I’m not necessarily one for plodding around castles and stately homes. The idea of spending hours reading about Kings and Queens I’ve never heard of who lived centuries ago, and of looking at those funny mannequins dressed in period costumes supposedly performing ye olde day to day tasks fills me with dread.
However, a few guys from the hostel were heading to Trakai yesterday, a town near Vilnius, and I was assured there was more to the place than simply a big castle. Thus boyed we awoke early and set out on the 28Km journey west.
And fair play, Trakai is a lovely place, well worth at least a morning of your time. There are essentially two bits to Trakai: first there is the town itself, made up as it is of charming little multicoloured wooden houses which are pleasant enough on the eye, if not surely appalling in their CO2 emissions ratings. And second there is the castle. You might as well do both, and indeed you need to walk through the town to reach the castle. And I suppose its pointless coming all this way and not seeing the castle that Lonely Planet deem significant enough to have put on the cover of the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania guide book, isn’t it?
The castle itself was decidedly ok. Usual underwhelming stuff really: a few rooms with cabinets displaying armour and big swords. A few more rooms filled with period furniture. A few displays of coins. And the obligatory figures in big coats. The castle itself is well kept. Hardly falling to bits. Not sure if its been restored, but if it hasn’t then its certainly been well preserved for a castle built in the 1400s. And if it has then its just another example of historical vandalism from those who abuse the term ‘sensitive restoration’.
My favourite bit was when I got to fire a crossbow. I mean, yes, I’ve got a history degree. A Masters, in fact, and I am typically interested in how people have lived in the past. But apparently give me a crossbow, and all that goes out the window! I was pretty good with it as well. Reckon I’d have held my own defending Trakai’s battlements back in the day.
We had a laugh with the props as well. First I was locked in a cage. Probably the best place for me some days. And then a French lad at our hostel, named Vincent, posed in the stocks, upon which I commented that this is indeed the best place for a Frenchman. Nothing like dredging up a bit of post-colonial rivalry to spruce up a dull morning at a castle!
The only negative point was that after about 11am the place started to fill up with tourists, predominantly groups of 20 or so middle aged Americans with flashy expensive cameras and white chinos and loafers. We’d arrived a little earlier and enjoyed a blissful half hour when we had the place to ourselves, but once these chaps turned up we beat a hasty retreat. Vincent led the way. Naturally. (Another post-colonial joke)
So look, yep, well worth half a day, but I suppose you’d be pushing it to spend a full day there. We didn’t loiter, although we did stop for a light lunch. A traditional Lithuanian dish, I was reassured. Turned out to be a chicken pasty. This isn’t a complaint, mind, it was a very tasty chicken pasty. I just think Sayers (Greggs, for you southerners) might have a bit of a copyright claim coming their way from the Lithuanian people at large.
Its cool, I know a good lawyer.
ADAM’S TOP TIPS FOR A VISIT TO TRAKAI
So, how does one get to Trakai?
Its either a half hour bus ride or a half hour train ride from Vilnius, each costing around 5 Litres (£1.20, ish). Busses leave several an hour. Trains about once an hour. We got the bus there and the train back. Not a lot of difference, but the train was much more spacious. Just ask at the ticket office and they’ll sort you out, lots of people go to Trakai from Vilnius each day.
Smashing. How long should I set aside for it?
Give yourself a full morning. You won’t need a whole day, unless you want to go paddle boating or something similar.
That sounds cool. How much does it all cost?
Getting into the castle cost 15 Litres (£3.50). A go on the crossbow cost 5 Litres (£1.20). A pasty cost about the same, and a pint was about £1.50.
Go early. Once the place is full of camera totin’ yanks you’ll quickly tire of the place. We left Vilnius at 8.30am and we were back for 2pm. I know, you want a lie in. But its well worth getting up early and beating the crowds.