It is a devil’s job trying to come up with new and fun ways to attract tourists and promote places to visit. But when life returns to normal, the little-known city of Kaunas in Lithuania is all geared up and ready for action.
In 2022 Kaunas will celebrate being the European Capital of Culture and since 2017, organisers have been working on their “It’s Kaunastic‘’ campaign and plan to throw the biggest party ever.
Like a breath of fresh air, organisers from the Kaunastic team are full of enthusiasm and hope, even in these troubled times. But then you would be when you have a cute and colourful cat as your emblem and the only devil museum in the world!
Sixty years plus have passed since the city was under the cold and harsh Soviet occupation.
Today Kaunas is a bold and vibrant place, fighting to get out of the shadows of the capital Vilnius, the usual stop off for tourists. And when you have as much to see and do as Kaunas has, you can see why.
Joined by my husband Kenny and children Ruaridh (13) and Flossie (10), we headed off to explore this East European gem.
And what better way to start than a stroll down the majestic and tree lined Laisvės Avenue, the longest street in Eastern Europe and full of beautifully decorated shops, chic cafés and restaurants.
The avenue was just a stone’s throw from The Park Inn by Radisson, our base for the three day stay.
Ruaridh and Flossie were impressed to know that they were staying at a hotel once occupied by such greats as singers Sting and Robbie Williams. It had all the modern comforts expected of a four-star hotel including a spa and sumptuous buffet breakfasts.
It is close to all the attractions and handy to stroll round and admire the inter-war architecture which is regarded as amongst the finest examples of European Art Deco. Kaunas was the first city in Central and Eastern Europe to be designated as the UNESCO City of Design.
Between 1920 and 1939, Kaunas became the temporary capital after Vilnius was seized by Poland and a heritage trail of 68 buildings dotted around the city is an ideal way to take in the beauty. Some are in bad repair, but others have been lovingly restored including the only brick mosque in The Baltics known as The Tartar as well as some distinguished apartment blocks.
In a bid to show their frustration during the Soviet occupation, locals wrote and drew on public walls to express their innermost thoughts. Artist Vytenis Jakas was so inspired that he created a gallery in the yard of his apartment block and started drawing daily insights into the lives of the Jewish families living there.
A pink elephant inspired by the words “Love Conquers All’’ is one of his most famous works and along with 36 other pieces of art, including a huge caricature of The Wise Old Man, drawn on the side of a former footwear factory, is featured in another trail for tourists to follow. This together with a trail showing 13 statues or objects including the insects of Vladislovas Starevicius, a stag beetle, ant and grasshopper all together to mark the career of the pioneer of puppet animation, Zenonas Baranauskas, make a fun few hours for all.
There are lots of museums to visit too, from The Zoological, one of the oldest in the country and full of well-preserved animals and birds, to the wonderful Devil’s Museum.
The only one of its kind in the world and full of devils collected by well-known Lithuanian painter and professor Antanas Zmuidzinavicius. He started off with 12 and now there are over 3,000 from across the world.
A quirky museum dedicated to devils from over 70 countries in all sorts of poses and outfits, strange but fascinating!
The Lithuanian Folk Museum proved a big hit with the children as they had the chance to try out some weird and wonderful traditional instruments as well as make their own song using a beat box and the country’s most famous painter M K Čiurlionis, has some of his most impressive works on abstract art on show in the national art museum.
They always say the best way to learn about a place is to potter about and mix with the locals and where better than Rotuses Square, a lovely open space surrounded by fine architecture and just off from the main river which runs through Kaunas.
Here there are plenty of traditional restaurants such as the Etno Dvaras, officially certified by the Lithuanian Culinary Heritage Fund and specialising in hearty dishes such as potato dumplings, pancakes, beetroot soup and the loveliest fruit teas and local beers.
Just along from the restaurant is the Lithuanian Pub Entry, devoted to reviving and fostering the traditions of the interwar period.
An art deco interior fascinates the diner as does the menu featuring such delights as zander soup with crayfish tails and Pojarsky cutlets, chopped chicken rolled in ground pastry and served with peas, carrots and fries.
As with everything in this lovely spot, it was a delight and the locals were so determined to impress with their obvious pride for their city, a place which truly deserves to thrive.
For more information on Kaunas, please visit: www.visit.kaunas.lt
Rebecca Hay is an experienced travel writer and member of The British Guild of Travel Writers. Follow her adventures with her family on Twitter and Instagram @emojiadventurer and on Facebook via EmojiAdventurers2.
Photographs by A. Aleksandravicius