Lithuania 2011: Trakai Castle

I was woken up far too early again this morning and took my time getting going.

I got to the bus station just in time to be told at the desk that the bus was about to leave, I had to hurry and to buy the ticket from the driver. I hurried, found the platform, stared at the driver but he didn’t open the door, he just pointed at the queue on the next platform and drove off.

According to the timetable I’d been given, there were plenty more buses. I decided on the 10.30 and went to see what there was to look at around the station.

I saw a couple of trains, prowled the station, discovered that trains are listed by track and platform (the airport train is Platform IV but track 7) and found a supermarket. I got some bread and a milk slice and went back to the bus station.

Waiting for my bus, I realised I could hear English. Three women were discussing the Trakai bus. I asked if the bus at platform 28 was the one. They said it did go there but it was the slow bus. The 10.40 at platform 29 was the fast bus.

I sat and waited for the bus and talked to one of then. She was visiting the other two who live here teaching English and all three of then were retired teachers from Toronto.

I successfully got on the 10.40 and bought my ticket from the driver and when I went to sit down, they incited me to join then for the day. The visitor was Coral, the one in green was Georgina, who was planning to bring her class to Trakai Castle and Suzanne was the ringleader of the group who’d invited me.

We spent the journey discussing safety procedures for nuclear reactors, earthquake drill and the apparent missiling of Libya. Suzanne and Georgina had spent a few years living in Japan and Georgina had lived in Sendai.

The bus station wasn’t so much a station as a deserted car park with some boards up. The driver pointed us in the direction of the town and we started a routemarch. It was cold. Trakai is on a peninsula between three lakes; three lakes so frozen that people were ambling around on the ice and the air was much colder than in Vilnius.

Trakai is well known for the Karaim, an ethnic minority brought in from central Asia six hundred years ago as private bodyguards to the Grand Duke who used to own the town. The town centre is lined with their bright green and yellow wooden houses, just like the ones in Turku.

We scurried up to the castle and stopped for coffee (or hot chocolate) just before the bridge. The Canadians also had kabinas, described in my guidebook as “a crescent-shaped pastry filled with grey meat that unleashes a deadly drip of hot fat after a few bites”. They were pretty from the outside and the pastry was apparently wonderful but you don’t want to look at the inside as you eat then. These ones poured out liquid and were very oniony.

Kabinas eaten, we crossed the bridge to the castle on the island. There were two tone-deaf children making a hideous noise on recorders on the other side and plenty of people using the frozen lake instead of the bridge to cross.

The castle was once a stronghold of Lithuania and Trakai its capital at one point. The castle was ruined a few hundred years ago and restored throughout the 20th century. It is still one of Lithuania’s symbols and foreign dignitaries are taken there to be entertained in the Great Hall.

From the outside, it’s a proper castle of red brick, with watch towers and walls and a keep and everything. In the inner fortress there’s a courtyard with wooden walkways all along the inside and it’s now a national museum. The outer fortress has a museum about mediaeval life, with furniture and a hunting room and “an eminently missable history of pipe-smoking throughout the ages”. It was a very pretty and very interesting castle and it was very warm and cosy.

By the time we came out, the sun was emerging and everything looked even prettier. We spent a while in a souvenir hut by the lakeside. Coral bought some amber earrings and Georgina tried on hundreds of interesting hats before Suzanne talked her into buying a green knitted one with flaps.

We ambled back to the bus station. The Vilnius minibus was about to leave but there were no seats. The 3.15 bus didn’t show up (possibly only a weekday bus) and nor did the 3.40. But the 3.55 did. It was already pretty full but that was ok. In Lithuania, you just pack people into the aisle. I finished up standing on the back steps where i had quite a lot of room and two seats to lean against.

It felt like a much longer journey back. I couldn’t see very much because backpackers had hung up a suit bag over the back door but I didn’t recognise what I could see. Coral and Suzanne, who’d both had seats, fell asleep.

It was 4.45 by the time I got in. I ate my bread and the last of my cheese and I suppose I should pack at some point.

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