Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lithuania Road Trip Begins! Trakai Island Castle.

At Trakai Castle.

I woke up feeling kind of sad this morning. Not because it was cloudy and overcast outside but because we were leaving Vilnius. Our time here was much, much too short and I felt we had short changed ourselves. But at the same time, I look forward to seeing what the rest of Lithuania holds for us.


It was breakfast downstairs in the hotel's restaurant to start our day. 

We were all packed up before we even headed downstairs for breakfast.  After eating, we took a quick walk back to the Rimi supermarket in Old Town to pick up some smoked salmon that Bro had had his eye on.  The first day we were at Rimi, I caught Bro holding up two packs of smoked salmon wondering what the difference was setting aside price and weight.  I shrugged as I had no clue.  So I took photos of the packs so we could look up the words later.  The things I have to do for him!  He walked away empty handed but today he was determined to buy some.  Of course, we had forgotten to look up the words and were back in the same silly predicament today.  Oh, just pick a pack and buy it, were my instructions to him.  After a bit more debating, he settled on the 200g pack which, despite its larger size, was cheaper.  Yay!  We can now leave.

A or B?  Which one to buy?  If it was me, I would have bought both.  Bro picked A.

We arrived back at the hotel to see a policeman about to place a parking ticket on our car's windshield.  Whoa!!  Apparently, we had parked in a no park zone.  I would have agreed to the ticket except it was the hotel receptionist who had told us to move the car from where we had previously parked it to this spot, which was just a few few outside the hotel's front entrance.  I quickly dashed inside the hotel and got the receptionist to explain to the policeman what had happened.  A lot of Lithuanian words were exchanged and when it was over, the receptionist assured us that the policeman would tear up the ticket once he got back to his office.  I would have felt more comfortable had he done it there right on the spot but I was not about to argue with a Lithuanian law enforcement officer.  Bro and I just prayed he would keep his word. Of course, worse thing that could happen is that I would receive an email from the car rental agency saying that I had an outstanding ticket to pay and they would charge it against my credit card.  Not the end of the world.

After we checked out from the hotel, I got in the driver's seat and we headed out of town.  Good bye Vilnius!  We were back to following Ieva's itinerary and following a quick check of the guidebook, set our first destination of the day - Trakai Castle.

A short distance out of town, we made a quick pit stop to get some gas for the car; it was time for a fill up.  Back on the road, I saw one sign after another directing us towards Trakai but Bro had me driving on.  Trakai is located only about 20 miles from the outskirts of Vilnius so it's not far.   I was getting concerned that we would miss the place but eventually, we found the exit per Ieva's instructions.  Soon we were driving through a small town.  Then, I spotted the castle, sitting on an island in the middle of a lake.  We found a good spot to park, put a few coins in the meter and made our way towards the lake and the castle.

A few of the pretty homes in Trakai.

On the lake's edge were a few shops and restaurants.  Tourists were out and about but most certainly, there were no crowds here.

Pretty wooden homes.

A wooden footbridge connected the island to the mainland.

We could see part of the castle complex from the footbridge.

 Lake Galvė

The lakeside sidewalk led to a small plaza with benches and what looked to be a very nice hotel.

Shops, restaurants, paddleboats and boats line the lakeshore.

Looking back at the mainland.

Once we crossed over the bridge that connected the island to the mainland, we walked on a path that led through a bit of woodland to a another, smaller wooden footbridge took us over to the castle itself.

The construction of Trakai Island Castle was begun in the 14th century by Kęstutis and was completed by his son Vytautas the Great, who died in this castle in 1430. Trakai was one of the main centers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the castle held great strategic importance.  Over the centuries, the castle fell into disrepair.

During the 19th century, plans to reconstruct the castle were prepared but it wasn't until after World War II, that a major reconstruction project got underway.  Active work started in 1951-1952 and was finished in 1961; the castle was reconstructed in a 15th-century style.  Today, the castle is a museum and major tourist attraction.

Trakai Island Castle.

Posing for the obligatory photo op.

A turret and outer wall of the castle.

We passed through the entry archway and found ourselves standing at one end of a large courtyard with a few main buildings in sight.

Looking back through the arched entryway and its medieval looking set of doors.

The ticket booth and gift shop.

Ticket booth/gift shop on the left, museum on the right.

I don't know what purpose this building originally served but today it's the museum.

A turret tower adjoining the museum building.

The Ducal Palace and its donjon.  A donjon is a fortified tower.

Another view of the Ducal Palace and donjon.

Stairs leading up to the Ducal Palace.

At the entrance to the Ducal Palace.

Presumably where there is grass now used to be a moat.

Crossing the drawbridge to entry.

Looking up at the front façade of the Ducal Palace.

The inner courtyard of the palace.  Wooden stairs lead to various galleries.

Looking back at the entry; donjon in the background.

Looking back down at the courtyard.  Lots of tourists today!

Once inside the palace courtyard, we just randomly chose a set of steps and made our way through the various galleries which displayed various items from when the palace was in use, including furniture and clothing.



Every castle has to have its own chapel.

We breezed through the various galleries in the castle.  Typical of us, we spent a good few minutes in the first few galleries and then pretty much walked through the rest as we had quickly lost interest.

Standing on stairs leading up to the Ducal Palace, museum and turret in the background.

After the Ducal Palace, we headed to the museum to check out those galleries. There really wasn't much to see their either so we were in and out very quickly.

Heading up the stairs to the museum's upper level galleries.

Enroute to the footbridge that would take us back to mainland Trakai, we encountered a local woman selling pastries out of a cooler.  Used to be that Bro would shy away from buying food from street vendors as he was always a bit skittish about what such food might do to his stomach.  But that all changed on our 2010 trip to Guatemala where he ate big time from vendors and never once fell ill.  Few days into our trip and he was taking the lead on buying food from where ever his nose led him. By the time we left Sri Lanka in 2012, his cast iron stomach had been restored. He's still cautious but nothing like he used to be and if I might proudly say so myself, I think he's a more adventurous eater than I am!

This woman was selling meat filled puff pastries and Bro cannot say no to anything puff pastry.  Whyat the woman was selling looked very much like the kibinai that we had in Vilnius yesterday.  In fact, kibinai are a specialty of the Trakai region so no better place in Lithuania to have one than here.


Digging out one of her homemade kibinai for us.

No sooner had Bro handed over his money for the kibinai than we heard the loud sound of two male swan in a fight.  One very large and vicious black swan was chasing a smaller white swan through the woods.  The black one eventually caught up with the white one and actually used his beak to pin the poor white goose neck down to the ground.  It took a man to go after the black swan before it would release its hold on the white swan. The frightened white swan immediately ran down to the lake and got into the water where it soon became the subject of tourist photos.  I don't think they knew what this poor creature had just been through.


Back on the mainland, Bro went in search of facilities and I began to devour my half of the kibinai.

When in Lithuania, eat anything in puff pastry.  You can't go wrong.  Oh, and nothing beats homemade!

In no time, I had friends. Even they appreciate a good kibinai.

After eating, we sat a bit longer to rest a bit and people watch. We then spent a few minutes strolling along the lake and doing a bit of window shopping; neither of us bought anything.

Our last view of Trakai Island Castle.

It was noon by the time we finished at Trakai; it was time to get back on the road.  Our drive continued as we have to make it to Kaunas before nightfall.