After a breakfast of porridge (this stuff is seriously growing on me), coffee and juice, everyone hopped back on the bus to leave for Latvia. It had actually rained the previous night and the entire ground was a solid sheet of ice.
You bet I fell on my butt.
Oh yes, I also must add that I had my first experience of eating Australian Vegamite with a true Auzzie today at breakfast. We had been talking about it the previous night and she told me she would bring some for me to try. I had a very small amount on a piece of bread with butter, and at first it didn’t taste like much, but after a second or two it really hit me. It’s safe to say I won’t be adding Vegamite to my breakfast staple anytime soon, but it wasn’t the worst thing I have ever eaten. The taste is hard to describe, at first it tastes very sour, and then after a short time it’s like all the saliva in your mouth has been sucked dry.
On the way to Sigulda we watched a video on how Estonia gained their independence from both the Soviets and the Nazi’s. One thing I found most interesting was that Estonian’s favored peaceful protest and actually sang a kind of “national anthem” in support of their nation. The video itself was really interesting, I just wish I hadn’t fallen asleep during parts of it.
In Sigulda we picked up a girl who would be joining us in Latvia to guide us around. She must be at least six feet tall, so apparently the farther south you go, the shorter they do not get. Height is not just a Nordic thing people.
Sigulda is a very popular destination for winter and summer sports, and one of the most significant sites that Sigulda has to offer is a bobsled track. Even some olympians have practiced on this bobsled track! We were able to climb to the top of the track, which had absolutely gorgeous views of the forest and national park. It costs something like 50 euros if one wants to bobsled, but of course it isn’t from the very top of the track and our guide told us it lasts less than a minute. Most of us decided it was not really worth it, but it was worth climbing six flights of stairs to see the track.
Lunch came after that, and for some reason they took us to a restaurant that only accepted cash. The currency in Latvia is the Latvian Lat, and besides most people only having euros, almost no one had lats already on hand. Instead of eating at this restaurant, I walked to a grocery store and got some Activia yogurt, a little bread pastry with raisins, and a chocolate bar. In the end I had to end up exchanging money to pay for these groceries, so once back at the restaurant I used some of the leftover money to buy an a chocolate eclaire. Such a healthy lunch, I know. Our bus driver took us to a place just a few minutes from the restaurant where we would walk to the entrance of a cable car ride that we would take across a valley to the Krimulda Castle ruins, and some other sites.
The Krimulda Castle was basically only a wall because the majority of the castle was destroyed in the 14th C, but I still tried to appreciate it because it is a piece of history. The group then had to walk down this large mountain, which took about twenty-five minutes or so. At the bottom of the hill there was a cave that we got to investigate, which also had some legends to accompany it, but I am unable to recall them now.
I was happy to get back on the bus because the temperature had dropped quite a bit once the sun had gone down. It was a short drive to Riga from Sigulda, and we arrived at the hostel around 6:oo p.m.
Upon arriving at this hostel, which is called Franks, everyone was given a welcome beverage whether it be a glass of champagne or beer. I asked for a soda but they told me I could only have water. Really? And the reasoning behind that would be?
…I took the water…
It took a while before everyone was able to go to their rooms. As it turns out, I am sharing a massive room that has about fourteen beds in it. For some reason I also got stuck in the German room – aka the party hard and long and loud room.
We did not leave for dinner until 8:00 p.m. The group walked to the restaurant located in the old town are which wasn’t too far away, but then again I did not have such a substantial lunch so I was pretty hungry. Of course it took a long time to get our food, so in the meantime I ate as many h’ore derves as was appropriate. Free champagne, wine, and beer was once again included, so I asked for a soda and was rejected yet again. Apparently it was just not meant to be.
There were three options for dinner: chicken (sauteed three hours in local beer, served with traditional sate of grains and peas with herbed sour cream), roast pork (marinated in homemade blackcurrent wine and juniper, served with traditional cracked barley kuca and caramelized onion sauce), and lastly, fillet of Baltic cod (oven roasted with a marrow-hazelnut cheese crust, served with yellow bean and carrot sauce.
I opted for the pork, strange for me, because normally I would choose chicken over pork, but the beer aspect of the chicken did not sound so appealing. My mistake.
The pork was good, but I was not a fan of the wine in this dish, and coming from someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, the flavor was just off. Redemption came though when there was an extra plate of chicken that a guy sitting next to me snagged and I was able to try some of the chicken dish.
Dessert was a cold bread soup (bread pudding) with honey and cinnamon, served with whipped cream and a forest berry sauce. No one at my table liked their dessert so they gave them all to me. It was like Christmas!
We returned to the hostel for just a short while to recollect before heading out once again to bring in the new year with the rest of the Latvians who gather in their main city square to watch a fireworks display. The display got done about an hour ago, but I came back to the hostel because I have gotten incredibly sick. In fact, I lost my voice today and can barely speak. Going to a late party just did not sound fun to me, especially if it were possible I would have to use my voice to yell across thumping music. Not to mention jumping up and down is just asking for snot to run out of my nose and onto my blouse.
Not sure where the group ended up last night, but if I find out anything I will be sure to include it as soon as I can write again. We have a walking tour tomorrow at noon because everyone will need a late start from partying hard. And then we leave for the ferry in the afternoon and it is back to Stockholm.
Three days left in Europe. Crazy.
P.S. Happy New Year!