Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

After a long bus ride, we arrived in Riga becoming immediately aware that it had that big city feel about it. Again, we walked to our hostel - this time it was actually quite close to the station. We decided to jump straight in and explore the city.

It was a hot afternoon, and as we walked around town the heat got to us. There were some very beautiful buildings in the main square - especially the "House of Blackheads" and the town hall, but in general most of Riga old town felt cramped. Many of the beautiful buildings or churches were obstructed by other nearby buildings, so to stand back and admire the scene was a bit challenging. Still what we could see was quite beautiful.

To beat the heat we did as any sane person would do - get ice cream! Yum! And Glenn found a supermarket nearby to the hostel, so he was able to buy some local beers (yes at the supermarket) and put them in the freezer back at the hostel for that ice cold "ahhhhhh" to end the day.

The next morning we headed for the main square again - of course for the view, but more importantly to go to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, as we had cut short the museum in Estonia, and wanted to understand more about the recent history of the baltic countries. This was a great museum - it gave history on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and covered the occupation by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Occupations. It was very informative and interesting and we were shocked by how little we knew about what went on in these countries. They have struggled by both oppressive occupations and had also suffered the same "cleansing" of the Jewish population by the Nazi's as many other European countries (which was much more widespread and affected many more countries that we had previously known).

This took up the better part of the morning, if not day, and after lunch and some strong coffee, we headed up to St. Peter's church with its viewing tower 72m above the town. Luckily for Christie, this one had a lift, and we took it to the top ready for the view over the city.

We spent the rest of our time (including the next day) taking in the sights of the town - various churches, buildings with notable architecture and parks and monuments. We then decided to do a day trip to one of the towns outside Riga. We picked Sigulda a few hours north, and decided to catch the train there the next day.

The train to Sigulda was a good choice. The scenery was beautiful along the way. We passed beautiful woodlands and got to see a slice of local life on the trains.

Arriving in Sigulda, we searched for a place for lunch - it was indeed a much smaller town, nothing like the big city feel of Riga. We found a buffet place that looked good, and picked out several dishes, not having a clue what it was worth. At the end, Glenn realised that each little choice of this and that soon added up... ooops. It was a bit expensive paying for each little bit, but it was a really nice meal.

Needing to walk off our full stomachs, we walked to the local bobsled track (yes, Glenn's choice). This was a winter track used for ice bobsledding! Cool! But on arriving, it was closed, and Glenn was disappointed. It looked really fun! They had summer carts with wheels, but it was only open weekends.

So off we went, Christie dragging a moping Glenn along. We walked a fair way to arrive at the Sigulda Castle - this was a relatively new castle (or restored), but nearby were the ruins of a "knights of the order" castle... quite impressive considering how long they have been standing, even though there was not much remaining.

We continued on and approached a cable car which took passengers up over the river and high up to some more ruins on the other side. Christie had been a bit shaken after the cable cars in china (swaying in the winds), so we opted to walk down through the valley and cross the bridge and climb up the other side... to where, we hadn't quite worked it out yet.

The walk was good, through some beautiful forest, and arriving at the bridge there was quite a view over the river. On the bridge, there were locks with people's names engraved - "lovers locks", a little similar to what Glenn had seen in China up Hua Shan Mountain. Taking photos of the locks, some people below enjoying the sunshine started covering up... perhaps thinking that we were photographing them!!! Hehehehe.

Over the bridge, it was not really that clear where to go, even though it was sign posted. We wandered along for a while, before deciding to climb up a set of stairs that was probably the steepest way up the mountain. The climb up was tough. This led to various lookouts which were overgrown, but the forest was enough to please - it was such a peaceful walk. The correct path was not all that obvious, but using a little commonsense (where did that come from?) we eventually found the way towards the castle that is supposed to be the big tourist attraction. Passing people's properties, feeling like we were walking through their backyards, we came out at the Turaidas castle (museum).

These were on huge grounds, which had been landscaped and well looked after. The castle was being reconstructed, and quite a lot had already been reconstructed. There were exhibits in the various chambers of the castle. All the while, we were watching the time, as we had walked a few hours from the train station, and the next local bus back was due soon. Still, Glenn decided that he HAD to climb the turret of the castle for the grand view... except, in the process there were queues inside the tight spiral staircase up the five stories! Although the view was quite good, you guessed it, Glenn arrived at the bottom too late.

Making our way back quickly through the grounds... sure enough the bus had gone... and now we had an hour to sit and wait for the next one.... thanks Glenn! After twiddling our thumbs for an hour, the next bus came, and jumping out at the train station... there were no more trains! So we raced over to the bus station where a bus to Riga was about to leave. We each got the last seats (at opposite ends of the bus) while a few more people that got on after us had to stand... it was a long trip back to Riga, so we were lucky!

Back at the hotel, we had to pack... it was an early start the next day... off to the next country - Lithuania!
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