Ok, so this week’s alliterative title is a weak one, I know. But bear with me… We’re mid-way through the Baltic leg of the trip, and we’ve spent a lot of time on the water. Like Beavers. Or something.
LĪGATNE, LATVIA – SATURDAY 20TH MAY TO MONDAY 22ND MAY
Having been in Līgatne for a few days now we’d settled into a fairly relaxed pace. So, on Saturday we decided to drive out and see some of the local geological attractions. The Gauja river is peppered with sandstone outcrops, cliffs and caves, and it was off to see some of these we went. Following our tourist pamphlet we went off to see Gutmanala (Gutman’s Cave); supposedly a must see, being the highest and widest cave in the Baltic states.
As we approached in the car we could see the beautiful meadow surrounding the site, and an obvious car park for us to turn in to, charging £2.10 for the privilege. Walking across to the cave we began to hear the sound of terrible saxophone busking, and passed an ice-cream parlour and souvenir vendor, where we found the ‘cave’ to be more of a ‘cove’. It was merely a dent in the rock, covered in engraved graffiti, and packed with tourists. Strolling around the meadow trying to get some value from our parking costs we decided to abandon the drive around the park and head back to Līgatne.
Hannah ‘admires’ Gutman’s Cave:
Of course with hindsight it makes perfect sense: the tourist board must prioritise sites with easy access roads and good infrastructure to make money from the visitors, but it left us feeling a little untrusting towards our tourist book. Back in Līgatne the village was holding its annual fête. So we ambled along the promenade, listened to music, and Phil had an ice-cream (of course). Enjoying our creature comforts too much we decided not to join in the festivities that evening, but the music was playing late into the night, accompanied by a huge firework display just before midnight!
Sunday, we woke to perfect blue skies and set about preparing ourselves for a day out on the river! When Phil had asked our excellent host, Vilnis, about the best boat hire places, he immediately offered us his inflatable boat and a lift out to Cēsis for free! Win! Dropping us off, after an amazing drive on dirt roads through the Latvian countryside, he helped us inflate the boat and sent us on our way down the Gauja river.
Vilnis showing us how to set up the boat. Note the round the world expedition camper in the background… Not jealous at all!
The weather was perfect, and the peace and quiet completely unbroken. We practically had the river to ourselves. We took turns trying to row the boat with Vilnis’ tiny oars, but the river did most of the work. After a couple of hours we decided to pull up for lunch. Spotting a riverside campsite we headed for the tiny beach and hauled the boat up out of the river. These little campsites can be found every few kilometres along the river; almost the whole river is navigable by canoe, so there is a call for multi-day canoe-camping trips. If we ever comeback, it’s definitely something we’d like to try. The pace of the river is so gentle and relaxing, and the scenery so tranquil, I could easily see us doing this for days on end.
Our post-lunch reading disturbed by a family with young kids discovering the campsite too, we set to oars again; navigating through gentle rapids, past magnificent cliffs, and back to the Līgatne hand ferry to await Vilnis and our ride home.
Tallinn, Estonia – Monday 22nd to Tuesday 23rd May
We had to leave the wonderful Forest Hug and continue our journey onwards for one of the more tedious aspects of international travel: visas. After a less than convenient hire car drop off in Riga we boarded yet another Lux Express bus bound for Tallinn (£13.60 each). Thankfully our accommodation in Tallinn had a sauna and a bath so we were able to sweat out all of the kinks from the day’s travel.
So, on Tuesday it was off to the Chinese embassy to drop off documents and passports for our visa application. £55 poorer, and with a fresh hire car we headed out of town and south to the little village of Äksi, and a lakeside cabin.
We discovered a Japanese Garden on the way to the Chinese embassy:
Äksi, Estonia – Tuesday 23rd to Saturday 27th May
Making our way to our lakeside retreat was surprisingly relaxing. A two and a half hour drive on good roads with hardly any traffic. Not surprising, since Estonia has a population of just 1.5 million; about half that of Greater Manchester.
True to the description, our Airbnb (£41.25 per night) was a cute little cabin in a lovely garden with a private jetty into Lake Saadjärv, and its own rowing boat; this time with proper oars! We spend the remainder of the week just enjoying lakeside life. We read, rowed the boat, ran, relaxed, and Phil spent a lot of time flying the drone.
Relaxing on the jetty:
One thing we’ve really started to notice is how late sunset is getting. We’re already at around 10pm, and it’s only going to get later as we head North and towards the solstice.
Taking a holiday from our holiday was much needed; both of us feeling fatigued from travelling so much for the past ten weeks. We’ve also both come to realise how positive an impact spending time away from the city, at a slower pace of life, can have on us. Both having lived in cities since our early twenties perhaps this is something that we lost sight of. Hopefully we’ll be able to get back out to the countryside soon.
Next week, however, we’ll be returning to the Estonian capital, Tallinn, where we’ll be joined by a very special visitor.
Hannah and Phil x