Dogged little Lithuania shocked the world when it stood up to the Soviet Union, winning its independence in the 1990s. Disappearing completely as a nation after World War Two when it was swallowed up by the Soviets, now it's back with a vengeance, a full member of the European Union and happy and ready for visitors.
The most southern of the three Baltic States—the other two being Latvia and Estonia—Lithuania is situated in Northern Europe on the southern short of the Baltic Sea. For a time during the Middle Ages, Lithuania was Europe's largest country, comprised of what is today the Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Russia and Poland. After two centuries it was dismantled by the Russian Empire. It had a difficult history during World War Two when it was attacked and occupied by the Nazis, then taken over by the Soviets in 1940. Roughly 100,000 Lithuanian troops participated in guerrilla warfare against the Soviets, many of whom were deported to Siberia. As a whole, the country lost over three-quarters of a million people during the war. With the Soviet Union's easing of control during glasnost in the late 80s, a Lithuanian independence movement was founded, and eventually achieved full independence in 1991.
Before the 2008-2009 financial meltdown, Lithuania's economy was one of the fastest growing in the EU. Unfortunately it didn't fare well during the crisis and is now attempting to regain what it lost.
The capital of Lithuania, Vilnius is tiny and contains some of the most interesting contrasts to be found in any European city—baroque architecture, dark mysterious courtyards, a huge artistic and underground music scene, and Old Town narrow cobbled streets twisting back on themselves, full of cafes and hidden alleyways, all with a backdrop skyline of Orthodox and Catholic Church spires. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and for good reason—it's the continent's biggest baroque old town. The city's culture is incredibly rich and wacky. For instance, there's a statue of Frank Zappa, the eccentric musician and 'mad scientist' of music. A group of artists got permission from city officials to dismantle the statue of Lenin and erect a statue of Frank Zappa in its place. Talk about quirky. And there's more where that came from. The statue itself is located in Uzupis, a small section of town also known as The Republic of Angels. Comprised of 150 residents, Uzupis has declared itself to be a "republic of artists and bohemians". And indeed it is. Its single main street is surrounded by courtyards and lanes, all teeming with art galleries and cafes. The 'republic' even has its very own bishops, an embassy in Moscow, and an official flag for every season.
Kaunas, Lithuania is the second largest city in the country. The main tourist attractions of the city include Town Hall, the Hanza Merchant House, Vytautas Church and Pazaislis Abbey which is counted as one of the finest Baroque architecture in Eastern Europe. Also visit Druskininkai which is one of the oldest health resorts in the country, offering mineral water springs, healing mud baths, pearl baths, herbal baths and wonderful countryside.