Trakai Island Castle


I am in Lithuania for a basketball tourney and I took time out to visit the famous tourist attraction. The castle is located on a small island in a lake about 30 kilometers outside of the capital Vilnius. My friend Metin and his driver Hakan, were gracious hosts and they showed me the site.

It was very strange in that Lithuania looks very much like my home of northern Michigan. With the mixed pine forests, rolling hills, and numerous lakes, I felt like I was back in my beloved Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But we don’t have castles from the 14th century! What a juxtaposition in my psyche.

The castle is completely renovated and several of the rooms are now used to house museum pieces and explain the history of the site. There is also a small restaurant serving a pasty-like local delicacy. It gave me a feeling of how it must have been so long ago. It would have been quite scary to live in the castle, surrounded by miles of thick forests. The castle was sacked by the Teutonic Knights (Germans) in 1377 and the site of civil war between LIthuanian ruling brothers.

I spent some time in the stocks (below) and want to take one back for my school. It would serve as a deterrent for bad behavior. 🙂 The place must be even more beautiful in the summer.

A big thanks to Metin for an interesting afternoon!

Great End To the Day

Ocean, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

Last night after work, my daughter Ocean and I went to the Lido Beach on Great War Island. The island is in the middle of the Sava River, just upstream from Ada Ciganlija, near the Belgrade suburb of Zemun. During the summer months, the Serbian army erects a portable, pontoon bridge so people can cross and swim on the beach on the north tip of the island. During the other months, the small island is a Serbian military base and nature reserve for birds. It is called, Veliki Ratno Ostrva (Great War Island) because it was a strategic military point for the conquest or defense of Belgrade.

It is very shallow and no white sand, turquoise water of the Adriatic, but it does have a cool vibe and with temperatures over 100F, it was just as good as any Caribbean beach.

After a busy day at school with multiple meetings and the suffocating heat wave w are experiencing, it was nice to go to the beach, cool off, and just hang out with Ocean. She didn’t like the shells and rocky bits, but after awhile, got used to it. We bought some popcorn and then headed home. It was a brief respite from the busy school and family life I have.

A Relaxing Day

We took a day trip to Diaporos Island, the largest of the nine islands off the coast near our hotel. The boys enjoyed snorkeling and exploring the island. It was very relaxing. The islands and the area remind me of the Mochima National Park in Venezuela. The blue waters and hot, dry climate are reminiscent of our times there. I was not impressed with the amount of garbage on the bottom of the sea and on the islands themselves. A cleanup and an environmental consciousness needs to be brought forth in this area.

We left Vourvourou for a day in Thessaloniki. We packed up and said goodbye to the Ekies Resort. I would highly recommend the hotel. It was perfect for kids with a pool, sandy beach in a protected cove, and other stuff for them to do like a trampoline, billiards, etc. The food was delicious and the design of the rooms, restaurant, and beach front was perfect! We would definitely go back.

It is nice to have beaches like this a day’s drive from Belgrade. I can see why so many Serbs travel to Greece for the summer holidays. It would be like driving from Michigan to Cancun, Mexico in one day.

Latest Reading: “Island Practice” by Pam Belluck

I just finished reading this account of Dr. Tim Lepore (pronounced peppery), a general family medical doctor on the island of Nantucket. The book is a well-written journalism piece by Belluck, a New York Times reporter. Lepore is quite a character, that puts his patience first, and at 67, a stark example how the financial structure of healthcare is changing in the USA. I am from a small town in the isolated northern part of Michigan and can relate to Nantucket, a small island 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. It is a small town hospital struggling to stay alive in the face of rising costs. Many hospitals are facing the same challenges.

I was particularly interested in Dr. Lepore’s research into tick-born diseases. He is an expert because Nantucket has an overpopulation of deer and hence, one of the highest rates of tick-caused diseases like Lyme Disease. I learned that the baby ticks pick up bacteria or parasites from feeding on mice. As the ticks grow, they change to deer and come in contact with humans. The deer allow the ticks to have enough sustenance to produce baby ticks. There are deer on Nantucket because in the 1920’s, a boat saw a deer swimming off the coast and they rescued the buck and set it on the island. A few years later, two does were imported from Michigan and today, there are thousands of deer on the island. Dr. Lepore found that the white-footed mouse has blood flooded with parasites and the mice had lots of deer ticks feeding on them, but no dog ticks. The major diseases are Lyme, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis. Being from Upper Michigan, I have a special interest in ticks and my wife always freaks out when she finds them on the kids. We have found quite a few on us this spring and summer in Belgrade, but the diseases associated with them are rare here and there are no deer in Belgrade. Even on Nantucket, of the 2,500 hospital visits they get a year of suspected tick cases, only about 10 percent were actually diseases. The treatment is heavy antibiotics.

Another part of the story was the living conditions on the island. Nantucket is known for tourism and extremely rich summer residents. It has an extremely high cost of living and for the permanent residents, there is much poverty due to the seasonal employment nature of the economy combined with the high cost of living and the isolation from the mainland. There is a lot of alcohol and drug abuse and depression. Some of this is also caused by the great income disparities between the locals and the tourists/summer residents. I read with interest about rash of teen suicides at Nantucket High School and the struggles with chemical dependency the counselors and teachers face with the students. The scourge of alcohol and drugs reminds me of small towns in Northern Michigan. Much potential is wasted due to excessive drinking.

Dr. Lepore is very opinionated and insightful. One of the things I am struggling with is children spending too much time watching television and playing video games. Lepore says, “I have this thing about books – you read, you can create the world.” … “In a video game it makes the world for you. You’re a watcher, not a participant. Unplugging the computer is the only way we can get her (referring to his niece) off the internet.”

The book was a fast read. There are plenty of characters on the island that come to see Dr. Lepore and it keeps it interesting. There are lots of topics covered too, like abortion, gun collecting, marriage, raising kids, immigrant stories, etc.

I have a friend from Nantucket and I will email him and see what he thinks of the book. I’ll report back on this post if there is anything relevant.



He tested the white-footed mice and found their blood flooded with parasites, and it ws