Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Latvia's Switzerland

No, not tasty cheese, huge mountains and dubious financial accounts...

After leaving Riga, we took the "bus" (more like a converted minivan with about 10 more people on it than seats) to Sigulda, Latvia. It was nice to visit the "Switzerland of Latvia" and get away from the so-so location of Riga. For me especially certain parts of Riga were nice but there was just way too many strip clubs and gambling establishments and general unsavoryness hovering just on the perimeter of Old Town to get real excited about the overall quality of the town. (Becca's take: Surprisingly, I actually liked Riga better than Tallin despite the strip clubs, etc. Though the old town is no where near as preserved or complete as Tallin's it just seemed to have more energy and vitality.)

Anywho, back to Sigulda. It was a nice getaway location for two and a half days as we spent the time out hiking the various hills (including one that included a stairwell that was 456 steps high!) and exploring the various historical locations along the paths (more on that shortly). Both days included hikes of at least 20k and left us hungry for the tasty pizzeria we found in town. (thanks for the recommendation, D&R!)

Sightseeing highlights included visting the Gutmanis Cave, the largest cave in the Baltics and home of quite a few pieces of folklore. The particularily impressive part was seeing all the family shields and initials carved into the cave from as far back as the early 1700's (though then seeing the JD loves RT on the same wall lost some of the effect). The spring water is also known for curing wrinkles. Becca decided to splash some on both of us; we'll let you know if it works in about 20 years; now only if there was some magical tonic to get rid of gray hairs...

The other two highlights were two very different set of castle ruins, both across the Gauja River Valley from one another. The first we visited was the Sigulda Castle Ruins. Built by German Crusaders in the early 1200's, these stood as a barrier against the Teutonic invaders until it was destroyed during the Great Northern War. It was amazing to see ruins that had been untouched (save for some basic preservation work) for over three hundred years. Quite impressive to see also what parts of the castle had survived and what had not over the 800 plus years of existence.

From there we moved on to the Turaida Museum Reserve, which included the Turaida Castle (built as a fortification for the Gauja River Valley) and a variety of other historical buildings. This was quite a contrast to the Sigulda Castle Ruins as the Turaida Castle has been rebuilt (or in many cases just built upon the old ruins) which loses quite a bit of his historical impressiveness. Much like Riga's Old Town, it's hard to get as excited about places that have historical importance when much of the historical presence there has now either disappeared or has been built over. As the link above describes, it is much more impressive from a distance than up close.

We even found some time during the trip to Sigulda to have an actual "nice" dinner. Upon arriving and hiking about a mile (thank goodness for reasonable sized bags!) to our hotel (Hotel Aparjods), Becca and I both crashed out (it had been pretty hot) and found ourselves spending the latter part of the afternoon watching the german feed of the Tour de France after which point it was dinner time and neither of us felt particularily inspired to head to town. So we cleaned ourselves up, put on our Sunday Best (which is the same as every other day) and went to the nice restaurant at the hotel where we split a bottle of wine and I had a tasty Elk dish that was a local delicacy. (Becca had decided it had been about a month since she had had a 'real' sit-down meal and wanted to feel like a grown up again. The hotel was nice, but smaller than you expected and in a random location behind a strip mall. Since it was 1.5 km to the town (with groceries and pizzeria) and about 3 km to the trail heads, we got lots of extra exercise.

We're off via bus to Klaipeda, Lithuania and then via ferry and bus to five days here.

Jealousy may commence in three, two, one...


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, the joys and pleasures of a good meal. And what scenery! These are going to be great stories for your kids someday. :)