Aug 28, 2005
Dec 31, 2005
! I make it to the bottom and, not being one to wait for a trail to emerge, decide to just go straight up the next incline; watching my step so as not to skid backwards, pulling tree limbs out of the way, and using my hands and arms as additional leverage like a gorilla trying to get uphill as fast as possible. And eventually I make it to the top, sweating and breathing in crisp air as fast as possible, and find the ruins of Sigulda Castle. So I rummage around and through a clearing I spot another castle (remember I don't have my guidebook so all this is by discovery and new to me), a bright red castle that gives a harsh, in a nice way, contrast to the forests surrounding it...well, of course, I have to go find that one! This time I find a road with a side path that goes there, passing small caves and a marsh-like park. I can finally see it after 40 or so minutes and again take the path of most resistance and head straight up the hill, not waiting for a clear entrance. I come up the backside of the castle (of course, completely opposite from its entrance) and wander around the defense walls until come around to the front. The castle is Turaida Castle built in the 14th century, it's a red bricked monster, fully intact (mostly due to tourism) and all the buildings are accessible. So I climb round and round up the dimly lit spiral staircase of the watchtower to get a birds eye view of the area. As you walk up, you notice how even with the sun out high it's still rather dim inside and you can imagine it being pitch black at night. The top level affords a 360 degree view of the area and to my surprise there's a nice little sculpture park nearby that I'll have to go check out after this place. In other buildings there are historical museums and artifacts and information about the daily life of the castles old residents. Overall, its pretty interesting. Later I fiddle around at the sculpture park and read a bit (now it's 'Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley - an intriguing look at a world in which Henry Ford and the assembly line-like efficiency are the rulers of the world...very Matrixy plots) before catching a bus back to the train station and then the train back to Riga, where, since Joakim and Nadia have gone, I'll just kick back and relax and get ready to head off to Lithuania tomorrow!
Today I took off for Sigulda, considered the "Switzerland of Latvia" because of its mountains, ski areas, outdoor activities, and respite from city life. I am really looking forward to it because they have a bobsled track where you can actually push off a bobsled and run down the track! I take a local train from Riga and 45 minutes later I'm there in the cool and green mountains. I head directly for the info office for a map and I find out the bobsled track is closed until Sunday! :( :( :( Bummed, really bummed, but not wanting to waste the day I take off for a walk about the area and through the Gauja National Park which is filled with rivers and mountains and medieval castles. After taking a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong peak, and never being one to backtrack, I am forced to slice my way down the steep hillside, watching my step so as not to fall forwards, pushing tree limbs out of the way, and testing for spider webs with my hand and arm stuck out like a football player giving a good stiff-arm