Lithuania has done away with many of the drab remnants of its Soviet past, and it's been spiffing up the old buildings that represent its earlier history. In Vilnius, the capital, hundreds of grand old baroque buildings have been artfully renovated into well-appointed hotels, minimalls and cafes. This has attracted foreigners and their capital, resulting in talk of Vilnius as the new Prague.

Despite all the shiny facades, prosperity is a long way off, and average Lithuanians still struggle to make ends meet. In the countryside, life goes on pretty much unchanged. Much work is still needed on both the infrastructure and service standard fronts, but the low prices and growth of low-cost flights are significant drivers.

Lithuania is more agricultural than the other Baltic nations, which gives it a slower pace and more charm. In rural areas in the south, horses are still the preferred mode of transport. Although the nation is intensely Roman Catholic, there are still traces of pre-Christian religions influencing life in the countryside, where elaborate wooden sculptures of ragana (witches) and barzdukais (gnomes) are almost as common as crosses.

The country's attractions include far more than old-world charm. In Vilnius, visitors can expect Western standards of service at many places but at a fraction of the cost of more traditional and well-traveled tourist destinations. For young people, there is much to do and see. The Baltics are aiming to become fashion and cultural trendsetters in the years to come, and the country boasts several exciting nightlife spots. The city is even becoming a popular destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties.

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