Sunday, September 27, 2009

Destination, Gauja Valley (East of Riga)

On my 2nd day in latvia, I decided to drive to the Guaja Valley forest. Another wonderful decision!

The Guaja Valley forest is absolutely gorgeous. It's a long valley with a river running through the middle (a perfect canoeing & camping spot... anyone want to go next year?). Pine and aspen trees are everywhere. Caves are also a frequent site. And medieval ruins are scattered throughout the valley. The E. European & Baltic forests are the most gorgeous that I've encountered in Europe.

It was the perfect day for an outdoor adventure... warm weather, sunny skies, and the leaves just starting to change colors (it looked like a Monet would if painted in fall). I was really looking forward to some hiking. However, it seems Latvians have the same view on hiking as Croatians... paved paths and high heels are the preferred option. There are even paved paths and stairs to nowhere (like the 200 stairs I climbed to get to a platform overlooking nothing... my legs & butt thanked me though). Off-road hiking and canoeing would be the best way to see the valley.

The medieval ruins were fun to explore. The castle in Sigulda, the 1st town I visited, was in great shape and packed with tourists. I was able to see the entire valley from the top of the tower. There random pieces of modern art sculptures (imagine the statues on Easter Island) on the castle lawn were a little weird. This was the place to be on a Sunday.

The castle in the Cesis, the 2nd town I visited, was falling apart. All tourists to the castle were given a lantern (a real lantern with a candle) at the entrance to light the way up the tower stairs (8 flights of stairs total in a small, windy staircase - 4 of the flights were climbed in pitch black because the candle wasn't light enough). It's not clear why they didn't give out flashlights or ask people to use the lights on their cell phone, or light the stairs. The little kids in the group in front of me loved that they got a real candle. There were 2 staircases going to the top of the tower, over 50% of them were crumbling and blocked off... not a good sign to see when you're stuck in a pitch black, windy staircase. Still my sense of adventure prevailed and I climbed to the top. At the end there was a small hole in the floor with a ladder inviting tourists to crawl down. Seriously, I wonder how many people have gotten hurt here. It was a pretty town.

The evening was spent the same way as the other 2 evenings... sitting in a center square in Riga, enjoying a drink and listening to music (Oktoberfest-themed songs & an incredible guitar player). It took a lot of effort to force myself onto the plane the next day. I want to go back.

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