Monday, February 13, 2006

Latvian Bobsledding

Eurosport has been covering the Olympics with traditional media excess recently, and with some spare time and a television together in my apartment over the weekend, my sense of connectedness with the world has reached unparalleled heights. Perhaps because of this new, zen-like state of being, I remained unphased as the luge broadcaster confidently filled his audience in on the "secret training facility" (he used those words) that Russia constructed in Sigulda, Latvia, in 1986. Instead I replied, with a British accent of my own, "Yes, well, from my *own* personal experience, I would have to say that the bobsled section of this particular track is, well, short, but technical, and not without merit despite a certain lack of je ne sais quois."

Though I suppose my experience may have differed somewhat from the Olympians'.


You see, the weekend before, Thor, Jerilyn, Sarah and I rented a car and made the trip to Sigulda to see the bobsled track for ourselves. Upon arrival we became privy to the effects of "luge inflation"--a.k.a. "screw the tourists." As a result of these effects, there were two models we could choose from: the "real" bobsled, or the... luxury model. For 21 Lats less ($45 CDN), we could take the, well,

Our Bobsled.

Not that this puppy couldn't fly like a wildcat, but I have to say I would have preferred the orange one. Now, some might argue against the authenticity of our "wild speed adventure," but hey, the laws of economics are made of sterner stuff than you or I. Thor *did* strategize his way through to a third option... luckily, we managed to stop him before the security guards had to.

Thor, unleashed

Unfortunately, even though I stealthily took a video of the entire one minute, nine second affair (causing my right hand to reach temperatures of near absolute zero), I traded the long hours required to figure out how to post that sucker on Blogspot in and emailed two friends instead. You know who you are. And yes, I'm still behind. Keep 'em coming.


But one does not travel to Latvia for one minute and nine seconds (unless one does). No, we stayed the night and saw what had to be seen! And actually, our lodgings turned out to be just as cool as the bobsled track.

Get Thor to tell you sometime about his first experience with this hostel, and I promise you will come away with a sense of harrowing dread. The story includes--not a word of a lie--a stormy night, a power outage, a cablecar, an axe-wielding groundskeeper, children screaming, and an open steel door with signs reading "QUARANTINE." During the day, however--and for the duration of our trip--things are much more serene. In fact, at first glance, you likely wouldn't think "hostel":

Wait, is that a hostel?

And indeed, you would be partially right, because the dormitory rooms are on the first floor of a children's rehabilitation center. The Krimulda baronial estate provides long-term clinical care for children, in addition to housing paying guests for cheap. What this meant for us was a wonderful stay, with a beautiful view over the valley, and a hearty breakfast which we shared with the other inhabitants. A plucky bunch, it must be said, with some of them mighty fast on their crutches:

Our Fellow Guests

The entire area surrounding Sigulda is itself definitely worth the visit, with caves, castles, and some guy who has a ski slope in his backyard complete with half-pipe and a groomer. It was getting a little cool outside (-32 celsius, my camera batteries lasted exactly fifteen minutes), but we took our time exploring the ruins and pathways at a brisk walk. Plus, after bartering our car rental company into giving us another day, we spent an afternoon touring Cesis, the second-oldest city in Latvia (the first stone castle getting started in 1206), and the birthplace of the Latvian flag.


Another fine adventure had on a bit (okay, a lot) of penny-scraping and some canny interneting--a short weekend long on good times. We stopped by the Latvian cities of Jurmala and Leipaja on the way home, and generally had ourselves a grand old time eating pepperoni and stopping by the odd makeshift, backwoods snow-rally. And that was pretty much it.

Oh yeah, and we went to Estonia for supper. I'm not exactly sure *why* we're holding up mustard, a gravy cup, and a coaster with the Estonian, Spanish, and Latvian translations of important phrases including "Would those lovely ladies at the table over there like to join us?", but we are. Enough said.

Cabman's Pub, Valga, Estonia