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Time capsule accommodation and a ‘devil’s’ museum: Kaunas, discovering the European Capital of Culture

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There is a crystal perfume bottle on the dressing table of every bedroom at Villa Grabyte in Kaunas, Lithuania.

An information card, next to one of the bottles, explains that the liquid inside has notes of white lilac, old wooden furniture and heavy books.

The villa’s owners had it created to mimic the scents created in Lithuania during the interwar period (1918 to 1940) and spritzing it is just one of the ways guests can immerse themselves in this period when they stay in the property.

Pictured is the living room of Villa Grabyte, a guest house designed to make visitors feel like they are living in the interwar period (1918 to 1940). At the back of the photo you can see the replica wireless that allows guests to listen to music from that period

Pictured is an apartment from the 1970s where you can stay in Kaunas.  It comes with a

Pictured is an apartment from the 1970s where you can stay in Kaunas. It comes with a Soviet-era ‘Chaika’ vacuum cleaner and a record player that allows you to listen to Soviet-era records

This shot shows the perfume that Villa Grabyte guests can use.  The villa's owners had it made to mimic the scents created in Lithuania during the interwar period

This shot shows the perfume that Villa Grabyte guests can use. The villa’s owners had it made to mimic the scents created in Lithuania during the interwar period

When they open the closets, they find interwar style clothes that they can try on and when they relax in the living room, they can listen to music from that era on the wireless replica.

Villa Grabyte is not the only immersive lodging option available in Kaunas.

Elsewhere in town, you can stay in a 1970s flat that comes with a Soviet-era ‘Chaika’ vacuum cleaner and a record player that lets you listen to Soviet-era records.

This kind of experience is typical of a visit to Kaunas in 2022, I discovered during my trip there.

The former capital of Lithuania is this year one of the three European Capitals of Culture (the other two being Esch-sur-Alzette in Luxembourg and Novi Sad in Serbia). range of new cultural activities.

Liberty Boulevard (pictured) is the main street of Kaunas.  It is pedestrianized and is flanked by shops, bars, restaurants and a wealth of bakeries

Liberty Boulevard (pictured) is the main street of Kaunas. It is pedestrianized and is flanked by shops, bars, restaurants and a wealth of bakeries

The medieval Kaunas Castle (pictured), with its wizard hat-shaped roof, is located near the Old Town Square

The medieval Kaunas Castle (pictured), with its wizard hat-shaped roof, is located near the Old Town Square

This shot shows the Church of St. Michael the Archangel with its forget-me-not blue domes.  It is located at the top of Liberty Boulevard?

This shot shows the Church of St. Michael the Archangel with its forget-me-not blue domes. It is located at the top of Liberty Boulevard?

In addition to staying in a time travel accommodation, visitors can now take a free walking tour with a ‘Culture Host’ or a guided car tour as part of the new Culture Ride offering.

Both types of tours are led by Kaunas residents with specific areas of expertise, such as photography, modernist architecture (there are over 600 modernist buildings in the city), and street art (there are 30 murals to be found and some are three stories high).

Of course, if you prefer to see the sights at your own pace rather than with a guide, Kaunas is made for hiking. I lost several hours winding down the pedestrianized main street – Liberty Boulevard – alone.

There are over 600 modernist buildings in Kaunas.  The former post office (pictured) is one of the most imposing.  To learn more about modernist architecture, take a free tour with a Kaunas 2022 Culture Host

There are over 600 modernist buildings in Kaunas. The former post office (pictured) is one of the most imposing. To learn more about modernist architecture, take a free tour with a Kaunas 2022 Culture Host

Venture over the 'Vytautas the Great Bridge' and you'll find the Aleksotas Funicular Railway (pictured).  This 1930s railway rides up the hill to a lookout point overlooking the Kaunas Grandstand

Venture over the ‘Vytautas the Great Bridge’ and you will find the Aleksotas Funicular (photo). This 1930s railway rides up the hill to a lookout point overlooking the Kaunas Grandstand

To celebrate the year as European Capital of Culture, Kaunas has developed a Culture Ride initiative, which allows you to take free car rides with locals like Vida (pictured) to learn more about the city

To celebrate the year as European Capital of Culture, Kaunas has developed a Culture Ride initiative, which allows you to take free car rides with locals like Vida (pictured) to learn more about the city

This mile-long road is lined with shops, bars, restaurants and more bakeries than you can shake a baguette at. If you only go to one of the latter, make it Spurgine.

It has been in operation since the 1970s and is a local institution. The signature dishes are baseball-sized donuts filled with jam or meat.

I tried a jam, still warm from the oven, and immediately understood why queues often form in front of this place.

The old town ate up a few more hours of my time in Kaunas. The main square is crookedly paved and framed by cafes, bars and restaurants.

There are 30 street art murals like the one pictured above to explore in Kaunas

There are 30 street art murals like the one pictured above to explore in Kaunas

Pictured is one of the larger street art murals in Kaunas.  This is a monument to the Jewish poet Lea Goldberg, who once lived in the building where the artwork is located

Pictured is one of the larger street art murals in Kaunas. This is a monument to the Jewish poet Lea Goldberg, who once lived in the building where the artwork is located

Take a tour here and you’ll discover dozens of historical sites hidden in plain sight, including a few associated with Lithuania’s Knygnesiai or book smugglers, who smuggled literature into the country when it was banned by Russia between 1866 and 1904.

Wandering through the main street and the old town, you’ll stumble upon most of the city’s main attractions, such as the Church of St. Michael the Archangel with its forget-me-not blue domes and the medieval castle of Kaunas, with its wizards – hat-shaped roof.

However, there are a few sights that require you to leave the immediate city center to find them. Venture across the ‘Vytautas the Great Bridge’ and you will find the Aleksotas Funicular. This 1930s train rides up the hill to a lookout point overlooking the city.

Finally, the Devil’s Museum, with 3,000 devil sculptures, deserves a mention. It’s a Marmite kind of place. However, if you enjoy visiting the more unusual museums of the world, this place is up there with Froggyland in Split in terms of craziness.

The celebrations of Kaunas 2022 continue throughout the year. For the full program visit the website.

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