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Published: April 7th 2017
That was the only advice we got before we were flung down the icy tunnel in a “bobsleigh” that looked like it had been knocked up in someone’s garage. There were no other warnings, no training, no disclaimers to sign, “it is for five people, you are six, no problem we will squeeze you in”.
The image I’d had before arrival of donning a lycra suit and sprinting down the ice track in spiky shoes before jumping in then carefully navigating the streamlined craft around the twists and turns were far off the mark. Turn up, get given a helmet, sit down in the padded coffin, off you go. They said with five people in it goes 80 km/h so with six I’m going to say 90-100 km/h. Certainly fast enough for us to bounce off the top of the track going around bends when the g-force gives you a bit of worry you might see your breakfast again. It all lasts for about a minute; long enough to get over the exhilaration and start laughing as you whiz around the final corners – except for the girl at the front who screamed all the way down; definitely
adding to the excitement.
The scariest part is saved until last: the journey back to the top of the hill! You are all ushered into the back of a canvas sided truck along with the bobsleigh, which is the only thing to hold on to as the truck lurches up the hairpin bends back to the start. There is nowhere to sit so when they set off we all nearly shot out the open back. We hung on for life as they raced up in order to fling some other confused tourists back down again as soon as possible. Whether or not to have another go was not a question of cost or braving the bobsleigh run, it was the fear of death on the journey back up!
This all took place in Sigulda, Latvia, and this was my birthday treat. Usually if someone remembers snippets of conversations from months and months ago it is to bring them up again in future arguments. In this case a brief mention by me of a bobsleigh track somewhere in the world where you could just show up and have a go and
how that would be a great weekend trip was fortunately remembered. So on my birthday morning I was surprised with the Latvia trip giving me an hour or so to pack and leave for the airport (and then giving enough time to stop and have dinner with mum and dad before the flight).
We had three days in Latvia and went to Sigulda on the first full day. The snow was really falling and it was nice to hike in Gauja National Park through the forest to the castles round and about. There weren’t many other people around – perhaps sensibly given the depth of the snow. The castles were in various states of ruin, repair and over-zealous restoration. The bus journey there was slightly harrowing given the number of accidents we saw caused by the fresh deep snow, including a car which had hit an electricity pole that was now on fire and a bus in a ditch (though we did also see a large herd of reindeer). Thus, we took the train back, which was much more relaxing.
The other two days were spent in Riga. Riga was nice. It’s no Prague
or Ljubljana but it’s nice for a short trip. You can stroll around all the interesting bits in not too much time. A few things I would recommend are: the Corner House KGB building, where we were shown around by a former inmate and I was quite disturbed given all the stories were still happening so recently (Magdalena was completely numb to it as all this happened in Poland too and the stories were very familiar); Riga Central Market, which is housed in and around five German Zeppelin hangars and is where you’ll find very nice and very cheap food (and is Europe’s largest market according to Wikipedia when I just googled it to check what it was called), and; a wander around the art nouveau part of the city is interesting.
This was my first visit to the Baltic States and it seemed fitting with the Stalinist architecture that it was snowy and grey. However, the next time I visit this part of the world I want to come in summer as everywhere and everyone seems perkier under blue skies and sunshine. But then I won’t be able to have another go at the bobsleigh!
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