As extreme outdoor sports enthusiasts, my best friend and I are always on the look out for the best places to experience the ultimate thrill of the sport. An American publishing company sponsored our trip to Latvia, a small country found along the Baltic Sea, which is rich with low forested hills, lakes, and streams. We were tasked to write about our experience of Latvia and its attractions on their next book about extreme sports. Here is what transpired during our outdoor adventure off the Latvian coasts of the Baltic Sea.
After stocking up our outdoor gears, we packed up our bags to explore Latvia. It was May of 2012 when our Aeroflot plane landed on Riga International Airport. We started our journey in the city of Riga, the capital of Latvia and one of the largest cities in the Baltic. The Old City of Riga is one of the many World Heritage Sites in Europe. A beautiful walking tour where we get to admire buildings with amazing architectural designs like the Art Nouveau, the historical Riga’s Occupation Museum, town halls, statues, and cobbled stone streets. I went to the top of the gothic St. Peter’s Church to have a panoramic view of the city. I got amused at the Cat’s House; it is a house facing the guild halls with cat statues on its roof with their bottoms facing the guilds halls as sign of disrespect. We checked out the Three Brothers House, three houses that stands next to each other and showcases different styles of architecture. Right next to it is the House of Blackheads and the Riga Museum of Occupation.
The Milda or the Independence Monument stand along side the Freedom Monument located at the parkland. The fragments of the Old Town Wall stood as proof that Riga was once a medieval and well equipped defensive city. The Reiter House is a perfect example of a “new style of living house”. It is painted pink and in Baroque style architecture, it is the most beautiful merchant house in Riga. The Russian Drama Theater stands on the end of the road along with the Live Luau that has plenty of Café’s to sit and a nice garden. There were lots of shades from the trees at the Bastion Hills and Gardens and the cooling look of the water on that hot day. At night we watched Swan Lake at the Latvian National Opera.
The next day we took a train from a station in Riga called the Majori to get to Jurmala Region of Latvia. Right in the center of Jurmala is a place called Dzintari Forest Park, it is a spacious theme park lined with pine trees, pathways for skating, biking and a 30 meter high Dzintari Observation Tower with a balcony right at the top. There were plenty of kids enjoying the outdoor activities. We spent the rest of the day swimming at Jurmala Beach. We rented mountain bikes to explore this long beach which has white clean sand and shallow waters. We guzzled some beer from the beach Café’s, and listened to Russian music playing all around. Within proximity to the beach is Jomas Street, it is a main pedestrian street in Jurmala, crowded with tourists and locals alike.
There were many eating places to choose from but our favorite was Gan Bei Restaurant where they offer tempting sushi selections. I was greeted pleasantly by the waitresses and handed a wonderful cocktail juice at the Cocktail Spa. While here we took an hour trip to the Jurmala Museum, it is a nicely designed and laid out museum. It houses lots of exhibits, documents and photos of the 19th century Jurmala. The interactive stands were helpful as it shows old videos, sounds and more interesting facts about the Baltic Riviera.
Before we boarded the train, we stopped by this small house near the Majori train station called the Art Studio ‘Inner Light’. I enjoyed the Light Game at the hall filled with beautiful paintings. The lighting gradually changes while we were there. Some paintings were awe inspiring, I really enjoyed it!
We went back by train to Riga and boarded a bus to get to the Kurzeme Region. We visited the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Liepaja. The mechanical organ of this church has an interesting story (great acoustics!) and dubbed as the largest organ in terms of the number of its pipes. I climbed up the wooden stairs and admire the view of the city from its tower. We took pictures beside the Amber Clock found at the promenade plaza along the amber coastline. A Sailor’s Monument stands at the seaside end of the road to remind everyone of the sailor’s nationalities who lost their lives at the Baltic Sea. I had a pleasant walk along The Promenade and watched the boats head out to sea.
We boarded a mini bus to the historic site in Liepaja called The Karosta Prison; it is a museum that gives an insight on how Latvia was once part of the USSR. The guide spoke excellent English and answered all our questions about Soviet History. He gave a tour of the old Karosta Naval Base. The prison experience went even more believable with the presence of half built, half demolished buildings. The staff acts as strict prison guards which made it even more uncomfortable. It is a perfect way to get a glimpse of how horrible it was 25 years ago. We were garbed in prisoner wear and locked in the cells to know how it felt being one. At the end of the tour we had a photo in prisoner uniform, holding a card with our visitor number and the crime we committed which makes a great souvenir!
We spent our last three days at the Vidzeme Region. The tour started with a visit to Gauja National Park in Sigulda. We rented a bike to better explore this park at our leisure. The park is actually huge with lots of architectural buildings to see. We explored three castles along the way, Turaida Castle, Turaida Sigulda, and Turaida Red. We also checked the Turaida Church, a really impressive old wooden church. Loads of palaces can also be found namely, the Krimulda Palace and Estate, and the Birini Place.
The highlight of our tour was a visit to the Sigulda Adventure Park. It is the largest extreme sport outdoor amusement park in the Baltics. We tried the Tarzan Adventure a series of obstacle routes fixed along the one hundred different trees. We got more extreme as we rode the Flight of the Catapult (yes, we fly!), toboggan track, and chair lifts from one end of the park to the other end of the forest and enjoyed the picturesque landscape of Sigulda from the air. We also took a ride downhill on an inflatable human hamster ball called “The Zorb”. I raced with my best friend on the Great Ropes and Courses Obstacle. We both went for a run on the Summer Bobsled, and scaled the Wall Climbing Area. We topped the day off by signing a waiver form at the Bungee Jumping Club of Latvia. It begins by riding the Sigulda Cable Car and once it gets to the highest point we jumped off from one of its trams. This outrageous bungee jumping experience was vividly captured on video which the park provides. It was truly an ultimate thrill to explore our daring and extreme side on Latvia!
For 8 days, we got to admire the city for its fabulous architecture and history aside from its natural parks, lakes, forests, gothic churches and castles, and its outdoor adventure. I am raring to go back there again this summer. The experience may be exhilarating but it was well worth it.