Following on from Estonia and Latvia to complete our trio of Baltic nation states is our jaunt into Lithuania. We drove just a few short miles on from Riga to see what awaited us in the home of Hannibal Lector. Well, it might be fair to say that Lithuania struggles for world recognition as they don’t have any inventions that changed the world, any deep archaeological secrets to be uncovered or even any Sports personalities on the world stage (with the exception of a disconcertingly high quantity of quasi-famous basketball players). But do they care? No, of course not because despite all of that Lithuania is the Spiritual home of one, very specific, thing…
If any of you have ever been fortunate enough to throw caution, personal hygiene and adult responsibilities to the wind and find some time in your lives to backpack around for a while you will have met a Lithuanian. Alongside backpacking devotees, the Swedes and Australians, Lithuania seemingly exports 80% of it’s student population each year to roam free throughout the world. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it seems that the Lithuanian reaction has been a single handed attempt to soak up as much global atmosphere as is humanly possible and if only for that reason I am compelled to salute their enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, our backpacking days are long past but as Mrs P and I drove through the countryside of Lithuania we were struck at just how all three of the countries on this road trip are filled to the bursting brim with lush, green fields and vast rolling forests. Pine trees, spruce trees and more Christmas trees than you can shake a stick at line the roads here and believe me, you get to see them because even the major connecting motorways aren’t exactly up to a dual carriageway situation. Nature here is a way of life and there seems to be a post-consumerist movement to keep it that way. Don’t get me wrong, the march of Capitalist development is unstoppable in this region – you just have to remember Romania to see that, but the Lithuanians that I spoke to have caught on much more quickly than we have to the fact that unless you protect the nature around you, then you lose it for ever.
As capital cities go Vilnius felt pretty small. I mean, I thought Riga was small but despite being almost 100 square kilometres bigger, Vilnius houses 100 thousand less people which probably goes some way to explaining that. There were a few significant landmarks to see like the Gediminas’ Tower and the Church of St Anne which are both extraordinary sights in their own right, you should know by now that the Family P. like to do things a little differently. After wandering through the Old Town, we took a look at the Prayer Pagoda in Tibet Square and found a swing next to a pub, under a bridge, over the river Neris. The celebration of any and all Lithuanian connected art and literature on the Literatu str and no trip to Vilnius would be complete without crossing the border into the self proclaimed independent Republic of Užupis.
These are the parts of a city that, if you are lucky, you can enjoy as much as we did. The weather was perfect, the people were as friendly as they were baffled as to why we were asking so many questions about something as meaningless to them as Brexit. And speaking of Brexit whilst browsing through the many links to Lithuanian literature (of which we understood not a jot), we met Janina. A lovely lady visiting friends in Vilnius, Janina was happy to share her view on our impending split from Europe. ‘Well, it’s obviously stupid.’ She told me, ‘but if that’s what you want to do then you should do it. People here will still travel to the UK, we like it there. We will come for the education and also there is more money in the UK but we generally don’t stay long.’
I thought about that for a while and maybe Janina is bang on. Have the Brexiteers got this whole thing the wrong way round? Isn’t the whole point of a positive economy to attract what will enhance both sides of the social transaction? By hopefully assimilating the best examples of our standards of work, education and social expectations of tolerance before taking it back home, isn’t that exactly what the Lithuanians are doing to both their and our country? I don’t know and it might be too early for the Lithuanians to tell but there is one thing that I can be sure of; anywhere that brings a statue of a Backpacking Jesus standing proudly next to a knackered piano and signposts to who-knows-where to the world party is somewhere that I want to be.
The #2MenEUTour Big Brexit Tour journey so far: