A quieter air of old Latvia

Trip Start Apr 08, 2007
Trip End Oct 01, 2007

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

It is with some regret that I find myself here in Latvia - a country that I doubt I'll be able to get back to in the near future - with only three days to look around. With that in mind, I thought I'd try to make the most of my time here and get out to see several different spots across the visit. In light of all there is to see in Riga, some might think it a waste to only spend one full day in the city proper. But given how much I packed into yesterday's activities, I figured I could get away with it. At least this way I can say that I've actually seen some of Latvia proper, rather than the oft-visited capital city that forms the basis for most impressions of the country.

So, today I got up nice and early and proceeded straight to the train station. Actually, that's a lie. In reality, I got out of the hostel and ran around to a couple other spots in Old Riga that I'd missed yesterday, then hightailed it down to the station. I managed to get there, buy my ticket and get up on the platform just minutes before my train departed. Considering how confusing it was to find platform 11 (it's next to platform 1, not 10!), I was lucky to do just that. With a couple hours ride ahead of me then, I was able to munch a little assembled breakfast and get a bit of shut-eye before arriving in the little town of Cesis.

Compared with the big-city bustle of Riga, Cesis seems pretty darn provincial upon arrival. The train station is nearly vacant of activity (and commerce!) and the low-rise streets around the town center feel more like suburban back roads. But it's a charming little place, with a good chunk of old stone buildings leftover from medieval times, not to mention many prettily weathered wooden houses. A crumbling castle makes up the centerpiece of the town's tourist attractions; while renovation works mar parts of its exterior and inner courtyard, the park established upon its outer grounds makes for a lovely strolling spot. The rest of town is a pleasantly green series of fine old architecture and quiet streets. What's more, remnants of the country's big, bad Soviet era are practically non-existent, to the point where even Russian isn't heard anywhere (a near impossibility in Riga).

Getting here and back for the day didn't leave me with loads of time to get to know the place, but really there isn't all that much in Cesis to get to know. I was able to have a long, relaxing lunch at a casual hotel cafe (enjoying the local beer, brewed in town since 1590) and still have enough time to see most of the old town before catching a 3pm train. A bit more hurried than I would have liked, but the transport options didn't give me a whole lot of choice. Even so, it was a good enough amount of time to get a fair impression. Perhaps if I get out here again someday I can spend a little more time looking around. In the least I got to see an aspect of historic Latvia that isn't usually seen in the capital.
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