I have HORSCHECK to thank for introducing me to the 'In Your Pocket' series of tour guides, which we first had the opportunity to 'road test' in Tallinn (when the hotel we stayed in provided a copy of Tallinn In Your Pocket in each room).
For my money, it's a much more useful travel guide than the Lonely Planet or Rough Guides that we tend to use when we travel. In many ways, it's an unfair comparison, as the 'In Your Pocket' series focus on a single city, and are updated every couple of months, so, as you would expect, it is more current - particularly on events - and can provide information on a wider range of attractions than a regional guide which is only updated every couple of years. Also, you do have to have identified the city (rather than just the country) that you want to visit before the In Your Pocket guides come into their own, so I would suggest using a conventional tour guide for your initial planning and then supplementing this with the more local insight these publications offer.
For me, the strength of this guide is that it is written by English-speaking writers who are resident in the city. This means that the descriptions are livelier than often awkwardly phrased tourist material which is clearly translated from another language. I also thought that the mix of attractions and events listed was varied and would appeal to a range of interests and ages.
At present, the In Your Pocket series tends to focus on cities in Central and Eastern Europe, although new titles are continually being added.
For the Druskininkai guide, follow this link: http://www.inyourpocket.com/lithuania/druskininkai
Favorite thing: Druskininkai is a city of health, so there are lot of sanatoriums. Much of procedures are based on salt - being in salt rooms, salt water, so on. Despite of some sanatoriums were built in Soviet times, most of buildings architecture looks nice and now has more tourist facilities.
Most visitors of resort visit Druskininkai not because of architecture, but for its water around and pine tree forests. Water is more special here than in other places in Lithuania - it is salty. From water areas I should river Nemunas, "the father of Lithuanian rivers" - it is longest river in Lithuania, small river Ratnycia. What is more, Druskininkai has Druskonis lake, Mergeliu akeliu (in English "Eyes of girls") lake, ponds Vyjunele, Egle, Alka.
Pine tree forests around make aromatic smell everywhere, most of bicycle tracks are in forests and near lakes, ponds, river Nemunas.
The one thing I got to know is that there is organised Nemunas river tour every summer day by steamer from Druskininkai to Liskiava, where is a mound and popular monastery.
Druskininkai, especially central part, is full of flowers, flower mosaics. Still in any other town I haven't seen so beautiful work with flowers. Of course, it is easier to take care of flowers in small and silent Druskininkai than in, let say, more party resort Palanga, where flowers could be damaged.
There are much sculptures as well. Some of them are from Soviet times, but not associated with communism. Quite famous sculptures are modern ones - one is near Druskininkai Catholic church, another - near Aqua park.
I think that history is the key to understand each culture by future generations. But it works even stronger in Lithuania and Druskininkai. I got to know a lot about the town history in the Museum of Druskininkai Town. So, let me share some my knowledge...
The name Druskininkai derives from Lithuanian word "druska" which means salt. "Druskininkas" (salt-man) is a person who worked to extract, sell and deliver the salt.
There was a defensive castle by Nemunas River in the 13th century. Springs full of mineral salts were already known there. Locals shortly discovered sanative power of the springs: ulcerosus legs recovered faster when bathed in them. Some smart people started "healing", esp. dynasty of folk doctors Surutis became famaous in the 18th century.
BEGINNING OF SPA
Local parliament members (from Hrodna, Belarus now) came to Druskininkai in 1789. They led Polish and Lithuanian (the two countries were united that time) king Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski to the locality. After the visit, the king ordered his doctor to investigate sanative features of local mineral water. He announced Druskininkai to be a sanative locality by special decree in 1794. One year later Polish and Lithuanian king Poniatowski was transferred to Hrodna (Belarus now). He abdicated on Nov., 25 and common state of Poland amd Lithuania was finally divided by Germany, Austria and Russia. Druskininkai was annexed for over 100 years by Russian Empire.
Mineral and mud baths became more and more popular. At the end of 18th century Drusjininjai was well known and not only in the Russian Empire. A famous French Cubist Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz was born in Druskininkai in 1891
I didn't meet any locals speaking Polish language in Druskininkai. Instead I met quite many visitors from Poland. In Lietuvos Spauda kiosk I found Polish daily newspaper issued in Lithuania and called "Kurier Wilenski" (Vilnius Herald). Surely I did buy it (1.00 Lt) and read its 12 pages.
Some news was interesting from the visitor's point of view.
1. Lithuanian Radio welcomes to hear Polish programm daily at 5.30 pm at 105,1 FM.
Thank you... next time...
2. on 11 May in the early morning 24yo woman, second lieutenant of Lithuanian Border Guard was found beaten unconcious in a transit train Kaliningrad - Moscow. She had trauma of head and face and a wound on her wrist. Lithuanian police stopped the train, found an inscription "Lithuania for Russians" made with blood of that woman and interviewed 200 passangers. They didn't find anything and asked Russian police (from Kaliningrad) to help in the case. Hmm... Russian mass media suggested that she may crippled herself.
3. Policeman close to Trakai was arrested when he was completely drunk at work (4.62 mg%!).
Vey funny guy, was he armed?
4. Six 14 - 18yo boys were arrested in Klaipeda. They used to "borrow" old cars parked at Zardininku, drive them and finally leave them at another place.
Are they future travellers and VT members?
I found and bought (1.20 Lt) another Polish newspaper issued in Lithuania, called "Nasz Czas" (Our Time) in Lietuvos Spauda kiosk in Druskininkai. The newspaper was issued weekly and contained a lot of very interesting information and articles on Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Polish minority in these countries and regional politics.
Just a few topics:
70 - 90% of Lithuanian youths at age 15 - 24 want to immigrate
13 % of Lithuanians who were able to work immigrated during last 13 years
Eurostat informed that average salary per hour is € 19.09 in EU (25 countries). And it's 10.74 in Cypress, 4.48 in Poland, 3.02 in Estonia, 2.71 in Lithuania and 2.42 in Latvia.
WAR IN IRAQ
41% Lithuanian supports sending Lithuanian troops to Iraq, 33% is against and 27% has no opinion.
12,8% of total houshold income in "old" EU (15 countries)
19.9 % - Poland
22,9 % - Estonia
25,5 % - Latvia
30,7% - Lithuania ---> the worst result among 25 countries of EU.
Ok, enough... if you know Polish, read here, please.
There were quite many visitors who spoke Russian language when I was in Druskininkai. There were leaflets in Russian at local tourist information cemtre and Russian menu in restaurants I visited.
Well, some (most?) locals spoke Russian as well, at least a little bit. Keep in mind that Lithuanians were obliged to learn Russian at schools till the Soviet occupation finished in 1991.
I was lucky to see Druskininkai in times of fast progress. After grey times of stagnation. under Soviet Union occupation a lot of private, new businesses were established. I wouldn't see and buy these slippers on my picture before, say, 1991 when market economy started again in Lithuania..
BETWEEN WARS :-)
Druskininkai was badly destroyed during WWI. But then, under Polish rule, it became the fastest growing spa in Europe. The town was sold to Polish bank in 1930 and became very fashionable. The number of patients grew up from a few thousands in 1930 to 110,000 in 1937. Many new villas and health centers were built that time.
SOVIET ERA :-(
During occupation by the Soviet Union Druskininkai started to serve as a resort for mass treatment of people from USSR.
More and more sanatoriums, hotels were privatized, renovated and reconstructed to serve their visitors.
First I tried to find VT pages on Druskininkai here. But there were only a few tips... in 2004. There was some, but not detailed, information in my travel books to Lithuania as well.
For more, follow the links below, please:
Druskininkai Tourism and Business Information Centre
Druskininkai official city page - pages in English, German, Lithuaniania, Polish and Russian,
The Museum of Druskininkai Town
Druskininkai. Museums of Lithuania.
Druskininkai in Wikipedia encyclopedia
Druskininkai Forest Company
I easy found tourist information office in Druskininkai as there were direction signs along my itinerary. I got there a lot of info on Druskininkai including very usuful brochure "Exploring Druskininkai. City Guide". Surely they were speaking English there.
Monday - Friday:
8.30 am - 12.15 pm
1.00 pm - 5.00 pm
Sat - Sun: closed.
Gardino gatve 3, Druskininkai, Lithuania.
Tel. +370 (313) 60800
Fax: +370 (313) 52984
For non-driving visitors there was another tourist information office located in downtown/centre: at Ciurlionio gatve 65; tel./fax: +370 (313) 51777. It was open Mon - Sun: 10.00 am - 6.45 pm.