I finally left Riga for the “Switzerland of Latvia”, Sigulda. As nice a place as it was I would say that the label is a little generous. The autumn leaves were pretty though, and I had a great guide who I’d met at a couchsurfing meeting in Riga and who happened to be heading up to spend the weekend with her parents. She drove me around to some of the medieval castles in the area and to the Baltic States’ deepest cave (obviously there aren’t many caves around) which has a tragic love story associated with it. Details vary a little but a beautiful young woman, the Rose of Turaida, and a handsome young man were in love and planned to marry. Another evil (probably ugly) man wanted her and planned to rape her in Gutmanis Cave. She decided that death was better than the other option and convinced him that she had a scarf that would protect him from death. To prove its magical properties she put it on and told him to try to kill her. Of course the scarf had no magical properties and she was killed.
People have been visiting the cave for centuries and leaving their mark on the reddish sandstone. A sign outside said that the oldest visible graffiti is from 1667 but the oldest I could identify was 1822. At least back then people took some time with their vandalism, or paid others to take the time. Maybe it’s just the mists of time but the historical carvings seem a whole lot more beautiful than “Frank waz ‘ere, 2008” scratched furtively with a butter knife.
The castles were cool and I realised just how little I know about the history of this part of the world. It’s a convoluted sequence of influences, conquests and occupations by Germans, Poles, Swedes and Russians with overtones of religion which only serve to make it more confusing to someone who doesn’t really understand why these Christians fought against those Christians when the basis of their beliefs seem so similar. Though the Baltic States didn’t seem to be the focus of most of the struggles they had the misfortune of being on the way as larger powers fought for trade rights and souls to convert. I’ve never associated the crusades with this part of the world but apparently a northern crusade came up this way in the 12th century to convert the stubborn pagans.