Trakai & Klaipeda: Castles & Spits

July 12, 2017
Currently: in the middle of a love-hate relationship with Photos… and by love-hate, I mean hate.

Lithuania is small but mighty. If this makes any sense at all, it’s got personality.

Little did I know, Lithuania used to be one of the largest countries in Europe back in the 14th century. That lasted a while before two guys with big egos duked it out. An important battleground was the Trakai Island Castle. More on that bad boy in a hot minute.

Lithuania was the first country to declare its independence from the Soviet Union, and I think that in and of itself is the best description of the country as a whole. They have worked their way into full EU and NATO status and are considered one of the fastest growing economies in the EU. In the past 70 years, the country was taken over by various powers Poland, Germany, and Russia. The country was ravaged by war after war, but Lithuanians never gave up the fight for their homeland.

Today the country sits at about 2.8 million people, but I learned that Lithuanians are leaving because the cost of living keeps rising. Case in point, one of the pub crawl organizers was a lawyer specializing in food trade and she didn’t make enough to live comfortably. Hence, she drinks with tourists a couple nights a week. Lithuanians even ‘joke’ that the situation got so bad at one point it was actually cheaper to eat out in restaurants than it was to buy food in the grocery store. I say ‘joke’ because it was reality just last year.

Lithuania surprised me. I didn’t get as much of that Soviet impression as I was hoping for, but I was hypnotized by its charm. It’s got kind a different kind of charm, a rustic charm. Not rustic in the sense of my-realtor-calls-it-rustic or this-screams-joanna-gaines rustic, but don’t-got-no-money-to-fix-this-but-it’s-beautiful rustic. That rustic charm required me to take hundreds of pictures every day of the ‘little things.’ It challenged me as a photographer to capture those moments. I still feel like I missed a lot of good photo opportunities, but at least I’m learning.

Enough of Rambly McGee and on to the juicy stuff: medieval castles! One of the most famous views of Lithuania is the Trakai Island Castle. It was completed around 1409 and was the main center for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. How much more swag would we have with a name like Grand Duchy of America? I digress.

the ruins circa 1866

Legend has it that the duke’s wife complained that she wasn’t close enough to water so he built a castle to placate her. Just for reference, they lived about a mile away. #BourgeoisWorldProblems

Today the castle is to Lithuania as Venice is to Italy. It’s been beautifully reconstructed and makes tourists like me very camera happy.

 

where’s Epona when I need her?
10 rupees for that reference

 

 

The old town of Trakai surrounding it also shows a more realistic side of life for Lithuanians, with real houses that real Lithuanians live in. Authenticity. We tourists go crazy for it.

Oh! And before I forget. Food in four words: meat, potatoes, beets, dill. Verdict: two thumbs up.

Gotta try the cold beet soup. It’s incredible!

 

Stuffed potato dumplings

Onwards we drove to the third largest city of Klaipeda, a city known for its main attraction: the Curonian Spit. Yes, spit. My fifth grade science class failed me too, so here’s a definition.

spit: [noun] a deposition bar or beach landform that develops in places where re-entry occurs

Or in Lena speak, a skinny bit of land created when a river meets an ocean. The Curonian Spit is 98 km long and ranges from 0.4-4 km wide, but about half of it belongs to Russia. It has sand dunes and cute mini museums on the history of the fishing village, Nida. The history traces back to the 10th century where traditional fishermen and early settlers build lighthouses, piers, churches, and schools. We stumbled upon a famous area, where the forest is littered with these hilarious Lithuanian fairytale wood creatures. I present to you my interpretation of Lithuanian fairytales. Sorry not sorry for my failings as an actress 😂

Klaipeda town square

 

Fisherman’s house as it was

 

view from the sand dune

 

that’s Russia behind me!

Our last duty as tourists in Lithuania was complete just outside the town of Siauliai (shoo-lay) by visiting the Hill of Crosses. In the 14th century, people started putting crosses in a place as a sign of peaceful resistance and Lithuanian defiance against oppression. (I love it when I unintentionally reinforce my main takeaway.)

Considering its history, it makes sense that this hill exploded with crosses, even before its inclusion in the USSR. No surprise here, the Russians hated it. They destroyed all crosses three times over. Lithuanians, relentless as ever, replaced the crosses in their seemingly endless war for independence. Crosses of all size and style decorate the hill today, and a single breeze triggers the melodic chiming of rosaries and trinkets hanging from the crosses. The hill contains over ten thousand crosses. Ten thousand crosses. The intensity of the place kind of overwhelms you.

 

 

 

Lithuania is a diamond in the rough. It is spectacular. It is worth the trip. Go, visit, and see what I mean. Form your own impressions and then, please, share them with me. Now…onwards to Latvia!
Lots of love,
Lena

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