I got off the bus in Sigulda and began wandering in what I thought was the direction of the sites based on my previous glances at maps. Castles, palaces, forest—I’d see what I’d see. Only shouldering my little backpack (my large one sat in storage at the Riga bus station), armed with water and not really any snacks, I had the day to spare before taking an evening bus from Riga to Tartu, Estonia.

I found the Gauja River after hopping down a muddy batch of stairs and walked across the bridge alongside the cars passing by. To my upper right I saw the tower of Turaida Castle peeking out from above the trees. Aha, I’ll go there, I thought. After examining my options, I opted for a path through the woods along the river that led in the right direction. There were mosquitoes.

The path emerged by Gutmanis Cave, where I asked a park staff member, skirting the crowd of tourists on one of those mega clunky buses, how to get there. I’d walk along the road, she told me, right up the hill, around to the left, and then I’d see it. Or, I could climb up above the cave, and follow the dirt path, but that was tougher.

Well I didn’t want to walk along the road.

So I hiked up the stairs, quite many, up over the cave, well above the road, and followed the lightly marked trail. A few times I must have lost my way and taken secondary paths, because I ended up going downhill and meeting the road, at which point I’d sigh, getting tired, and then trundle upward again, because I stubbornly prefer the woods.

The clouds darkened threateningly.

The path emerged from the trees at spots and I was essentially walking in people’s backyards. I saw their cute houses, their parked cars, their animals, their gardens, the steely sky.

The clouds let go and rain crashed down. Luckily I had remembered my raincoat and the rain cover for my backpack so I threw those on and continued toward the castle. Somehow, I let the rain wash over me and didn’t terribly mind. Once I made it to the grounds, the rain slowed, then stopped. The sun came out. I wandered around the castle grounds until I estimated that I needed to head back to Sigulda in time to grab a late lunch before my bus back to Riga.

Turaida Castle was nice, really, but the best part of my excursion was walking on the ridge above the road behind others’ homes. There, by myself, peering at authentic, present life, which struck me as more beautiful, more fascinating than a shell. And me—more vulnerable, more exposed, more open to it all.

On my way to the local bus stop, I grabbed an apple off a tree to munch.


Storm above Sigulda