Cēsis & Sigulda, Latvia
Next country: Latvia, where we headed straight for the medieval town of Cēsis. We weren't sure if it was our Garmin taking us back roads again but the roads didn't appear to be so great in this country. About half an hour was spent on unpaved roads (not so good for our van) and the paved roads were full of bumps and potholes. A long while later we made it to Cēsis, which ended up being extremely small and centred around the ruins of a large castle. The ruins were decent, as were a couple of parks around the outside. Other than that there was not much to see.
After Cēsis it was on to Sigulda, adventure capital of Latvia (and probably Eastern Europe), which meant I was extremely excited to explore the place. We picked up a map at the tourist office and immediately started on our adventures. First stop: Aerodium. The Aerodium was a centre where we could simulate flying or skydiving (the closest Danny would ever get to the real thing). It was set outdoors in what looked and felt like a circular jumping castle without walls, with a huge fan in the centre. Once fully geared up the instructor called us to the middle one at a time and we basically hovered parallel to the ground over the giant fan. If we were good we could go higher. As I was a natural (or so I was told) I hovered about five metres above the fan, the highest I could go as a beginner. Each set in the centre lasted two minutes, and because I was so amazing I didn't get a rest the entire time. This doesn't sound long but my arms were burning by the end. Danny kept breaking his position and crashing to the bottom, but he managed to get pretty high by the end too. It was nowhere near as easy as it looked. All up it was one of the coolest activities I had experienced in Europe.
Sigulda also contained a few castles, so we drove up to one but found we had to pay to even see the outside. We saved our money and drove to Sigulda New Castle instead, which definitely lived up to its name. It turns out it was built in 1878, which apparently is quite new for a castle. For once it wasn't a ruin, but instead was a well kept building, with a restaurant inside and sweeping views over the valley. The "old" castle was behind it and it was definitely in a ramshackle state. Nearby was "walking stick park", a small area full of brightly coloured walking sticks bolted to the ground. They looked more like candy canes to me, which I think would have been a better name for the park.
Next adventure: the bungee jump. I had never bungee jumped before and was very keen to try it. It was only 43 metres high, but I did have to jump off a moving cable car over a river, which added to the thrill factor. Twelve of us plus two instructors were crammed inside the small cable car and we jumped out one at a time. I had to ask for the instructions in English because they were only given in Latvian. I was really glad I did, as after the first person jumped out I didn't understand why their rope was pulled back up without the person attached (we couldn't see below us). It was then I found out that there was someone waiting for us at the bottom to release us. All the boys jumped first as they used a different rope to us, which meant it was a lengthy wait. This was the most nerve-wracking part, standing around in the swinging cable car. I was trying to distract myself by looking out at the amazing scenery but I don't think it helped. With five of us left I begged to go next so I didn't have to wait anymore, which thankfully the instructor agreed to. Once I was at the door I didn't think at all, I just jumped and screamed the whole way down. Before I knew I had even left the cable car I was being jerked up by the rope, followed by falling back down to the river again. It was over in a matter of seconds. It was probably the scariest thing I had ever done in my life, but I don't regret it for an instant. It turned out I jumped so fast that Danny didn't even know it was me, so he missed taking a video of me. There weren't any professionals taking photos or videos, so there isn't a whole lot of evidence that I had even completed it. For the rest of the night I was on a bit of a high and we celebrated with a bottle of sparkling wine and pizza for dinner.
It was a hot, muggy night and we both found it difficult to sleep. The temperature only reaches about 30°C during the day but humidity is up around 70%. We can't wait until we are out of this weather. On the plus side it did almost become dark for a couple of hours. Soon we'll be able to see stars again. It has been over a month since we've seen a proper "nighttime".
After breakfast the following day we headed for Tarzan's Adventure Park. We both had a turn on the toboggan, neither of us having been on one for many years. I remember toboggans being in a halfpipe but this was on a monorail track, in and out of trees and over and under bridges. It was much faster than I thought it was going to be: it felt like I would be flung off the edge at any moment. Almost like a roller coaster, without the upside-down parts. Danny rode it twice. I couldn't believe he could do this but not even contemplate an actual roller coaster.
My next adventure at Tarzan's: the Catapult. I had never tried a catapult before and there was no one before me, so I didn't really know what to expect. Basically I was strapped into a human-sized slingshot, the controller counted down from three and I was flung 20 metres up into the air at a ridiculously fast speed. I then come hurtling back towards earth, upside down, and continue to bob up and down at a rapid rate for a while until I was lowered to the ground again. It was over in an instant it but it was loads of fun.
We left Tarzan's and headed for the bobsleigh track. Obviously it was the middle of summer and there was no snow around but Sigulda did have a summer sled operating. It looked like a normal bobsleigh but with wheels attached. We donned helmets, jumped inside with our driver, lowered the cage roof and raced down a wide halfpipe. We drove through the corners so rapidly that our helmets were repeatedly knocked against the edge of the cage, although overall the speed wasn't as fast as I was expecting. At the bottom we were towed back to the top by a four wheel drive. It was fun but definitely not the at the top of my list of adventures in Sigulda.
The tourist office offered a challenge to complete at least five out of nine adventure activities, for which they awarded a certificate. I had finished my five so off I went to receive the certificate. This took a while, as the girl serving me had never given one out before and had no idea where they were kept. I was probably the first person to actually ask for the certificate. I was part embarrassed, part proud. I had to write my own name on it with pen, which looked pretty lame but the mayor's signature on the bottom added to the coolness factor.
It was at this time that Danny decided he wanted to have a go at the Catapult, so we headed back to Tarzan's. Danny is the biggest wuss I know so I was completely taken aback that he actually wanted to do it, let alone go through with it. I'm sure he screamed louder and longer than I did but incredibly he enjoyed it. I asked if he was ready for the bungee jump. He looked at me like I had lost my mind.
The best thing about the adventure activities was that they were all so cheap. The most expensive was the bungee, which was under €30, and the three activities we did today were all under €10 each. Can't find prices like this in Australia.