28th July – 30th July
After speaking with a young Latvian lady yesterday about the town of Cēsis where she is from, we have made a detour from our original plan to visit her town. Our first choice of the road to take was thwarted by the fact that it was a dirt, very badly rutted road which saw us turn around and head back for the main highway. A lot of roads in Latvia are dirt and we have ventured down one when heading to Soomaa so we know how bad they are. Back on the A1 and driving through mainly agriculture with some dense forests in between had us arriving in Cēsis. Lunch packed we headed off into town from our carpark with our first stop being the castle gardens with some lovely flower beds in full colourful bloom along with black swans swimming in the lake. We had our lunch before wandering around the perimeter of the castle ruins which was originally built in the 1500’s but has suffered a lot of damage through various wars. Further into town we found the old town which was full of timber houses and a Catholic Church that is in desperate need of saving from rising damp. We sat in the square and tasted our first Latvian beer, the Cēsu unfiltered lager. Was it nice? You bet! A quick dash back to Tilly as the sky blackened very quickly with some thunder, lightning and a lot of heavy rain.
The drive from Cēsis to Sigulda was only 27 kms and saw us arriving in this very tidy pretty little town around 9.30am. We parked just outside of the Sigulda castle, organised our lunch and set off. First stop was the medieval castle which was built in 1207 by the Order of the Brethren of the Sword and is now mostly in ruins after severe damage during the Great Northern war in the 18th century. The staff were dressed in medieval wear and there was even a place where you could shoot a crossbow, which Dave did with a perfect bullseye. This weekend sees the castle grounds being used for an opera and there were lots of people bustling about to get it all ready. The main sponsor is Jaguar and there were four wheel drives on show, not bad if you can afford it. We walked into town and had our lunch in a small park before heading off on our 7km hike to and from the Gūtmana cave, the largest erosion cave in the Baltic. Inscriptions have been carved into the walls and ceilings with the oldest one still visible dating back to 1660. We took a nice path through a small forest on our way home, climbing up a number of stairs and coming out from the bush at the back of the castle. The rest of the day was sitting outside again in the sunshine.
An unusual thing happened last night. We had just finished watching a movie when there was a knock on the door. A Latvian man asked Dave if we were staying in the carpark for long. Firstly we thought he was going to ask us to move on, but he asked if he could borrow my bike for his girlfriend. He explained that they had gone into town to hire one, but the shops were closed. Might have had something to do with the fact it was 9.00pm! Anyway we did end up letting them borrow it, they left their car keys and off they went. They were back in just over 30 minutes and were very grateful. She comes from Riga but is currently living in London and they seemed like a nice couple. She gave us her phone number in Riga if we wanted to catch up.
Our journey today saw us driving on the A2 into Riga. Now most people would think, and rightly so that an A road is the main road and would be well maintained, NOT! One of the worst roads we have travelled on in a long while with badly filled potholes and deep ridges in the road surface that made it very difficult to steer. On the outskirts of Riga there are serious roadworks happening so hopefully it won’t be too long before drivers will have a more pleasant drive in. Having said that, the old town of Riga was lovely to walk through. Lots of cobbled streets with very picturesque buildings. The town gardens in Latvia are obviously the pride of the people as they are all glorious in their colour with some amazing floral designs. We rode our bikes in, parked them by the river and set off for a wander through the streets. We did stop at the Riga cathedral however as it was lunchtime, there was an organ concert on so we didn’t go in. We had our lunch in the park near the cathedral before continuing our walk around. We watched a group of young people perform a dance in the mall, not sure why although they did film it. A cold beer in the square (Latvian beer is really nice) before making our way back to the bikes. We rode along the river a little way, past the art nouveau district before heading back.