I awoke early on my second to last day in Riga and peeked outside to see cloudy, but dry, skies. It didn’t appear ideal for a day trip to nearby Sigulda but I didn’t have much choice if I wanted to make it there before I left Latvia. So around 9:00 a.m., I headed for the bus station.
Not even fifteen minutes outside of Riga, a wet mix of rain and snow began to fall. Staring out of the bus window, though, it seemed light and I was optimistic that it wouldn’t be too bad. And sure enough, when we pulled up to the small station in Sigulda, it had diminished to not much more than a mist.
I pulled out the map that the tourist office in Riga gave me and tried to be confident that I was heading the right way as I departed the small bus station. My plan was to make a 6 kilometer loop shown on the map, riding on the cable car and visiting two castles before stopping back through town to visit the Olympic caliber bobsled track and perhaps take a ride if I was feeling really brave.
Occasional signage and maps helped me find my way first to the quirky Walking Stick Park. Trying to take pictures while holding my umbrella against the blowing wind and increasingly heavy sleet proved to be nearly impossible, so I hurried on to the cable car. As I was cruising high above the trees and river below, I realized how much the wind was whirling and the sleet had turned into a heavier snow. It would be an understatement to say I was relieved when we arrived at the station.
Although the cable car deposited me near one of Sigulda’s major sights, Krimulda Manor, it wasn’t on my list of “must-see” sights so I moved on quickly, wanting to make sure I had ample time to see everything else.
From there, I followed a serpentine path down to the Gutman Cave, known best for its inscription-covered walls and role in the legend of the Turaida Rose.
A path from the cave continued on toward Turaida and its castle –my primary destination. The walk was longer and steeper than I anticipated and, without a sidewalk or even much of a shoulder on the side of the road, it felt a bit treacherous. I also resorted to carrying my umbrella in front of me to block the blowing, wet snow and partially impeding my view in the process.
I didn’t stay long once I arrived at the Turaida Castle. I climbed the castle tower and braved some ferocious winds to snap some foggy pictures of the surrounding area. While there was more to see on the castle grounds, I was growing weary of the weather and I still wanted to swing by the Sigulda Castle ruins on my way back to the bus station, so after less than thirty minutes, I headed back down the road from which I came.
At this point, you may be wondering why I didn’t try to take a bus or taxi back to town.
For starters, the bus only ran every hour or two and it was over an hour until the next one. With not much to do at the castle, waiting over an hour for a bus wasn’t appealing.
Moreover, I’m just plain stubborn.
The walk down was slow going as the road was slippery and I easily found myself losing my footing. The wind seemed to change direction as well because I found myself walking straight into it once again. While my umbrella shielded my head and face, the rest of my clothing was becoming increasingly soggy and sticking to my cold, wet skin.
I reached the point where the road met the path to Gutman Caves and switched back to the path, immediately stepping in a large puddle and completely soaking my left foot.
In fact, as I continued on the path, I realized that the pavement that had been just slightly damp an hour earlier was now covered in water, the result of the heavy snow melting as soon as it hit the ground.
Twenty minutes later, I found myself facing a wooden staircase leading up into the trees. Consulting my map, I was 99% sure this staircase would lead me to the Sigulda Castle ruins. I already reached my maximum point of saturation and, while it was chilly, the temperature was well into the 30s, so I wasn’t concerned with actually freezing or something. I muttered out loud “what the hell” and started up the stairs, holding tightly to the rail so I wouldn’t slip on the accumulated ice and slush.
Within fifteen seconds I realized what a mistake that was – the nice, warm gloves I purchased in Krasnoyarsk for my hike in the Stolby Nature Reserve were nowhere close to being waterproof or even water resistant. I soon had a soaking wet left hand to go with my soaking wet left foot.
After several flights of stairs and a stretch of slippery, muddy path, I reached the ruins. And then I quickly moved on, past the new Sigulda Castle (which appeared to be closed) and back onto the road to the bus station.
I walked at a brisk pace, not sure what time it was but knowing that a bus would be leaving for Riga around 3:00 and then not again until 4:00. To my great relief and surprise, when I reached the station and purchased my ticket, I learned that I actually made it in time for the 2:15 bus back to Riga.
And oh yeah – checking out the bobsled track? Totally slipped my mind.
Waiting for that bus felt like the longest ten minutes of my life but I realized as soon as I boarded that my misery wasn’t over yet. Even though I was relieved to sit for the first time in four hours, I also had to endure an hour in cold, wet clothing on a bus that was not so well heated. And then I still had to walk several blocks back to my hostel once I arrived back in Riga.
A hot shower never felt so good.