HomeBlogEssaysImpressions of Lithuania

impressions lithuania vilnius old town
Vilnius, Lithuania, as seen from the top of the bell tower at St. John's Church in Vilnius University.

Impressions of Lithuania

“Last call for Lufthansa Flight 141 Detroit to Frankfurt. Please proceed to the gate.”

Six months after packing up my apartment in Colorado, I was finally on my way to my new home in Vilnius. I was moving on a hunch. I had no apartment, no job, and only a few contacts, but I had a passport and a gut feeling that told me my future was in Lithuania.


It was a question often asked. Why would a nature-loving ski racer want to move to a country with long, dark winters and no mountains? Why would an American want to move to Lithuania? I went through a whole list of responses: I always wanted to live in Europe, Lithuania will soon be part of the European Union, I don’t want to be a nature or sports photographer, I’m tired of cramming my feet into ski boots. Finally, I just answered, “Why not?” And that usually satisfied even the most curious inquisitor.

“What if?”

I awoke in a cold sweat my first night, suddenly panicking that my gamble wouldn’t pay off. I wouldn’t be able to find a job, I wouldn’t make any friends, and I would miss “my” mountains too much. Everyone wants to know what really “shocked” me when I arrived in Lithuania. I spent a good deal of time trying to prepare myself to expect the unexpected. There are a lot of things though that will never cease to amaze me, for example, the bureaucracy of the government and how difficult it is to get anything done.

impressions lithuania sashlykai-2016-09-06 19.43.24
My favorite meal: šašhlykai.

Getting the social security book: I needed a letter of application from my work that I had to take to another office where I had to wait in line—albeit a surprisingly short line—for it to be processed. It could be that simple, but it’s not. I then had to leave my little book at that office, and go to the bank to pay 3 litas, three litas—that’s about $1.30—and then go back with a receipt, wait again to have the final paperwork done and the book signed. The only reason I wanted this book (though I’m sure there are other good ones I’m as yet unaware of) was so I could prove to the mobile phone company that I have a job so I could sign up for a plan and get a new phone. In the United States, we wouldn’t have to apply for such a book since once you have a social security number that’s all you need, and even if we did, we would at least be able to pay our three litas on the spot. Certainly, we wouldn’t need it to prove we have a job to a mobile phone company since the infrastructure exists for them to simply run a credit check with the aforementioned social security number everyone has from birth or naturalization.

I’m told that anyone living in Lithuania for more than 180 days per year is required by law to get a driver’s license, and that my little visit to the social security office will be a snack break compared to the all-day meal of bureaucracy and paperwork I’ll get to feast on in order to get one. I can only say that I both fear and look forward to it, as I’m sure I’ll end my day armed with endless things to write about!

To be fair, the bureaucracy that exists in Lithuania is not so much more from other European countries. It’s a sad side effect of an otherwise not too bad social welfare system.

impressions lithuania cow apple orchard-_MG_1268
A cow in an apple orchard: Such a common site.

Cows hanging out in the yard, standing under an apple tree; horses plowing fields; bus stops in the middle of the forest; cats alone in windows; empty train tracks; goats standing by the side of the road; vegetable stands by the side of the road selling only a few vegetables; an old man riding a bicycle; an old woman walking alone in the forest; fields of dandelions; young boys on new, over-sized bicycles; the sunset over the Baltic sea; school-children with flowers for their teachers on September 1st; the walk to work up the hill along tree-lined streets; creaky trolleybuses; biking through the sandy forest on Neringa; juicy šašhlykai on the grill; beers with friends on a sunny Sunday afternoon; Kryžiu Kalnas (Hill of Crosses) at dawn on a frosty, November day; sailing in Trakai; scary skiers on old, wooden skis; abandoned factories next door to shiny, new skyscrapers; strolling through Cathedral square in the spring; footprints in the sand dunes. These are my impressions of Lithuania.

How can I help you tell YOUR story?