September 2, 2019
I decided to get out of the city today, which meant a ride through the countryside on the public bus. The bus depot was a short walk away from my apartment. At the top of my street, I found the burger/beer joint that used to have a “controversial” mural of Putin and Trump kissing on its main wall. Recently, the mural was painted over with pink paint and replaced with the slogan “Make Empathy Great Again.” There’s also a caricature of a little boy that looks a lot like Trump. The restaurant is known for its political/controversial street art, so I’m sure that it changes as things happen around the world.
It took about 10 minutes to walk to the bus depot, which is also across from the railway station. I hadn’t done any advance research into how to get a bus ticket, so I went to the main counter. Luckily the line was short because I was quickly told by the agent that the next bus left in 2 minutes and I could pay onboard. I ran out to the bay and jumped on before the bus door was slammed shut. Fare for the bus ride in a comfy seat? Two euros.
We arrived in the town of Trakai (pop: 5,000) about 45 minutes later. The town, established in the late 14th century, is surrounded by forests and lakes and is quite picturesque. The walk through the town towards the castle (lots of good signage to point the way) is lovely. Along the way, I took a peek in the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God; a big name for a tiny church. The altar was so beautiful, even the photographs don’t do it justice.
As I walked along the main road through town, I saw a large church up on the hill. Just after the Trakai sign,
I followed signs up to the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A special mass for the first day of school was underway when I arrived. The church was packed. Although the mass was being conducted in Lithuanian and I didn’t understand a word, I stood at the back taking in the ebb and flow of the service. I got a few sideways glances from a little woman standing in the foyer of the church with me because I obviously wasn’t from the town, but I got a big hug from her during the meet/greet segment of the mass.
The church itself was built in the 15th century, funded by the Grand Duke Vytautas, who also funded the building of the nearby castle. Although Byzantine frescoes were discovered during repairs in 2007, the most important items in the church are two icons/pictures of the Virgin Mary. The pictures are revered and said to be miracle inducing. Following mass, I spent a good amount of time taking in the beauty of the interior of the church. There was something so calming about it.
Back outside, I continued to follow the signs to the castle. The brightly colored houses along the roadway were very cute. Houses with three windows facing the road are part of the Karaites community, a Turkic-speaking group that settled in the area at the end of the 14th century. They still practice their own religion and have their own traditions, but are small in number. I tried a bit of their traditional food a little later in the day.
As I turned into the main square toward the lake, I had my first sighting of Trakai Castle. Construction on the castle began in the 14th century and continued into the 15th century. After several periods of destruction, the castle was renovated in the 19th century and then again in the mid-20th century. Back in the day, it was a center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
I had read that it wasn’t worth the price of admission to actually visit the interior of the castle, so I spent my time looking around the exterior.
Of course, every castle needs a swan or two.
Since the castle is situated on an island, I walked the perimeter taking in the views of the lake and taking pictures of the rooflines and angles of the castle (I’m a sucker for an interesting roofline).
While the guidebooks don’t recommend a visit to the interior of the castle, they do recommend paying for a boat ride on Lake Galvė. For the price of five euros, I enjoyed a wonderful 30-minute tour around the lake with a German family (tour highlights are pre-recorded in several languages. It was money well spent to see the castle from the water and get some relaxing water time.
Back in the marina, I took a walk on the path alongside the lake, stopping to sit awhile on a swinging bench.
I watched the swans and ducks dive for their lunch and counted my blessings on being able to travel and have these wonderful experiences.
All the contemplation made me hungry, so I walked back to the center of town and tried Kibinai – meat pastry, a traditional Karaites offering. They were as good as meat pies go, but the pastry was a bit dry for my tastes. But if ever in Trakai, you at least need to try one or two.
The bus ride back to Vilnius was uneventful. I walked the short distance from the bud depot back to the apartment slowly to savor what little time I had left in the city. My time in Vilnius has come to end as has my summer adventure. It’s time to load up my backpack and ready myself for the trip home that starts tomorrow morning. I have a flight back to Stockholm to make my connection to London and then back to Dallas. I’ll be in transit a little over 24 hours, so it will give me a lot of time to reflect on how spectacular these last two months have been. Thank you for traveling along with me.