Lithuania - Trakai

AUG 07,2017 - AUG 07,2018 (366 DAYS)

Nature

TRAKAI:

Main Attractions: Trakai History Museum, Kenesa, Trakai Island Castle Museum, Kibinine.

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Duration: 1/2 day. Weather: ONLY bright or sunny day. Avoid very hot or rainy, cold days. Walking distance: 5 km. Facilities: there 2 supermarkets along the main road. There are several kiosks near the bridge leading to the castle. Toilet - ONLY into the castle site (you must pay the entrance fees to use it). Many eateries and restaurants along the main road leading to the castle. Many of them offer the Kibinai (see below). Weather: only during the summer months. Try to time your trip in the middle of the week, to avoid weekend crowds – it does become really busy, especially on nice days and in the summer. Don’t go if it rains – the lakeside walk will cover your legs/clothes in mud.

Getting thereBy bus: from Vilnius Bus Station (Sodų St. 22, tel. 1661), platforms No. 5, 6, 7, 8 (local), 28 and 29 (intercity, via Alytus). Buses to Trakai run approximately 50 times per day (at weekends about 40 times), at intervals of about 10–20 minutes. Price: approx. 2 euros. Duration: 35 minutes ride. www.autobusustotis.lt. From Trakai to Vilnius: platforms 5 and 6.

By train: from the Railway Station (Geležinkelio St. 16, tel. +370 5 233 0088), www.litrail.lt

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.

Walk to the Bus Station/Railway Station from Comfort Hotel LT - Rock 'N' Roll, Kauno g. 14, Vilnius: walk About 10 min or 750 m. Head east on Kauno g. toward Mindaugo g., Continue onto V. Šopeno g., Turn right onto Sodų g. Turn left. Enter the roundabout. Railway station is on the left. Bus Station is on the right.

Introduction: Trakai is an unbelievable historic city with an impressive lake - making it a famous resort in Lithuania. It lies 28 kilometres west of Vilnius. Because of its proximity to Vilnius, Trakai is a popular tourist destination. Trakai is inhabited approx. by 5,500 inhabitants. The UNIQUE feature of Trakai is that it was a melting-pot and preserved by people of SO MANY different nationalities: Karaims, Tatars, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews and Poles lived in this small piece of land. The atmosphere around is very quiet and does not hint of this historical heritage. Presently, 2/3 of the population is Lithuanian, 20% are Polish and the rest are Russians and other minorities. Trakai is a town built on water. The town is surrounded by 200 lakes. The history museum in the castle, our main destination in this day tour, was established in 1962. Festivals and concerts take place in the island castle in summer. Choose a sunny day for this visit. You won't believe - but this small, modest city was the cradle of Lituanian monarchy and the capital of its Dukes. Today, is is a retreat from the NOT SO bustling city of Vilnius. Its main assets, for the foreign tourist - are walks around the beautiful area or yacht trips on one of the numerous lakes.

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The Karaims: Karaims are a small Turkish-speaking, a special and unique religious and ethnic group which was transported to Trakai by Grand Duke Vytautas in year 1397 and 1398 from Crimea (nowadays, in Ukraine). The  Karaims were granted separate self-government.  From then, Trakai remained a notable center of Karaim cultural and religious life. The Karaite religion is a derivative of Judaism. Some famous scholars were active in Trakai in the 16th and 17th centuries, all of them with pure Jewish names:  Isaac ben (ben = son of) Abraham of Trakai (1533–1594), Joseph ben Mordecai Malinovski, Zera ben Nathan of Trakai, Salomon (Shlomo) ben Aharon of Trakai, Ezra ben Nissan (died in 1666) and Joshuah ben Judah (died In 1658). The local Karaim community, the backbone of the town's economy, suffered severely (like the Jews) during the Khmelnytsky uprising against the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the massacres of 1648. By 1680, only 30 Karaim families were left in Trakai. Early in the 18th century wars, famines, and plagues reduced the Karaims to three families. By 1765 the Karaim community increased to 300. Trakai's Karaim Kenesa (synagogue ) is a rare example of a surviving wooden synagogue with an interior dome. Kibinai, the traditional Karaim pastry, can be found everywhere in Trakai and other place around Lithuania:

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Our itinerary in Trakai: The suggested route below would give a first-time visitor in Trakai a good idea of what the most important landmarks in this small town are. With our face to the bus station - turn RIGHT (north) and walk along the lake and the asphalted street. Vytauto g. It is almost 2 km. walk from the town stations to Trakai Island Castle Museum – with very nice walk along the colored houses of the Trakai town and the lakes’ shores. For anyone with average fitness it shouldn't take more than 40-45 minutes. The signs in the railway station show you the general direction and it’s really impossible to get lost. Walking along Vytauto galve - note the old,colored, wooden, Karaite houses or huts along this picturesque street (especially on your left, the lake side). Karaim houses always have three windows facing the street. In the Middle Ages, having so many windows showed your status, since you had to afford to pay window tax. According to legend Karaites used to build their houses dedicating one window to God, a second to Vytautas (the ruler), and the third one for the owner himself. In reality it was all about money – windows could only be installed after a tribute was paid to the duke. Therefore, less wealthy residents had one or two windows on the street side.

Vytauto g. #93:

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Vytauto g. #51:

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After passing Maironio gatve on your right - you see the Orthodox Church of Nativity of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary on your right. The widest section of this historic area was  inhabited by Catholics and is also rich in architectural variety: different building sizes, shapes of the roofs and so on. One of the main accents of this part of the old town is this traditional Orthodox church:  

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Lake shores on your way along Vytauto g. to the Castle:

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Nearly before we slight to the east - heading to the Castle Island - Vytauto g. changes to Karaimų g. On our right, at Vytauto g. #5 we see a blue wooden house: the headquarters of the Trakai Historical Park. It was built in the first half of the 19th century by Dominicans who resided in the nearby Peninsula Castle. The symmetrical one-storey log house with vertical boards nailed around was common to this period. Nearly 50 years later the Dominican monastery was closed and the building they owned was converted into Trakai county police offices. Soon afterwards the Russian Empire post office began functioning in its place. Lastly, for nearly 100 years (up until 1960) it served as the Vilnius county post office and telegraph, was used to safeguard the archives, and to accommodate postal workers who lived in five of its rooms. The former Post of the Russian Empire is, actually,  on the corner of Karaim and Kęstutis streets. The main facade of the building is facing Karaim Street. On the south side the plot is limited by Kęstučio street, and in the north by the ruins of the Karaimai g.7. The Post Office operated here until 1960, and then the building was adapted to different needs of administrative institutions. Currently, the Directorate of Trakai Historical National Park is located here:

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Beyond (north-east to) the Russian Post Office resides the Trakai History Museum (Trakų istorijos muziejus), Kęstučio g. 4. Open: TUE - SUN: 10.00 - 18.00. MAY-SEP: 10.00 - 18.00, NOV-MAR: 10.00 - 17.00. Mondays - closed. Prices: adults - 8 euros, students/seniors - 4 euros. The museum resides in a former chapel/monastery of the Domenican order. Fortunately it has survived the Soviet occupation from 1944 to 1990. Most of the exhibition in this small museum is of sacred art.

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We continue walking along Karaimu g. (our face to the north-west) and see more wooden houses:

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At Karaimų g. 22, we pass through the Karaite Ethnographic Museum. Three small rooms dedicated to the life, history, culture and memory of the Karaite communities of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. Price: adult - €2, student/senior €1. O Mondays, Tuesdays - closed. Open during the summer months: WED-SUN: 10.00 - 18.00.  NOV-APR: 10.00 - 17.00.

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Before we slight RIGHT (north-east), heading to the bridges leading to the Castle-island - we see this modern, wooden, Karaite house (on our left):

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Approx. at 41 Karaimų g. we turn right (north-east) to approach the Tourist Information Office and the path leading to the bridges:

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Nearby Kenesa (main Synagogue) of the Qaraite Jewish community in Trakai. A rare example of one of the surviving wooden synagogues of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth with an interior dome. It is still in use. Karaite architectural and interior design features can be seen in this unique one-storey wooden structure. It consists of two spaces: main part (for men) and a balcony (for women) supported by four columns. As in other temples of Eastern religions women and men pray separately in the Kenesa and everyone is required to wear a head covering. The Kenesa has an impressive light blue dome shaped ceiling made with eight arches. Geometrical and plant components beautify the interior of the house of prayer. Interestingly, the altar is in the southern part and all burial ceremonies are held with the deceased person's head pointing southward. The wooden Trakai Kenesa was build back in the latter part of the 14th century and endured numerous wars and fires. Today you can see another Karaite temple in Vilnius, in the part of the city called Žvėrynas:

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We pass two bridges and tow lakes on our way from Trakai mainland to the island where the Trakai Island Castle Museum resides. Crossing the first bridge - we awalk with our face to the north-east:

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With the second bridge - we are with our face to the north and the Castle Museum is opposite us:

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on both sides of the second bridge you see giant wooden Totems:

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As we approach the Castle - we see it more clear and more in detail. Towering over the calm waters, it tells the story of the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania and its golden age, when the territory of the country spanned from the Baltic to the Black Sea:

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Entrance to the Trakai Island Castle Museum:

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Trakai Island Castle Museum: Trakai Castle was originally built in the late 1300s to help protect the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and nearby capital Vilnius from crusading Teutonic Knights that plagued the Baltic region. After the troublesome knights were trounced in the Battle of Grunwald, Trakai was no longer needed as a military bastion. Instead, it was refashioned into a ducal palace that remained in use until the end of the 17th century. Interestingly, several different empires and occupiers had a hand in the restoration of Trakai Castle. Work that was begun by Imperial Russia in the early 1900s was continued by Germans and Poles until the end of World War II. Soviet authorities finished the job and established the Trakai History Museum. The end result is surprisingly cohesive and the stuff childhood fantasies. Stone foundations are topped with red brick towers in the French Gothic style and wooden balconies encircle every floor of the soaring ducal palace. Entry prices: €8 Adult, €4 Student/Senior  + Photography permission €1.50.

Trakai - a picture from 1923:

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The castle is located in the middle of the lake and is very picturesque. The entrance is 9 euros. You can see most of the site FREE without payment. 7 euros the paddle boat onto the lake around. The cruise around the castle costs 5 euro per person and goes for 30 minutes. The castle is VERY BEAUTIFUL (especially, in a bright day) and well restored from the outside. Inside, it has many exhibition rooms about the life of the medieval times - and, for us, it was a total disappointment. The castle museum has an extensive collection of artifacts and interesting historical displays about the castle, the town, the country, its history and people. The whole inner courtyard is busy with heavy machines and reconstruction works (AUG 2018). Minimal toilets (under payment). No toilets outside, nearby. If you are used to visiting castles and palaces with elaborate interior designs and décor elements, this castle might come as a disappointment since décor elements have not survived the turbulent twists and turns of historical events. Moreover, you have to buy a separate ticket in order to be able to take pictures inside:

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Better, take a stroll around the castle (1/2 hour walk) and enjoy the pastoral lake shores OR take a paddle boat in one of the numerous lakes around:

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We walked around the castle and enjoyed taking photos from many angles and sides of this mighty complex. The scenery along the lakes' shores - was  very pastoral and relaxing. If you like spending short time in wilderness this is for you:

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You walk back to the bus station or railway station on the same way you've arrived to the Castle. Take the time to sample Trakai cuisine in Kibinine. It is a tradition in Lithuania to eat some kibinai, traditional Karaim pasty and meat dish, whenever a local visits Trakai. Kibinai are Lithuania’s tastiest pastry snack, filled with anything under the sun but usually pork, mutton or chicken. There are even venison, mushroom, spinach-and-curd and chocolate-and-hazelnut versions. Kibinai is very much like an English Cornish pasty. It is also exactly the same as “Empanadas” from northwest provinces of Argentina. Kibinai has become so popular in Lithuania, that many cafes, shops and street vendors offer them as a fast food option. A lot of commentators note that the small size of Karaim community is disproportionate to its strong influence in Lithuanian cuisine. One of the best places to try them is Kybynlar , a restaurant which seems to put a lot of effort into presenting the Karaim culture through their cuisine. Another one is Senoji Kibinine, Karaimu g. 65:

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Try also Cepinilai:

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