Between Trump, Brexit, populism and the general shit storm that surrounds many of the countries I enjoy visiting, it is easy to get depressed about the world we live in. But as we surround ourselves with family and friends over this holiday season, I recognise that few things in life are better for the spirit than a bellyful of wine and the company of friends.
In the spirit of celebration I share my final post for 2018. This one in about serendipity – the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. I’ve also shared a cocktail menu for the holidays that may be helpful if you have friends coming over, as well as the recipe for my favourite arrack cocktail. I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019!
It’s 7:30am on a Saturday. The flight is full. Why are all these people going to Vilnius? Perhaps they are attracted by that infamous ad positioning Vilnius as the G Spot of Europe. I look at my fellow passengers with new interest…
In case you missed it, the city fathers of Vilnius (I don’t think any mothers were involved) launched an ad campaign depicting their city as the “G spot of Europe – nobody knows where it is, but when you find it, it’s amazing!” If the ad campaign succeeds I guess it’ll make a lot of people come.
The Vilnius G Spot ad campaign was launched on World Orgasm Day – those city fathers don’t miss a trick! I landed in Vilnius fully expecting to be greeted by street vendors selling French Ticklers.
What I did find instead is a city that is unexpectedly and utterly charming. There are tiny winding streets steeped in history, magnificent churches that have swapped denominations every few centuries (one even became a museum for atheism under the Soviets). The locals are friendly, highly educated and appear to speak about 17 languages. There’s pride in their heritage and hope about their future. Vilnius is an absolute delight.
The city was brought to life by my tour guide Remi who gave us insights into a city beyond the major tourist spots. We wondered into the streets of the world’s tiniest “republic” – a breakaway non state set up by artists and random hippies that has its own constitution and can stamp your passport. We wondered through back allies where Remi showed us how the real people of Vilnius live and the true impact of both the Nazis and the Soviets.
I found the best cocktails in Vilnius at Alchemikas where my bartender Tito, a young man with slightly disturbing facial tattoos made me an amazing cocktail involving pine smoke. Elsewhere, cocktails exist only in name. Stick to the local beer which is good, or sample the local mead wine which is surprising drinkable in a spritzer.
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Smoke and Mirrors, a magical smoke filled cocktail @alchemikas.cocktail.bar in Vilnius. Whisky, apple brandy, amaro and Angostura bitters. All infused with pine smoke. Dry, with just a hint of fruit on the after notes, with the pine smoke adding a touch of Christmas! Decadent. . . . #vilniusoldtown #vilniuscity #lithuania #vilnius🇱🇹 #cocktails #smokycocktails #smokycocktail
There’s a lot of meat and potatoes on the menus in Lithuania. Etno Dvaras is an excellent place to try the local cuisine which shares many dishes with its Polish neighbour. Borscht, tiny pastries, pork knuckle are all excellent. In nearby Kaunas I ate at Medziotoju Uzeigas which resembled a medieval game lodge. Their meat feast includes boar, elk, moose, roe deer, red deer and fallow deer. Best not to visit if you are vegetarian. I sampled more cosmopolitan cusine at Gastronomika, cooked by Liutauras Čeprackas, a well known local chef. There are many more excellent restaurants I visited from this list.
The old town of Vilnius, all of which is classified as a UNESCO heritage site is a wonderful place to get lost. My meanderings took me to the Cigar House, where proprietor Shaan Daanji (possibly the only other brown person in Lithuania) regaled me with stories of the cigar trade in the Baltics. One actually gets to smoke in the Cigar House which stocks an impressive array of rare Nicaraguan leaf in addition to the usual Cubanos. Even more impressive was the Dalmore Cigar Malt I was served; possibly the only malt whisky blended to accompany a cigar. It’s strong, rich flavours worked beautifully with the Placencia cigar I smoked.
Vilnius is yet to be discovered. It reminds me of Prague before it was overrun by drunken lads and ladettes hunting for G Spots. If the Baltics are on your itinerary do visit this beautiful city before the city father’s ad campaign attracts too many spotters.