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Published: June 19th 2011
The bridge to the castle.
This is the 2nd bridge from the first small island.
Trakai, the Island Castle.
The first time I saw pictures of Trakai I said to myself, "This is one place Nancy and I must visit!". It was so lovely it was hard to believe there was such a place on earth. Today my dream came true.
The best way to go to Trakai is by public bus. There are frequent buses that leave from the main station and arrive at the village about 40 minutes later. From the Trakai bus station to the island castle you have an enjoyable 2 kilometer walk through the village. There are tour buses to Trakai which would be much more expensive than the public buses. Also by tour bus you have to follow the schedule of the tour. We enjoyed the freedom to go when we wanted and stay until we had done and seen everything it was possible for us to do in one day.
The village of Trakai is inhabited by the Karaites (Karaimes). The Karaites have been traced back to Persia in the 8th century. They settled in Trakai at the turn of 14th and 15th centuries. Their religion is
a reformed Judaism. Theologically they reject the Talmud as being a man-made law substitute for the God-given Torah. Though exempted from Hitler's Final Solution many died in the holocaust death camps. There are only a few hundred left in Lithuania and several hundred more in Poland. Their houses are wooden. Wood is readily available and brilliantly used in all the Baltic states.
Path and street
The main street has restaurants and grocery stores as well as the interesting Karaite houses. So, you can buy a bottle of water if you forgot to take one with you..as we had or stop for a drink. Later main street leads to the path that runs directly to the castle. This becomes a walk along the lake which affords beautiful views of the water and the ruins of another very old, very large complex of buildings. The lake side path also has places to rent a boat to enjoy the lake and good restaurants if you need or want to buy a meal (or an expresso as we did.)
We hope you will enjoy a little history of the area and castle which
we learned while there. The name of Trakai was first mentioned in Teutonic Knights chronicles in 1337. Construction of the castle began in 1409. There is an interesting display in the castle itself showing the initial building, additions through the ages, the decline into ruins, and finally the renovation of the castle to what it is today. Many people worked hard on the renovation which was encouraged and partially financed by the Soviet Union.
The castle is located on an island on Lake Galvė. What a good defense, the lake serves as the castle moat. Certainly if the castle were under siege, water would not be a problem. If the siege lasted long enough, food might run out but not water. The castle was damaged by Teutonic Knights during the power struggle between Jogaila and Vytautas the Great for the title of Grand Duke of Lithuania. In fact both sides besieged the castle. In time the castle lost importance and fell into disrepair.
The day was sunny and warm quite different from our first full day in Vilnius when it rained and was so chilly that Nancy bought a nice wool sweater with a traditional Lithuanian design. That
The first bridge
This short bridge leads to a small island. A second, longer bridge then leads to the castle on a second island.
day she was much happier once she had the sweater on keeping her warm. But if she had worn it to the castle it would have been a big mistake on such a nice warm (almost hot) day.
We crossed the long wooden bridge to the castle. Two boys were fishing and playing small flutes. Hoping that tourists would give them a few coins, they had laid their caps at their feet on the bridge. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I do not know if there were successful or not. Some hours later, when we left, they were still fishing but their caps were on their heads and their flutes had been put away. Now their whole attention was in their fishing. I wondered if their mother had said, "No fish, no supper."
Path around the castle
There is a path around the outside of the castle. We walked the path. This is a good way to gain an idea of the size of the island and of the architecture of the castle. Because it was such a sunny day, I, for one, was quite happy there were many trees and we walked in the shade
most of the time. Once we had circled the island we bought our tickets and entered the castle. The castle is also a museum. Each room is devoted to a particular topic and information on the displays were in both Lithuanian and English. There is an attendant in each room. They are quiet and watchful but not intrusive. We will post some entries on the displays in several of the rooms.
This was near the end of the school year and many school groups were having an outing, visiting the castle. I did not see any kids misbehaving and all save one child seemed to be having a good time. We were in one of the rooms looking at the exhibit and a boy, about ten years old, passed us, walking rapidly and crying. No adults followed him and I wondered what had happened that had made him so unhappy.
Bump, Bump, Bump
As we stood by a steep wooden staircase deciding what to see first I heard an exclamation followed by a bump, bump, bump. Looking up I saw a little girl bouncing down the stairs on her butt. I put
out my hand and stopped her fall. She was so surprised that she forgot to cry. Without thinking about language I asked, "Are you all right?" She turned and grabbed her mother's hand. She seemed fine. I was happy she had not fallen head first but had done her slipping and bouncing down the stairs on her posterior. That could have been a serious fall. Her little bottom might have been bruised but no permanent harm had been done. Her mother nodded a thank-you. I cannot remember if she spoke or not. Taking the girl by her hand they walked across the courtyard and the girl still wasn't crying.
Yes, Nancy and I held onto the step railings whenever we ascended or descended a staircase. There all were steep and, indeed, a fall could have been a nasty experience
We slowly made our way through the castle visiting each room. When hunger caught up with us we found a quiet shady corner in the inner courtyard of the Ducal palace where we ate the sandwich we had packed and drank our water. After lunch we continued going through the castle.
About 4:00 p.m. we returned to
The main courtyard.
The castle is bigger than it looks from the outside.
the bus station where we had a very short wait. What do I mean by very short? Well, the bus was sitting there and I only had time to hurriedly buy two tickets and climb aboard. As soon as we were aboard, the driver started the engine and off we went. It was rather hot on the bus as there was no air conditioning. Nancy napped on the return trip to Vilnius.
Trakai was a delightful experience for us. It was just as beautiful as it sat there on the lake as pictures had indicated. The restoration was well done and you felt as if you were there many years ago. If you ever get a change to visit this historic castle do so. In fact, if you ever get a change to visit any or all of the Baltic countries, do so.
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