24 hours in Kaunas: A cultural gem flinging away the Iron Curtain
Short breaks in Europe
Published 01/09/2016 | 06:50
From an atomic bunker museum to karaoke in the Old Town, Lithuania's second city makes for a surprising short break.
9am: Atomic Bunker Museum
Begin your day by visiting a truly unique exhibit. The Atomic bunker consists of over 1,200 items of militaria housed in a nuclear fallout shelter.
The bunker was built to protect workers in the harmonica factory above, but now looks more like the laboratory of Q from James Bond.
An amazing collection of gas masks from around the world, espionage artifacts from the CIA and KGB and an assortment of communication devices from the Second World War and beyond complete this weird and wonderful collection.
11am: Lampedis Lake Entertainment Park
Located on the shores of Lampedis lake, this entertainment park provides an array of camping and extreme entertainment as well as water attractions.
The Uno Park is a treat not to be missed. There are six different rope tracks located in the trees beside Uno Park with varying degrees of difficulty.
The black track has only been completed twice in 2016, while the next most difficult has a 78ft freefall that I was 'lucky' enough to experience.
The instructor reminded me not to forget to scream... I didn't.
1pm: Lunch at Berneliu uziega
Enjoy the beautifully laid-back atmosphere at this traditional Lithuanian restuarant. The staff, in traditional dress, are very friendly and the food is hearty. Try the brown bread ice-cream, but beware - it is as filling as Elven bread!
2pm: Open Air Museum of Lithuania
Built on 195 hectares, this is definitely going to be one of the largest museums you ever attend - full of villages, forges and mills dotted around a beautiful landscape.
A filming location for the BBC drama adapted from Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, the museum features homes illustrating how various Lithuanians have lived.
It's a perfect location for an informative, laid-back afternoon stroll.
5pm: Stumbras Museum
Kaunas is home to one of Lithuania's most famous distilleries, and its museum gives a fascinating insight into the vodka-making process and the drinking culture in the country.
The museum tour - which includes a vodka tasting for just €16 (for six shots of different products) - is a real bargain, although you should probably leave the car at home.
The logo for Stumbras is the European bison and the tale of how its genitalia vanished and returned is a very good one... check it out!
7pm: Dinner at Medziotojai uziega
This restaurant serves game meat, so vegetarians might be best to sidestep this one (and the decor may upset animal lovers to boot).
If you're a carnivore like me, however, this restaurant is ideal. The venison was terrific but I'll be back to sample the wild boar.
9pm-till late: Drinks & Karaoke in Old Town
Old Town is a cobbled strip consisting of trendy bars and eateries.
Women should wear flats as the cobbles are in need of a renovation but there is a terrific atmosphere with people pouring out onto the street from each pub.
If you still have some energy left. Head to Džem'pub, which is located on the fifth floor of a city centre building, for some karaoke.
My colleagues and I took to the dancefloor and we were far more exuberant than the rest of the patrons. The performance of the night came in the form of the Cranberries classic 'Zombie'... They love their 90s classics in Lithuania.
I wonder have they heard of Maniac 2000?
Kaunas is built at the point where the Nemunas and Neris rivers meet and the waters flow into the Baltic.
Trade with the likes of the Polish port city of Gdansk made Kaunas an affluent area and its access to the sea made it a place of strategic importance during the many conflicts which marred Europe over the past three centuries.
During the First World War, Lithuania was occupied in 1940. The Soviets arrived first, followed by Nazi Germany before the Soviets returned.
Repression of Lithuanian culture, religion and education followed for the next five decades. Their intellectual population was rounded up and sent to Siberia, with churches used as storage facilities or turned into factories for the Communist regime.
Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare Independence - in March, 1990, a year before the dissolution of the entire Soviet Union.
Lithuania has since restored its national identity and its beauty and colour is perfectly embodied by the second city of Kaunas.
Its seven universities add to the vibrancy of the city.
Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies from Dublin to Kaunas with flights starting from €30 one way. Best Baltic Kaunas (4 star) from about €50 a night twin share including breakfast.
For more info, see visit.kaunas.lt.