by Neil Taylor Author of Baltic Cities ( Bradt Guides) Published 2008 Modesty is always the word that comes to my mind whenever I visit Kaunas or meet somebody from there. It should be on any Lithuanian itinerary and attracting journalists as frequently as does Vilnius or the Curonian Spit on the coast. Sadly, however, it remains exclusive when it should really be wide open to all. It has an international airport and is only sixty miles from Vilnius so access is easy. In Kaunas I find myself putting together a day which would be impossible anywhere else in Europe. I may start my travels on a trolleybus, then switch to a funicular train which takes me to a church that seats 3,000 visitors and used to be a factory for radio valves. Later I may feel my way around the Museum for the Blind or look at thousands of devils, assuming I can take my glance away from the two leading ones, Stalin and Hitler, shown dancing together on Lithuanian territory. I am thick- skinned enough to stay amongst the exhibits at the Medical Museum, though feel very relieved that I will never come across them in a contemporary hospital. I will often visit an art gallery and then attend a concert, but only in Kaunas can I do both at the same time, looking at pictures by Mikalojus Ciurlionis whilst listening to his symphonies. KAUNAS THE CITY OF MUSEUMS Click here and quote ' kaunas25' for 25% off Baltic Cities.
but equally feel I should see the Ninth Fort, scene of untold human misery under each occupation. It was in Kaunas that much of the religious opposition to the Soviet regime was organised and the small flat where Cardinal Sladkevicius lived is now a memorial to this activity. Few visitors realise that Kaunas was Lithuania's capital from 1920- 1939, but spending some time in the former Presidential Palace gives a good overview of the very different personalities who then ruled Lithuania, all with success. I am happy to have an intense catholic experience on any visit to Vilnius or to see the drama a Baltic wind generates with the sand dunes on the Curonian Spit, but it is to Kaunas I always return for a new experience and to see how diverse a country Lithuania once was and is rapidly becoming again. 15 In Kaunas I am always extravagant, as it must be one of the cheapest cities in Europe. Go there for long dinners, four- star hotels and to buy jewellery, particularly amber. These dinners can be with local food or with most cuisines of Europe. A few years ago, I have to admit that Kaunas was provincial with all the overtones that word carries. Now, however, it is truly cosmopolitan. I take things easy there too. One pedestrian precinct links many of the places a tourist will want to visit, together with most of the city's hotels. It was the first smoke free road in Europe! It is in Kaunas that I always mix flippancy with seriousness. I enjoy trying out the various instruments at the Musical Museum ( although any other visitor around at the same time wishes that I would not) and gape at the nude statue outside the Art Gallery,