One of the big problems of writing this so far in advance of posting is that things tend to lose their timeliness. At the time for writing this in my hotel room it is June 14th 2016. For Brits this date means nothing, but for Lithuanians today marked the 75th anniversary of the first mass deportation of their citizens to Siberia by Soviet invaders. We only really took note of it because of a concert in the cathedral square where Lithuanian flags were on show alongside Ukrainian and EU flags.
On this day 35,000 people were sent to their death. This is 10% of all Lithuanian civilian casualties and 50% of the civilian casualties suffered by Britain and her colonies in the whole of World War Two.
We, as Brits, have no idea what things like this feels like. In fact, we must be one of the very few nations in Europe who do not have natives alive that know what it is like to be occupied by invading forces. All I know is that this country finds new ways to move me.
Anyway, back to less preachy blog content.
When I was looking into what to visit on this trip to Lithuania there were two definite things that I wanted to hit up: the Hill of Crosses and the Island Castle of Trakai. Thanks to the cheap and reliable transport system in Lithuania we were able to make today’s return bus trip between Vilnius and Trakai for just over 3€. I swear I pay this much for a one-way trip within Zone 1 on the London Underground.
As if I didn’t need convincing about Lithuania being 30% forest, the bus station of Trakai is on a fucking lake. In fact the bulk of the town of Trakai is on a peninsular and surrounded by water and forest.
It’s a bit of a walk from the bus stop to the bridge connecting the castle to the mainland. The signs say 1900m, but I swear it was a fair bit longer. Maybe that was because instead of taking the direct route we made a right turn so we could follow the waterline. Worth it for the views. Okay, it isn’t Bled (then again what else is) but the sheer amount of sky and the clearness of the lake still have to give you pause.
That first view that you get of the Trakai Island Castle is special. It just feels like one of those impossible structures and it is so incredibly red. Turns out it is red because the original castle was pretty much destroyed after an invasion and then general falling into disrepair. The majority of what we see now is because of extensive renovation and reconstruction conducted in a joint effort by Lithuania and the Kremlin. The reconstruction was effectively finished in the mid-1980s.
Yes there is a disconnect between then vibrant red bricks and the original grey stonework, but they have done an axing job of revitalising this castle. It raises the question of whether this is still Trakai Island Castle or if it is a modern construction. For me, I think that whatever helps the Lithuanian people is good with me. Since this castle is such a point of national pride and has helped generate income for the area then it can’t be a bad thing.
After venturing around the castle we partook in some kibinai (a fist sized Cornish pasty like pastry filled with lightly spiced meat) at one of the restaurants sitting on the edge of the lake. We managed to get ourselves a perfect view of the castle and just wiled away a few hours before making our way back to Vilnius.
For dinner we headed to Bernelių Užeiga, a Lithuanian cuisine place next to the Opera House as recommended by the Vilnius In Your Pocket guide.
I have having serious issues with any menu that showcases Lithuanian cuisine. Like when I was Japan (especially that ramen place in Kyoto), I just want to eat everything on the menu. Having a food list on the blog actually becomes quite help there.
Cold beetroot and cream soup (aka borscht) it was and it was lovely. I think that was more down to the very generous dollops of cream in the soup rather than the beetroot itself. I can really see myself having this for dinner on a war summer day where I have no interest in going anywhere near a hot appliance. Not entirely sure about the roast potatoes given as a side dish… I just dipped them in the soup. Maybe this was a faux pas, but I don’t think anyone noticed.
There are two fish from the list that I have been trying to find from the food list whilst in Lithuania: carp and pike. Neither of these are fish that we tend to eat in the UK (not sure why as they can certainly be found in our waterways) but I know that pike at the very least is eaten in the Baltics (carp is more a polish thing, but I live in hope).
In this dish the pike fillet was fried and served with pickled carrot and beetroot, mashed potato and some kind of cream sauce with peas. I am not the biggest fan of pickled beetroot, but the pike itself went down a treat. It’s a bit like haddock, but there is this richer taste that I can’t quite put my finger on. It might be the sort of taste you get with carnivorous fish as I recall having grouper when I went to Australia. I’d definitely eat is fish if I saw it on a menu in the UK.
Another advantage to eating pike? They are horrible fish known to eat ducklings. I have had some form of revenge on behalf of the lost ducklings.