18 Feb 2016
by Rachel Suddart
On my first trip to Lithuania, I hauled around a huge rucksack, managed to hit the hottest three weeks of the summer and spent the duration of my trip moving from hostel to hostel in a vain attempt to pack in as much sightseeing as possible. I rowed on the lake at Trakai Castle in glorious sunshine, argued amiably about pool with an American during a fantastic farmstay and downed toe-curling shots in a Soviet style vodka bar that had something to do with a wolf, a lot of red velvet and a hole in the floor for a toilet which proved difficult to negotiate once you’d sampled a few of the house specials…
I fell in love. And not because of the vodka. Lithuania was full of surprises. I soaked up the history, marvelled at the architecture, made countless new friends and snapped up handcrafted jewellery like it was going out of fashion.
A few years later and I got the chance to return to my beloved Vilnius. This time it was January. Ten below freezing and icicles hung off the gutters like witches' teeth. My bulging rucksack had been replaced with a small carry-on bag; my packing reduced to a handful of sweaters and a swimming costume (I was wearing everything else). I was writing a travel feature on spa breaks and had agreed to try out some of the local treatments. The first night was spent knee-deep in snow, trekking from hotel to restaurant to pub and back to the hotel. I can still remember the stark contrast. The stillness and silence of the cold, crisp air outside, broken only by our crunching feet and laughter as we lost our footing, versus the warming food, drink and heady atmosphere inside.
In the morning we shrugged off the previous night’s excesses and chased away foggy heads with spa treatments, plunge pools and steamy saunas. We sank into traditional mud baths where mineral infused mud poured out of the tap like warm, lumpy chocolate (but less perfumed). Nerves about stripping off quickly disappeared as we tried to communicate with the attendants using the odd few words of Lithuanian that we had picked up and over-exaggerated sign language. It’s true that laughter is universal. I felt at that minute, we might be friends for life.
Hot showers, honey massages and more relaxation. I had chill blains and chapped lips but my skin was perfect.
We finished off the trip with a hair raising troika ride across a frozen lake. Reluctant to cover up our radiant skin, yet desperate for warmth, we tucked ourselves up in thick blankets and held on for dear life. As we sped across the ice, listening to the gentle ring of sleigh bells I swear there was a little magic in the air…
If you'd like your own slice of Lithuanian magic then head across to www.balticholidays.com