Uh, we’re not in Kansas anymore

Trip Start Mar 28, 2010
Trip End May 31, 2011

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Flag of Latvia  ,
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On the advice of a native Latvian we met in Istanbul, and backed by our trusty Lonely Planet, we headed for Cesis, Latvia from Riga. Situated in the country's north-eastern Gauja National Park, Cesis is dubbed the 'most Latvian of Latvian towns’, largely evading Russification and preserving its old world charm. Our walk from the train station through town en route to our hotel proved the description was no lie as we found ourselves surrounded by aged wooden buildings and medieval stoned streets. Sounds similar to what we’ve seen so far, we know... but trust us, Cesis was very different.

No town can truly be appreciated or examined with a couple of 15kg+ bags on one’s back so our first task, as per usual, was to find our accommodation. On the map, our stop wasn’t far from the train station, perhaps only about a kilometre or two. Once we were out of the main town centre however, things were looking less ‘usual’. First, we encountered EU dollars hard at work in the form of major road construction and we soon found ourselves hiking over dirt mounds and dodging backhoes. Once out of the construction zone it appeared we were also exiting another zone – the town. Seems our hotel was actually in the country. After an incredibly long (really only because of the packs) and hot final stretch we finally landed at our spot - sounds painful but once we dropped our things and took a look around we realized our country abode was actually just what we were looking for. Surrounded by pastures and rolling green hills, we wanted rural and we got it.

We spent our first full day in Cesis doing what we do best – roaming and exploring. The town was easy to navigate and not very big (pop. 16,900), making walking its streets and parks easy. It seemed everywhere we turned there was another interesting building, setting or church, all captivating in their own right. One of the town’s crown jewels is the remains of Cesis Castle, a thirteenth century bastion which turned out to be the most well-preserved castle we’ve encountered yet. We approached the castle via the city’s main park, a beautiful medieval green space complete with a small lake and amphitheatre in the shadow of the castle that no doubt added to the atmosphere. Even after close to an hour on the grounds we had a hard time pulling ourselves away however, there were more wooden buildings calling our names.

We had hoped to spend our second full day in Cesis exploring the vast surrounding countryside by mountain bike (if Shane’s back would allow it) however we woke to heavy rains that proved very persistent and kept us indoors for the majority of the day. Luckily, our hotel was very comfortable and equipped with a restaurant/cafe! As we have learned over the course of this trip, things very often happen for a reason so we took the torrential rains as a cue to get our flights to China sorted out – again. After another solid few hours online we managed to secure new flights, this time taking us from Helsinki to Beijing via Istanbul (one night lay-over) and Abu Dhabi. Though it would have been nice flying through Russia and at least getting to set foot on Russian soil, we can take a hint that perhaps we really aren’t supposed to be there this trip. All’s well though – we’re more than happy to see Istanbul again. Lyndsey fully plans on keeping Shane away from the Blue Mosque and its stairs this time.

From Cesis we say goodbye to Latvia and make our way to Estonia. From what we’ve seen so far, the Baltic countries, though often grouped together as brothers in many ways, are each extremely different in many others. We’re excited to see what Estonia has to offer.
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