Trakai (17 June 2013)
Visiting a new country for me means having to learn to at least pronounce place names as accurately as possible. Learning to pronounce foreign words also means having to learn how letters are used and arranged to represent the sounds of the language. In Lithuania, I learnt that “ai” in Lithuanian is pronounced like “ay”. Hence Trakai is pronounced something like “truh-kay”.
The historic city of Trakai is part of a historical national park and a popular day trip from Vilnius. It is an interesting place to visit especially to find out a little about the Karaites, a Jewish sect. Unfortunately, the museum that could have given me a crash course on Karaite culture was closed the day I visited the city. Nevertheless, the city still retained many colourfully distinctive triple-windowed wooden Karaite houses.
There is even a Karaite kenesa or synagogue but I did not get to visit it.
I did find out from Wikipedia that the Karaites, unlike the more mainstream Rabbinic Jews, believe that the Hebrew Bible is the sole source of religious law and theology. The Rabbinic Jews also believe in the authority of subsequent works such as the Talmud.
The main tourist attraction in Trakai however is the Trakai Island Castle which is a castle on an island in Lake Galvė. The island is connected to the lake shore by a bridge. Trakai was once an important centre in the Lithuanian grand duchy and the castle was built for strategic reasons.
The castle is now a museum and showcases life in Trakai during its heyday.
I got to try some cepelinai when I was at Trakai. This is a local potato dumpling which is filled with minced meat and served with a sour cream sauce and bacon rinds. The waitress gave me the option of having some overnight cepelinai. I was surprised but she said that it was more flavourful like that. I took her suggestion and ordered myself some overnight dumplings for lunch. They were pretty good I must say.
I wish I had chosen a better day to visit Trakai. It was a Monday when I was there and the Karaite Ethnographic Museum was closed. A man was standing at the museum entrance with the door wide open when I walked past and I was hopeful that maybe I could visit it after all. I asked him whether the museum was open that day and he replied no in a fashion I would normally associate with soldiers in 1940s Germany or Russia. Then just as I was walking away I heard the museum door slammed shut behind me. I felt so welcomed.
Nevertheless, I did enjoy the walk up and down the main street between the bus station and the castle. I did not find the castle particularly outstanding, but the houses along the way were really quite charming. I think I can live in one except that I will not want to spend too much time in the rooms with windows facing the street.
There are probably more to discover in the area, but I have to admit that I had not done enough homework before I went to Trakai. There seems to be a lot more in the national park and I am quite curious about the Karaites. However, unless I can find a very good reason to, I am not sure that I will make the effort to go back there. I think I can find out more about the Karaites elsewhere, like in Israel.