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Belgian royals take a Baltic break

March 22, 2006
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A warm welcome from President Adamkus and his wife Alma more than made up for the frosty temperatures that greeted Belgium's King Albert and Queen Paola when they arrived in Lithuania on Wednesday. Indeed the scene seemed more like a Christmas fantasy than an official state visit as the four friends walked across a snow-covered bridge into the picturesque Trakai Castle. The magnificent structure, which dates back to the 14th century, was the birthplace and home of Lithuania's most famous ruler, Vytautas Didysis.

He built the castle in the middle of a lake, making it virtually impervious to attack from foreign invaders. And seven centuries later the site still holds a certain fascination for heads of state, as King Albert proved when he arrived at its impregnable walls. A group of press photographers who went along to document the visit got something of a surprise when the Belgian royal produced his own professional camera and started taking some souvenir snaps.

And he's not the only foreign guest who will be taking a few commemorative pics in Lithuania this year, as the country is rapidly becoming a popular tourist destination. Ever since becoming a member of the European Union in 2004, the nation's economy has been growing rapidly and, as a result, increasing numbers of tourists have been discovering the white beaches of its Baltic coast and the bohemian pavement cafes of the capital city, Vilnius.

Holidaymakers who opt for something a little different by choosing Lithuania over better-known destinations like Croatia and the Czech Republic soon find that its people are among the friendliest in Europe. Their openness to foreign visitors is underlined by that fact Vilnius is the only city in the world to have erected a statue in honour of legendary American rocker Frank Zappa.

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Photo: AFP
A visit to the country's legendary Trakai Castle was a high-point of the two-day tour. The lake surrounding the magnificent structure was frozen over and covered in snow when Albert and Paola arrived
Photo: Rex
King Albert and his wife Paola take in the sights of Vilnius

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