Soviet-era trains are hot and stuffy. Have a distinct biting diesel smell that scours your throat and makes you want to drink lots of water. They also are not very handicap friendly. I watched a sweet couple, an elderly man and wife, maneuver the steep steps up into the train car. The man was blind. It was a long step down to the concrete platform. But the wife, so gentle and quietly murmuring as she guided him step by step from below, helped him land firmly on the ground. Is this their daily routine, I wonder?
I caught the commuter train from Riga out to Gauja National Forest for a change of pace and some castles. An hour later I walked through Sigulda, a breezy, expansive town of mostly green spaces, beyond the huddled service center of shops and cafes. The Gauja Valley is studded with castles and manor estates in various degrees of decay. Krimulda Manor is a crumbling, but proud manor estate with amazing views of the valley. It’s now a sanatorium, but the grounds are open to wander. Some buildings were tidy and lived in; others fading into the sepia past from the sun and rain. Nearby, buried in the cool dankness of the woods, the old Gothic remains of the castle mouldered under moss and shrubs, the foundations and one solitary staring wall of arched windows gaping at the hikers strolling past.
Turaida’s castle complex is a different story. A red brick half-built theme park-like estate (only grittier), bursting with the life of sunny afternoon merrymakers. I like the castle on first glance, then learn much of it was rebuilt from ruins in the mid-20th century. Somehow that pales the impact of these turrets and barricades. But it’s fun for kids. A little pig-tailed girl tries her hand at archery. Families picnic in the shade.
I ponder that questions: should we preserve history as it is (leave the castle in ruin) so it’s more authentic or bring it back to life by rebuilding it?
I have to place myself in the former camp. Although maybe Sigulda Castle gets it right. The ruins are still there, nibbled edges and spooky freestanding walls. But the town has used timber (fresh and bright) to build steps inside the gate tower over the worn (and treacherous) stone steps, as well as staircases, so orphaned doorways high up now allow safe passage to the ground. Inside the ruined castle sits a stage. A romantic setting for theater.
Today I head on to Lithuania. So time to pack!