about 30 minutes away from Vilnius is Trakai, a lakeside (multi-lakeside?) getaway known for its island castle. the little booklet i got says the Island Castle is the most visited place in Lithuania, with nearly 300,000 tourists per year. it was so nice today, with the lovely weather and minimal crowds. good luck in high season, y’all! (but it’s definitely worth it if you have a day to spare in Vilnius.)
Lithuania is planning to join the eurozone in 2015. the litas is pegged to the euro (€1 = 3.45280Lt) but i would expect prices to jump once the change happens.
there are bus and train departures from Vilnius (the main bus and train stations are located right next to each other); the bus is infinitely more convenient due its more frequent departures and drop-off location closer in to the old part of Trakai. i took the bus round trip, 6Lt each way; pay the driver when you board. note that if you take the train, be sure to get off at Trakai, NOT Senieji Trakai (Old Trakai).
the bus i was on this morning had barely any ventilation (despite having wifi!), but luckily the afternoon one had windows that opened. be warned!
once you reach the Trakai stop, exit the bus and follow the road to the right, the one that has the white column. that’s the main road (Vytauto g.) that will lead you up the strip of land to all the goodies. if you’re arriving by train, you’ll find yourself a bit further south.
a good 5-10 minute walk along Vytauto will lead you to the retro-modern-looking Tourist Information office on the left hand side, opposite from the Iki grocery store at number 69. i picked up a free pamphlet there that had a map of the city with a suggested walking path and information about sights along the way. i asked about bike rentals and despite what i read on the internet somewhere, they do not rent bikes there; the bike rental is back down by the bus station (although i think i saw a sign for another place about halfway). however, i found that unless you want to go quite a bit further afield, though, getting around by foot was just fine. if you are driving, there seemed to be plenty of parking lots on the north side of town with spots going for about 10Lt.
the local specialty is kibinai, which do indeed remind me of Cornish pasties. there is a chain of famous restaurants called Senoji Kibininė — i went to the original at Karaimų g. 65, past the bridges for the island castle. i got three, a mutton, chicken/ham/cheese, and a chicken and mushroom (my favorite). all of this including drink cost less than 25Lt (~$10). i probably should have only gotten two (they’re larger than i expected) but i managed (barely) to finish. note the cranberry drink was not what i expected — it was thick and kinda goopy!
man i went a little overboard this time. i really do find myself instagramming more and more and taking pictures with my real camera less and less. i basically followed the suggested walking route in the back of the booklet i got at the TI.
if you can, get there early when the crowds are still making their way up. i’m so rarely surrounded by nature all alone, and it was truly a treat.