The plan for today was to look around a bit more in Riga and in the afternoon I would go to an old Soviet bunker and fire an AK-47 but, after thinking things over for a while we figured out it might be wiser to switch plans so, at the spur of a moment we signed up for a tour to the national park in Sigulda.
Normally I avoid tours like the plague because there is too little freedom, they take too much time and take you to too many place that are not interesting, as some kind of diversions from the main goal. However, I realized that the tour would very likely cover exactly the same things as we would see on our own and probably not too much filler, so we went for it. For whatever reason we were the only ones going and the guide, Zane, was very nice so it turned out to be a good decision.
Sigulda is the home of one of few bobsleigh tracks in the Soviet union so we had a look there and I got to try the summer training bobsleigh. It was perhaps not as nice as I hoped but I would have regretted it if I didn’t do it. Yini, always cautious of fast rides, avoided it though which was likely best for her. After that we took a much slower ride, the cable car across the Gauja river, the view from the cable car is quite spectacular.
Getting ready for the bobsleigh ride
View from the cable car
On the other side of the valley we walked down towards the river on Lativa’s only mountain road to reach some caves. I happen to like caves and other dark places so naturally I was overjoyed to find first a smaller, then a larger cave in red sandstone. Sandstone being very soft is of course very inviting for people wanting to leave a mark, so nearly every exposed area of sandstone has someone’s name carved in it. In the biggest cave many of the carvings are very beautiful with family crests and such – the people apparently liked scribbling on walls in the old times too, since some were marked with the year they were made.
From the caves we continued back up the mountain to Turaida castle, similar to the one in Trakai, it is a red brick castle with several turrets and towers in different shapes and sizes. Castles are nice and all but there is a feeling of, seen one, seen them all about this kind of place. What sets this one apart however, is the view from the top to the highest tower. Perhaps not as spectacular as from the cable car but instead you had a view of the rest of the castle against the background of the forest and river.
There was not time for much more than that so we moved back to the center of the town and got on a train back to Riga where our guide surprised us by buying us a drink each; for Yini some tea and for me a shot of Black Balsam, the traditional Latvian jet fuel.
Having walked around in the old towns of both Riga and Vilnius and visited red brick castles in nearby national parks I can conclude that the point for best old town goes to the more lively Riga while Trakai scores higher for having the castle on an island rather than a mountain top. So far Lithuania is in the lead thanks to the amazing Hill of crosses, lets see if Latvia has anything to top that.