We Tried to Go to a Castle, We Ended up at a Golf Course

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You can’t really blame Ralph Waldo Emerson for what has become probably the most overused travel quotes of all time. Sure, he said it first. But he’s not responsible for the hoards of people who’ve since scribbled it on (super cute) greeting cards, painted it on their walls, or pinned it to the Internet. He said it, but it’s since taken on a life of its own, bouncing around the Interweb with no regard for the consequences.

Sure! There are situations I can think of in which it is true: that time it took me upwards of 10 hot, bumpy hours to travel 100 km across southern Laos in the sweltering heat of summer, stopping at what seemed like every farm, house, and market along the way, marveling at people eating grilled crickets on sticks. Now that was a journey! I learned I can sit for stretches of about 6 hours before I start to go batty, created a counting game that helps me pass the time on long journeys, and cemented in my mind the notion that roasted crickets really aren’t my thing. By the time we arrived at our destination, I was so amused and flabbergasted by the fact I had spent the entire day traveling an average of 10 km an hour, I couldn’t have given less of a poop about where we were and why we were there – I was just happy to be off the bus. Enjoy the journey, screw the destination! Isn’t that right, guys?

See? Crickets on sticks! I bet you thought I was lying. Photo is courtesy of my travel buddy, Gina.


Look how happy I am to be off the bus! Blogging tip: I’ve read that posting humiliating photos of yourself (circa 2004) will help you connect with readers.

If only it were that simple. Frankly, sometimes — nay, many times, especially when I’m traveling quickly — I just don’t care about the journey. Sometimes, I want to nap my way through the journey, arrive at my destination to take some photos, and get back to the bus station in time to catch a ride to the next destination.

Like our day trip to Sigulda, Latvia, for example. We set out after breakfast from Riga, taking a local bus to Sigulda, a roughly 70 minute drive from Latvia’s capital city. Our guidebook included an itinerary which — it lied — could be completed in an afternoon as a day trip from Riga. It could not. We arrived at the Sigulda bus station and, following the entirely inadequate map in our guide book, walked to the first two stops on the itinerary: Sigulda New Castle and Sigulda Medieval Castle.

"Sigulda New Castle"
Sigulda New Castle: Kind of hideous looking

We wandered through the ruins of the medieval castle for about 20 minutes, and then set off to find the cable car, passing Sigulda’s world famous walking stick park on the way (Sigulda is “famous” for its walking sticks — a dubious distinction, if I’ve ever heard of one).

"Sigulda Walking Sticks"
Walking sticks to world: “We’re HUGE in Sigulda!”


We arrived at the cable car, no thanks to the map in our guidebook, only to discover it only runs every 30 minutes. As we didn’t immediately push our way into the line up, we missed the first car to come our way, and had to wait another 30 minutes. The shop, which taunted us with signs of ice cream and water, was closed. After 30 minutes of waiting, we piled on the cable car, and crossed the Gauja River valley.

The Gauja River valley is really quite lovely. Being pressed against throngs of unshowered tourists, all reeking of sweat and wafting body odor: not so lovely.


We made it across the valley without incident, and decided how to proceed: the guidebook suggested we go to the Krimulda Manor, a grand ole estate house, but we were already skeptical we’d have enough time to complete the entire itinerary in the time we had left. We figured we’d skip ahead to the main event (Turaida Castle), and then catch any other sights on the way back if there was time (there was not). Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of signage upon exiting the cable car, so we had to guess whether we should take the road or the walking path to Turaida. Hindsight being 20/20, I have no idea why I thought walking to the castle via the walking path was the INCORRECT option. But our map looked as though it followed the road, and so I argued for that option.

We almost immediately realized we’d probably made the wrong decision, and yet it took us almost an hour before we turned back.
A Latvian country road looks exactly like you might expect. Notice the lack of sidewalks, or anywhere safe to walk.


We ended up on a highway in the middle of the Latvian countryside, traipsing along the side of the road as cars and buses and transport trucks blazed past us. After about 40 minutes, we came across a narrow bridge with nowhere to walk, but through tufts of knee-high grasses which I silently assumed were filled with snakes. Thankfully, Geoff noticed a golf course on one side of the road and, being beyond hungry by this point, suggested we grab lunch at the clubhouse and check our progress before wading through the snake-infested grasses.

The funny thing about travel is sometimes, the things you think are going to be the best never come to be, and the things you didn’t even know would happen turn out being rather lovely (and HOLY CRAP, I think that’s what Emerson was talking about). We ordered what turned out to be a lovely meal of fresh grilled chicken and salad with fragrant tomatoes and vegetables and, when we were finished, the waitress informed us we were still an hour or so from the castle.

No animals were harmed in the making of this blog post. Except for this chicken.


We realized there was absolutely no chance we’d make it to the castle and back to Riga in time for our evening bus to Vilnius, so we gave up on the destination. We paid our bill, and walked back along the highway to the cable car. And this time, the store was wonderfully open, so we got ice cream!

Not just any ice cream. Marzipan ice cream.


AND we didn’t have to wait for the cable car! It arrived right away, and offered spectacular views of the castle that we hadn’t noticed before. I was still feeling a bit sad about not seeing the castle, but Geoff pointed out that we’d seen it the way it was meant to be seen — intimidating us from afar — and convinced me it probably wouldn’t look as spectacular up close.

This is the closest we got to the castle.


So even though I still would have preferred we made it to the destination, it really wasn’t a bad journey after all. And the Latvian countryside is quite picturesque in case you were wondering. And we made it back to Riga in time for our bus to Vilnius! And it’s hard not to have fun getting lost in a foreign country when you’ve got this guy to entertain you.

Not pictured: Jokes and witticisms.

If you go…

When you arrive in Sigulda, take the time to go into the tourist information office and confirm the walking route you should take. When you arrive at the cable car, get in line immediately to avoid being punked by overeager Russian tour groups. And, might I suggest you check out a few other bloggers who’ve been there, done that? Katie Aune of Katie Going Global made it to the castle, although she had to fight her way through a snowstorm to do so. And — most importantly — if you go or if you’ve been, let us know how it went in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter!

Peace out, Sigulda.

9 thoughts on “We Tried to Go to a Castle, We Ended up at a Golf Course”

  1. I’ve missed many a museum, temple and gallery in the name of a good feed…. and you got to try something new. I’d say a productive day all in all.

  2. Pingback: Riga Art Nouveau Guide - WanderTooth Travel Blog

  3. I have visited Turaida castle and I brought only positive memories. I arrived by bus to Sigulda and then took a local bus to Turaida, walking to Sigulda on my way back to visit Gutman’s Cave. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to explore Sigulda as I wanted to catch one of the last trains to Riga. Turaida is a great day trip.

  4. Well, as with most castles, they are actually more spectacular from the distance.:)

    Sad that you didn’t get to go all the way to the Turaida Castle, it really was worth a visit when we where there. But the castle itself looked better when seeing it from afar.

    1. Yes I know, it’s a bit of a shame! But you’re right…we often find we enjoy castles the most while viewing them from afar :)

  5. Haha, I had totally forgotten about the walking sticks. I’d like to say you didn’t miss much at Turaida castle but it was nice and the museum was great as well. But glad you made the most of it anyway

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