Trakai Castle, Lithuania

Trakai Island Castle, Lithuania

Trakai Castle is located on an island in Lake Galvė, 28 kilometres outside of Vilnius. It was begun in the 14th century and completed by 1530. Trakai was a strategic centre for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which once stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, and almost as far east as Moscow. Trakai Castle fell into ruin from the 17th century. A major reconstruction was undertaken in the 20th century, mostly in the 50s and early 60s in the period of Soviet occupation of Lithuania. It is today the only complete reconstruction of a Grand Duchy of Lithuania castle.

Vilnius, Lithuania

In Gròtthúss Hotel, VilniusHere I am having breakfast in the courtyard of Gròtthúss Hotel in Vilnius, Lithuania. It is in one of two former Jewish ghettos in the old city. In 1939, before the Soviet Union and then Nazi Germany invaded Lithuania, Jews made up 35 percent of the population of Vilnius. After the Holocaust, their numbers are now miniscule, and only one synagogue functions in the city where formerly there were a hundred.

Grand Courtyard, Vilnius UniversityVilnius University is the oldest university in the Baltic states, having been founded in 1579. The national poet of Ukraine, Taras Shevchenko, attended here, from 1828 to 1831, and there is a plaque of him in commemoration. Pictured is the Grand Courtyard of Vilnius University. Seeing it made me think of the Great Court Run at Trinity College, Cambridge. This quadrangle does have a bell tower, but I do not know if anyone has tried to run around it in the time it takes the bell to toll twelve o’clock.

St. Anne's Church, VilniusSt. Anne's Church, in Vilnius’s Old Town, was completed in 1500 and is a brilliant example of the Flamboyant Gothic and also Brick Gothic style. In our times, this was the site of the earliest public demonstration against the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. On August 23, 1987, instead of going home after services, congregants gathered by the adjacent monument of Adam Mickiewicz to protest. Although the gathering was broken up by the militia, the fuse was lit. Two years later to the day, around two million people formed a human chain across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania demanding freedom and independence, and soon thereafter the Soviet Union collapsed.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine flagsWheels up today, for a trip of a lifetime to the Baltic countries, Poland, and Ukraine. Tallinn is first, then Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Krakow, and Lviv. A very emotional reunion will happen in Lviv region, as the descendants of Ivan Taras and Maria Kulyk meet for the first time after having been divided by immigration for almost 90 years. I look forward to seeing a bit of four fascinating countries which are new to me. Bon vol!