What we read about the Latvian countryside, particularly Gauja National Park, sounded spectacular. A one hour bus ride east (from Riga) left us in Sigulda, the center of Gauja Park. The town was smaller than we excepted with only one street and a few local cafes. We met up with Kristjans, who we met through the local tourism office. He’s an 18 year old student, interested in learning about other cultures and wants to be a translator. He took us around to all the major sights in the area.
World renowned Bobsleigh track
Sigulda is known for housing the longest bobsleigh track in Europe. Russian and European teams (Germany/Austria) come every year to practice tobogganing, luge and bobsledding at this Olympic quality track. A steep decline from the track led us into the Gauja forest where we found beautiful trails, flowers, plant and bug life.
Trekking through Gauja National Park
Kristjans showed us Gutmanis Cave, where we found natural springs and inscriptions carved into the walls. The cave is the deepest in the Baltic region at 19m. Legend has it that Maija, “the Rose of Turaida” was killed at the cave in 1620. Raised by the staff at Turaida Castle, she frequently met her gardener lover at the cave. Another man (Polish) fell in love with Maija, but she was not interested. The man allegedly tricked her to the cave and planned on raping her. Maija offered him a magical scarf in exchange for letting her go. The scarf was supposedly impossible to cut through. She offered to demonstrate it and put it around her neck. The Polish man cut through the scarf killing her. According to records found in Sigulda’s archives….. the man was caught and hanged for the killing.
13th Century Turaida Castle
After our stroll through Gauja National Park, we headed up the steep road to Turaida Castle and Museum reserve. The 13th century castle is tucked away in the protected forest reserve. The three of us climbed the spiraling staircase up to the top of the Castle tower, where we found breathtaking views of the Castle grounds and surrounding river and countryside. Within the same complex we found a beautiful park with 26 sculptures celebrating Latvian folksong.
Extreme Sports for the adrenaline seeking travelers
Sigulda is also known for extreme sports and is trying hard to be the “Switzerland of Eastern Europe”. People can partake in an array of “Tarzan-like” adventure activities from catapulting, wall climbing, bungie jumping, and zip lining to bobsledding and obstacle courses set up high in the trees. Young children can also participate in a number of smaller scale adventure rides.
Brett’s hospital visit
While in Sigulda, we even had the opportunity to visit the local hospital emergency room. Brett had a nasty bite that turned worse on his finger from the previous day. His entire finger was swollen and the bite turned into a black and blue blister with blood seeping out. We stopped in the Pharmacy and they had horrified looks on their faces…… and directed us to the emergency room. Thankfully, our new friend (Krisjans) translated through the whole process.
The doctor thinks Brett got bit by a hornet or wasp-type creature. Our wait was less then five minutes before Brett was lying on the table with arms spread out. He says the process was quite strange. They aggressively stuck a huge needle with anti-infectant in his finger and then the doctor grabbed a knife and cut off the swollen skin. They bandaged it up and sent us on our way. The best part was that the visit only cost us $20! Quite a contrasting experience from the emergency rooms in the U.S., waiting hours and spending at least $500 on just a copay. You have to love the social system of Europe!
Sigulda was a nice break away from the city, where we found a slice of local life tucked away in the some of the most beautiful scenery of Latvia. We enjoyed experiencing the little time we had with the Latvian culture. We were excited to head to our final Baltic country, Estonia.
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