without a day trip tour to Trakai castle, which was home to many Lithuanian dukes and what is now certainly a breathtaking sight in itself. You can spend a whole day there as Trakai offers a wide range of activities – biking, canoeing, fishing, horseback riding and the list goes on.
Trakai castle near Vilnius
These are only a few ideas on how to spend your time in Vilnius. In addition to the above we suggest you to consider also a beer bike tour, canoe polo, clay pigeon shooting, laser tag game, paintball, golfing, spa and many more. Get inspired and create a trip to remember!
If you have any great ideas on what to do in Vilnius and surroundings or need help with designing your perfect stay in Lithuania, write us a comment or use Twitter and we’ll be glad to help!
This is a famous Lithuanian saying but it is not only famous sayings that come from Lithuania. Did you know that the late great John Candy, is from Lithuanian decent. Cool Runnings is considered a cult classic film in the Travel Out There office and many scenes are re-created when going bobsleighing in Sigulda, Latvia. Or perhaps it was hardman Charles Bronson’s father who came up with this saying whilst farming his fields in Lithuania??!!
The inspiration for this post was Riga United, a football team sponsored by Travel Out There, venturing on a sports tour to Lithuania last week. There is no doubt Vilnius is an unbeatable destination to have a great football tour both on and off the pitch. FK Pionieriai, a footie team based in Vilnius, were awesome hosts and are looking forward to playing a return fixture in Riga later in the year. They are very keen to seek revenge for their 3 – 2 defeat on their home soil.
Charles Bronson Take a closer look at his face and you will realise that Charlie Bronson does indeed bear more than a passing resemblance to a typical Lithuanian farmer tending his fields somewhere outside Panavezys. Although his father died when Charles was just ten, he had already propagated another 14 brothers and sisters to accompany the soon-to-be famous youngster.
Canadian funny man John Candy was actually of mixed Lithuanian descent. Demonstrating that North Americans can genuinely be funny (even if it does require both their parents to come from Europe) Candy is best remembered for his roles in the Blues Brothers and the classic road movie ‘Planes, trains and automobiles’. Tragically John Candy died in 1994 aged just 43.
Proving the old adage that the very finest members of the British upper class are foreigners, plumb-in-the-mouth Shakespearean actor Sir John Gielgud was actually born to a Lithuanian father. Gielgud is considered by many to have been one of the greatest actors of his era until he died at the grand old age of 96.
This very fine actor, often undervalued, due to him being remembered more for having been Malawian child snatcher Madonna’s first husband, has strong Lithuanian connections. Sean Penn’s father had more than a drop of Lithuanian blood in him…these days Penn spends a lot of time away from the movie industry campaigning against social injustices and the policies of the US administration.
Zemeckis is one of the few Lithuanians to make it famous who still retains a name, which sounds obviously Lithuanian. Zemeckis helped define the popcorn cinema of the 1980s with his directing of classics such as ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’
Fictional character Hannibal Lecter first appeared in a number of novels before he hit the big screen in 1981. Lecter’s character was born in 1933 in Lithuania. It’s still not clear whether actor Anthony Hopkins, who famously played the mad flesh-eating weirdo, took some of his inspiration for playing Lecter from his own sometimes wild personality. Some speculate that that was the very reason why Hopkins (Who used to be Welsh rather than Lithuanian) swapped the valleys of south Wales to become a US citizen in 2000.
The great Bob Dylan was actually the great Robert Allen Zimmerman. The singer-songwriter, musician cum cowboy actor remains one of the great icons of the 1960s. “Blowin’ in the wind” is still the anti-war song of choice for millions of people around the world along with John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”