Monday, January 28, 2013

Trakai Island Castle, Lithuania

Monday, January 28, 2013
The iconic Trakai Island castle is yet again in the media spotlight. It's called Island Castle for two reasons: firstly, it is situated on an island (duh :-) ) and secondly, to distinguish it from Peninsular Castle. The two of them are, as Gilibert de Lanua wrote way back in the history, "a canon shot away one from the other". I am referring to a recent article "23 Most Beautiful Castles in Europe" ran by Female First. You can read the actual article right here . It's not the first or the last time when Trakai Island castle is in the media spotlight but I haven't written about it in English yet, so the opportunity has just presented itself. 


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Trakai Island castle- the only castle in Eastern Europe built on an island. Or so they say. Own photo.
But shark feeding-seriously? More like those ever hungry swans.




There are three ways to arrive in Trakai from the capital city Vilnius: by train, by bus and by car. There were pilgrimages to pay respect to Our Lady the Blessed Virgin Mary's miraculous painting at Trakai church of Virgin Mary's Visitation, if that's your thing. That'd be, of course, on foot.


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The castle is situated on an island called Galve, which translates as "Head". There are several versions why it was called like that, ranging from the shape of the island to sacrifices (pagan times, mind you). There were several tone heads retrieved from the island lake but as nobody knows what they represent and so they are in the museum's fond. Trakai can be referred to as the de facto capital of the Great Duchy of Lithuania in the XVth century when our country, which few people can place on the map correctly today, used to stretch from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. More detailed info on the history of the castle in case you are a history buff: right here.  Maps, opening times, entrance fees: Trakai History Museum

Now, there's more to Trakai than just a castle, so prepare to easily spend an entire day wandering around this town.

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You know you are in Trakai when you see colourful boats floating by the lakeside, ready to be rented. Both Rough Guides and Lonely Planet have featured these boats and/or Trakai Island castle on their covers.


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Alternatively, a catamaran will do.

Nature lovers must not miss Varnikai botanical educational trail.


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Ah, the mustache...it's actually a female.

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Cranberries.
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A lake turning into a swamp.

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Wooden trails like that cover the entire botanical trail. I even met a jogger.
3,45 km path will take some time to cover, especially if you take some food with you to rest on designated benches. By "food" I mean sandwiches and a flash of hot tea- works best in nature. Mind that you will need to walk to the beginning of the trail as well (you can also drive, there's a car park). Stop to pick up a map and ask for directions at Trakai tourist information centre on 69, Vytautas street.

On a clear summer day it's lovely out there, round and around the castle.

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Water lilies.

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Ducks feeding.
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In desperate need for pedicure?
While in Trakai, do not miss out on the cultural heritage of a minority called Karaites (they came here in the XVth century from the Crimea as instructed by Vytautas Magnus (Vytautas the Great, as we call him)). You can visit their church Kenessa (free, but a small donation is a good idea) or their old cemetery. The cemetery if a small piece of land in a forest dotted with grave markers and devoured by tall grass- according to their tradition, one cannot remove grass from the cemetery. They say that there are only three working Kenessa in the world, and one of them is in Trakai. The main street is lined with places to try traditional Karaite dishes, the closer to the castle, the more expensive. But even if you are paying for the view- what view it is! And the food is good.

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A traditional Karaite dish.
I didn't want to end this beautiful post with a shameless note of self-promotion, but I just happen to be a licensed tourist guide, so if you want to visit Trakai and receive in-depth coverage of why it's not just a pretty red brick castle to most Lithuanians, let me know.


Tips: train schedules can be found at Trains in Lithuania (English), bus schedules can be found at Vilnius Bus Station (English) . You can pay the ticket inspector on the train for the ticket but that costs a little extra. You can also pay the driver of the bus but passengers with tickets have priority boarding and others are taken on only if there are seats left- in high summer it's mission impossible, so to be safe than sorry head for the ticket's office first when at the bus station. Train and bus stations are located across the street one from the other, so even if you miss one, you can try the other. WC in the bus station is for a fee and you pay into a coin collecting machine, WC in the train station is (so far) free, squat style toilets. There's a supermarket in Trakai en route to the castle, so you can supplement your food bag easily. Train ride takes 45 min, bus ride takes 30 min, the train station is further away from the centre of Trakai than the bus station but it's really walkable. Check out more sights at: In Your Pocket: Trakai

 
Have you been to Trakai yet?


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