Getting lost in the tracks of crusaders
Sigulda Travel Blog› entry 4 of 9 › view all entries
When I woke up and stumbled out of bed I almost fell down because my muscles were all stiff and cramped, and the blister on my foot hurt. I had hoped that an evening and a night’s rest might make a difference, but my legs told me that I had to take it easy for a longer time. Still, I took the early train to do a hike, like I wanted to.
At the train station I got bothered by a guy who followed me around, talking Latvian to me. I didn’t know what he wanted, but I felt that he was simply trying to mess around with me. I kept walking and eventually he left me to join his friends. I always get a bit shaky and suspicious by such happenings. It bothers me a lot, and on your own you are quite vulnerable. I boarded my train and started to relax after a while. Fifteen minutes after departing from Riga the train was already deep in the woods! That never happens in the Netherlands.
My destination was Sigulda, a small town which is sort of the main gateway into Gauja National Park, a deep forest with lots of wildlife. The town itself isn’t really that interesting, but it has a great assortment of palaces, castles and manors. There is a great hike that takes about half a day where you enter the Gauja forest from Sigulda and walk past the castles on your way. The real challenge is not to get lost…
Right next to Sigulda there are two castles, a new one and an older, more interesting one. This land was the target of medieval German crusaders.
The other castles are located at the other side of the valley I was in, at the other side of the Gauja river. To go there I took the cable car, only I had to wait an hour because I arrived too late. Die hard adventure seekers can bungee-jump from the moving cable car. I didn’t because… I didn’t feel like it… moving on… The other side is called Krimulda. It has an old manor which was later used as a tuberculosis rehabilitation clinic. You can see the little wooden rooms that they turned toward the sun all day in an effort to cure tuberculosis.
I started on my walk to the next sight, but the signs were really confusing, and were missing now and then. I took some wrong turns and ended up in faraway fields on the Latvian countryside. A running and barking dog chased me away, and I went all the way back to Krimulda to start over again. I found it at last: a famous cave. Gutmanis cave has a legend about a lady (the Rose of Turaida) and a knight in love. They met secretly in the cave, where the knight accidentally killed the lady. The castle records proved that the story had really happened.
Ever since the drama in the cave, the place became famous by the graffiti left by passing knights. The entire walls of the cave are completely covered by coats of arms, that were carved out of the rock by the knights.
I got lost again on my way to the final sight. There were signs here and there, but I have walked for at least an hour without knowing if I was going the right way. I came past houses in the Latvian countryside, and in the end I stumbled upon a town. I got a bit panicky by then, and I thought I had walked too far, or in some completely wrong direction. I asked a bus driver the way to Turaida castle (where I was trying to get to), and he told me: yeah it is right over there! It was right across the street! I was really relieved but I felt like an idiot at the same time. Turaida Castle by the way is really amazing, so the walk was worth it. It is an impressive red-brick stronghold, built by those German Livonian Knights.
On my way back to Riga I had some interesting talks with a Belgian who had been in Moskow while the smoke covered the city, and with a guy named Alastair from Newcastle. I asked both of them whether they considered Latvia a northern European country or an eastern European country and I got two different answers. I guess Latvia is just itself. It was an adventurous day, and I am really glad I had done that hike.