Monday, October 29, 2007

Dispatches from Vilnius, Lithuania

I want to take the first several sentences of this entry to apologize to all of the loyal clients and co-workers of Kirk's Traveling Kitchen who have been inundated with the following exchange when told I'd be working outside the USA for a few days last week. When these well meaning individuals politely ask "Where are you going?" I would summarily respond "Lithuania.. Kirk's Traveling Kitchen is huge in Eastern Europe." Hopefully the intended self-deprecating sarcasm comes across in this blog, the way it should have when I first uttered it.

I've worked in a lot of great and unusual places, but none have attracted the unknowing curiosity that Vilnius, Lithuania did when I mentioned I was going to be doing some team development work there for the amazing wind power company Vestas. You say you're going to Italy people visualize that, even China has its imagery for those that have never been there, but Lithuania, not much comes to mind for most people (I first thought of potatoes when I heard I'd be going). So I'm here to provide you with some much needed imagery for this underappreciated locale; just picture an inexpensive Prague. It has the same beautiful architecture in the old town city center as Prague, as well as a stylish, cosmopolitan locals, thanks to the fastest growing economy in Eastern Europe. With a modest population of around half-a-million, it is very much a walking city with the main attractions being a majestic castle turret on top a steep hill overlooking the old town part of the city and the several bridges encrusted with pad-locks. This wedding day rite-of-passage for the predominantly Catholic population has all newly married couples fix a lock to one of several bridges crossing the Vilnia river and throw the key into the water as a symbolic commitment to spend their lives together. (Unfortunately, there are no current statistics on how Lithuanian divorce rates compare with the rest of the EU).

I didn't get to sample as much of the local culinary fare as I'd have liked. Being in Vilnius for only a couple of days, most of it spent at a conference center 30km outside the city, I was able to spend just one afternoon and evening in the city. What I did sample suggests that my image pairing of Lithuania and potatoes was not far off. Aside from liking a lot of lager style beers, with names like Kalnapilis, Svyturys and Utenos, the Lithuanian food scene is flush with fried brown bread, sausages wrapped in bread, and all variety of potato dumplings. With the rapidly improving economy, the city of Vilnius has new "ethnic" restaurants popping up all over. (By ethnic they mean: Japanese, Thai, Italian, and, of course, American BBQ). I wasn't able to locate a good contemporary Lithuanian restaurant, but I certainly got my fill of the aforementioned staples at several cafes and gastro pubs. So while I probably won't be taking a group on a culinary excursion through Lithuania anytime soon, Vilnius is a beautiful city and well worth a trip if you're in that part of the world. Tell them Kirk's Traveling Kitchen sent you, we're big over there.