Strike me down for saying it, but there aren't that many breathtaking landscapes in the Baltics. The region is too monolithic: flat, wet and 's well, pardon the description 's swampy. Still, there are a handful of postcard-perfect scenes, and you don't have to have a drop of Baltic blood in your body to be enraptured by them. Trakai never fails to suspend my awe, and this time around I had the pleasure of sharing the experience with a medieval princess who had frequented the town in its formative years.
Expectedly, the image of the rebuilt castle surrounded by a sprawling lake had a subduing effect on Arva, and after laying eyes on it she was silent for a long time. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, imagining what was going on in her mind, how she was probably trying to reconstruct the scenes she remembered when she was last here some 600 years ago. How she crossed through the fortress numerous times on her journeys, trying to unite the Baltic tribes in the struggle against the Teutonic invasion and its policy of forceful Christianization. Or how, as she claims, she conspired to slay the treacherous Jogaila, the Lithuanian king of Poland who had sold his soul to the devil.
The tourist season had already arrived, and there were flocks of white-haired Germans emptying out of tall, shiny, double-decker busses. I braced myself for the worse, fearing Arva would confront the descendents of the Teutons with an invective harangue, but nothing of the sort happened. She ignored their presence, preferring to bask in this unadulterated moment of memory. Finally, the princess spoke.
"Can I have the keys to the car for a second?"
I think my skin turned the color of a sheet of paper. "What for?"
"Don't worry," she said. "I just need to get something." She looked at me in the condescending, blueblood way. "Besides, even if I knew how to drive I wouldn't want to be seen behind the wheel of a Golf."
I mumbled in English, "Hey, don't knock it 's that Golf got your fanny here."
I had forgotten that Arva was a student of English, and could understand everything I said. "What does fanny mean?" she asked.
Well, almost everything.
"I'll explain latter," I said, grinning and handing her the car key.
Well, wouldn't you know it, but by giving her the key I had opened a little Pandora's box. Arva returned 10 minutes later, dressed in that medieval gown that she had sported in Kavalrija. Well, what could I say? When in Romeâ€¦
Said differently, leave it to royalty to behave like royalty. Once the feeling is in their blood, you can't extirpate it.
Soon the princess was receiving about as many stares as the castle looming across the water. Remarkably, it wasn't the German tourists who were interested either 's it was the Karaites. Upon seeing Arva, they pressed their faces to the windows, and a couple even stepped out of their clapboard houses on the lakeside. Apparently these dark-haired, swarthy-skinned people, descendants of the honorary guard Duke Vytautas had brought back from the Crimea, instinctively recognized something about the princess.
Arva then said something to them in their tongue 's a rare Turkic language dangerously close to extinction 's and suddenly their curiosity turned to fascination. I only hoped that she wouldn't start making claims about knowing their ancestors, about how she knew this town when it still consisted of huts.
Thankfully, the conversation was short, and judging by facial expressions the Karaites simply complimented Arva on her knowledge of their language, to which she said thanks. Apparently, the princess had something else on her mind.
We walked to the edge of the lake, to the footbridge that leads to the castle. There, out of the multitude of loud-mouthed Germans, a group of four even louder-mouthed Americans appeared. I spotted them far away just by seeing their clothes, but the linguistically gifted Arva picked up on their accent. "Your compatriots are even louder than the Teutons," she whispered to me.
Then she turned to the Yanks.
"Excuse me," she said in a thick accent, "but please can you tell me what is fanny?"