Something outside of Vilnius was calling our name and our way of answering that call was joining an organized excursion. As this involved some heavy historical stuff, we felt we might as well leave the talking to someone who's been there many times while pointing the highlights to us. All we'd do is just look, listen and shoot. It wasn't a large group anyway, just about 10 or so of us visitors that boarded a minibus, each paying 29 euros for the privilege. Our guide was a twenty-something local whose passion, as expected, was basketball.
We drove 28 kilometers west of Vilnius towards Trakai, considered Lithuania's ancient capital. This goes back all the way to the late medieval period, just after Lithuania shed its pagan skin and accepted Christianity, the last European country to do so in 1387. However, the Teutonic Knights (a religious military order supported by the Pope whose mission was to Christianize the pagan Baltic tribes, among others) continued to invade Lithuania. After their defeat at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, Trakai became the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Vytautas Didysis became the Grand Duke.
Lake Galve, one of the many lakes that dot this region, has 21 islands and in the middle of one of them stands Trakai Island Castle - the main reason of this day trip. This is the very castle where Vytautas died while waiting to be crowned as King of Lithunaia. First built sometime in the 14th century, this red-bricked castle follows the Gothic style. It was built in stages and went through sieges from Teutonic Knights and power struggles, eventually razed by the Russians who invaded in 1665. It was left in shambles for so many years. Attempts at reconstruction didn't begin until early 20th century.
|Visitors now walk on a wooden bridge which links to the island castle|
|The Ducal palace|
|Door leading to the inner courtyard of the palace|
|From the inner courtyard, wooden stairs lead visitors|
to the upper floors and galleries
|One of the palace halls now hold plenty of artifacts found during the reconstruction|
|This hall with vaulted ceilings became an instant classroom as our guide narrates history|
|After visiting the castle, visitors either row a boat around the lake . . .|
|. . . or plunge into the waters for a swim|
|While cars have nothing to do with a medieval castle,|
today's royalty wouldn't mind collecting these in their garage
|Even Vytautas would fit very well in this vintage Rolls Royce if he were alive today|
|As for us commoners, we end up with nothing but cheesy moments|