Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sigulda Anyone?

Ron had read about these castles that were a short jaunt from Riga. Angeles assured us it was worth the trip, only an hour and a quarter from Riga. The rail tickets cost us 5 lats for 2 round trips. Quite cheap!. The Riga train station is like a city unto itself. It is like a NYC station with dozens and dozens of restaurants, candy and souvenir shops, and other types of stores offering everything from The Body Shop to practical goods for the locals. We were a bit confused about where the tracks were, but this nice workman in overalls led us to it.

Trains are modern and comfy enough for a snooze on the way; any motion puts me out like a dose of anesthesia. At the other end of the spectrum, the Sigulda train station looks tired and old worldly. Being a tourist draw, the directional signs are quite frequently spaced, though only in Latvian, if you have an idea of where you are going it works. The first stop is always the tourism office. Here there is a young, perky woman who is beside herself with the pleasure of assisting us with a map and route to take. There must have been some residual sleepiness from the train ride. I did not turn and flee when she mentioned that the planned route would take 3 hours to complete. After a second glance at us, a moment’s hesitation, she corrected herself to 4 hours.  Normally, when hearing 4 hours of exertion, I would have pointed out that we were here for the day, not a week.

She must have read my mind, the first stop she marked was her choice of a bakery and the last one we would see in daylight hours or in this lifetime if this 3-4 hour hike did me in entirely. Everything in the bakery looked worthy of a gourmet magazine spread. That is where the appeal ended; what the goods lacked was flavor. At least we were sugared up for our walk. 

We had missed the change of the color of the leaves by about a week or two. There were barely any left for the trees to shed like the last remains of dandruff. With the crispy, but not freezing air, we made our way to a historic Lutheran Church. More for warmth than decoration ideas, we wondered in. We were immediately greeted by the woman who makes sure that all visitors pay something for the privilege of entering. She was successful in talking us into going upstairs where there was a special exhibition. Two dozen pictures were formed entirely from buttons of various sizes, shapes, and colors. St. George slaying the dragon was extremely impressive, but other non-religious themes were incredible in the originality of buttons. Sew I kept trying to find the common thread that would knot them together, but not being able to kept me in stitches.   

With a little twisting, turning, and Mr. Map navigating, we found the first of two castles, appropriately named the New Sigulda Castle and the Old Sigulda Castle. Reaching the new one first is rather disappointing. It looks too modern to be named 'castle', basically because it was built in the nineteenth century for the Kropotkin family. Who are they? Heck if I know. 

Beyond the new castle across some pretty dried up river are the remains of the thirteenth century Old Sigulda Castle.  Photo, photo, snap, snap, still 3 hours to go before this trek is over. Get a move on it.

Our long walk was to take us to a cable car which would bring us in the same county at the next castle. When we finally found it, there was a marathon going on so many areas were roped off. We did see the ‘cable car’ in the distance, but it was really a chairlift. I who am so afraid of heights, stepping on my tiptoes makes me dizzy, was not looking forward to this. Ron went to buy the tickets, showed the map to the young man, but the response was directional movements. This was not the cable car. We had to follow a path to get to it. As we walked away, Ron expressed his gratitude that we did not have to ride that contraption. My relief was expressed in silence. 

With great luck the temperature was brisk, not yet freezing. Across this paddock the size of three football fields and another mile of trails, we found the cable car. We were in luck. It was scheduled to leave in 2 minutes or we would have had to wait for forty-five more. I kept imagining how gorgeous the scenery must have looked just a few weeks ago with the forest trees covered in multi-hued leaves.
At the end of the cable car ride, I was expecting a castle. Strangely, it was visible from the cable car, but not even close to the direction we were headed. I had hopes that the cable could do shift to the right at the last minute at least getting us to the moat, but that was not to be. Once we disembarked, there were trails to follow down, around, down some more and around a whole circuit. I always have this fear that if you go down, eventually you are going to have to go up, up, and up some more. Most of the time it is when you are the most tired, cranky, hungry, and just want to be home. The definition of the Pleasure Principle was now eluding me. 

Yes, the scenery was lovely. We passed a cave where legends formed surrounding a fair maiden and the all the horrors that befell her. You know the usual tale where the woman is victimized, but becomes a great legend for generations thereafter. Eventually, the trail ran out as we came to a two lane motorway. Thinking that this could not be right, we hoped there was a shortcut at the seasonally closed campground across the street. Luckily for us, some young people parked their car in the lot to go explore the cave and relive old legends or create new ones. They assured us the castle was indeed at the top of the hill and the only route was following the road. 

With barely a path that mountain goats could negotiate, we continued forward. Now I am not great at math, but I used to use a treadmill in California on a regular basis. When I spotted the sign that showed the road had a 12% incline to it, I knew I was in trouble. I will swear it was a ten mile hike up that hill, so when Ron says it was only 2, don’t believe him. It does not matter, because at that point, all I could focus on was that there was a public bus that would take us directly to the train station.
We made it to the Turaida Museum Reserve where Turaida Castle sits as one of the ancient Medieval Castles of Latvia. Building began in the early 13th century as the residence for the Archbishops of Riga. Originally on this site was a wooden castle built by the Livs. Throughout the history of this castle, it had been conquered by the Polish, Swedish and Russian warriors, but not all at one time. In 1776 fires destroyed a number of buildings of the castle. It was not until the middle of the 20th century that restoration was begun. Turaida Castle is one of the most investigated monuments in the Baltics and the most visited in Latvia. The park also houses other buildings such as a Lutheran Church, a ranch of some sort, which we did not investigate, and a fantastic stature park. Spread across acres is a humongous open air museum of sculpted modern statues. None of them have names or refer to the artist(s). 

Four hours to get here, but the bus ride was ten minutes. We went to a Latvian buffet for dinner, though Angeles had told us “they” try to avoid it because it is a chain. It was cheap, the food was delicious, and you can pick and choose exactly what you want. A day well spent and the weather held out for us.
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