If you’re in Vilnius and want to get out of town for a bit, historic and picturesque Trakai is an easy day-trip and a pleasant place to spend a Saturday. Well, any day really, but Saturdays offer a quirky little extra: brides.
As we amble along Trakai’s main street, several wedding-decorated cars drive past, horns blasting. Weddings are important in Lithuania. For historic reasons, says Karolina, our guide on this lovely August day. ‘Family has always been an important structure of the community,’ she continues. ‘At one time essential to its survival.’ A bride and groom then, is a symbol of optimism.
Weddings are steeped in traditions – old and new. One such tradition is that a groom must carry his bride across at least nine bridges. Hence Trakai’s appeal: during our few hours in town, we spotted lots of brides being carried across the bridges between Trakai and its restored Gothic island castle.
What’s a fairy-tale island castle without an enchanted lake? Lake Galvé has a whopping 21 islands and numerous myths associated with it. About mermaids. About love and loss and tragedy. And Lake Galvé is of course haunted. As is the castle.
Mermaids or not, Lake Galvé is a lovely place to while away a few hours. Pedalos or rowing boats are for rent:
The Karaite of Trakai
Trakai was founded by Grand Duke Gediminas in 1337. At least, that’s the year it’s first mentioned in the chronicles of the Teutonic Knights. Later that century, another grand duke relocated an ethnic group from Crimea to Trakai: the Karaite (also known as Karaim).
Arriving in town, you can’t help but notice the colourful wooden houses lining the street. Green, yellow, red, orange – and, oddly, all with three windows facing the street.
Nothing odd about it, says Karolina. These are Karaite houses, and the windows have a purpose: one is for God, one is for the Grand Duke, and one is for family and friends.
The Karaite have kept their unique traditions, religion and language.
The language is Turkic (not Turkish, although Turkish is also a Turkic language), and sounds like this:
Quite melodious, I think – and sadly, on the verge of extinction.