SPRING IN LATVIA: Erasmus+ Students’ Visit Around the Country’s Bests

Aktualizēts 08.05.2019 09:25

By Mark John Pepito, Leslae Kay Mantilla, Jessa Mae Balbanida, Chrestine Torrejos, Khathatso Ignatius Maraisane, Sindiswa Machinini Khabele, Nthatisi Margrett Puputla, Merysela Nelima, & Frederic Ouma Okode

April 26 – 27, 2019

Spring came and so the Erasmus+ students had a treat to a two-day excursion around the most fascinating places in the capital city and the NE of Latvia. The group, accompanied by Janis Mickevics of Daugavpils Universitate, visited Sigulda Medieval Castle, Turaidas Medieval Castle, and Gutmanis cave in Sigulda, Old Town Riga, Jurmala, Rundale Palace in Pilsrundale, and Bauska Castle in Bauska. Erasmus+ is for not only exchanging and gaining knowledge, also it is a great opportunity to experience other cultures and traditions. Get a feel of how other places differ from your own.

Sigulda Medieval Castle, Sigulda

First stop of the trip was the castle of the Livonian Order in Sigulda which was built on a hill in 1207 by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. The group, with tour guide Madara, was welcomed by a sculpture depicting the Parade of the Knights of Sigulda at the entrance of the castle and the beginning of the very exciting experience was of course captured in a group photo. The ruins gave the group a glimpse of the history of how the castle served as a fortification to monitor and control the water ways of Gauja River and as a robust defense for the inhabitants of the castle against the adversaries from the nearby castle in Turaidas. The group also relished the picturesque view of the place from the top of the castle and had fun taking pictures in the wooden guillotine positioned proximate to the ruins.

Gutmanis Cave, Sigulda

The group then carried on with the trip to the secret cave, Gutmanis Cave. Stories about Victor and Maijia with the latter killed by Jakubovsky in the said cave provoked everyone’s emotions listening to the very tragic story of love and devotion. It also made each appreciate the existence of a brave, true love. The music of the man playing a flute, the sound of water coming from of the cave, and the encryptions on the wall also offered a very romantic atmosphere especially for lovers who visit the cave to vow of their true love. Apart from the story of Maija and Victor, the story of the promiscuous wife who cheated on his husband and was buried alive with her head above the ground also gave a twist to entirely romantic love story (of Victor and Maija), that is the essence of commitment to a sincerely offered love. It was said the flowing stream inside the cave was from the tears of the woman who was punished for failing to love her husband sincerely. Also, a noteworthy experience was when the group tried free taste delicacies from the ladies selling candies near entrance of cave.

Turaidas Medieval Castle, Sigulda

The group then went for a quick lunch at Kaku Maja and proceeded to see the great Turaidas Medieval Castle. Built in 1214, Turaidas Medieval Castle was a masonry castle built by Philip of Ratzeburg,together with other crusaders, for Riga Bishop Albert. “Turaida” originates from the Livic language meaning “Garden of Gods”. The group climb up the tower and witnessed the magnificent view using binoculars and visited the mini-museums with a big screen displaying remnants of the history of the castle. The group also went around the greenery of the place and appreciated the sculptures that stood around the blooming fields of spring flowers.

Old Town Riga

Upon arriving at Riga, the Erasmus+ students were first brought to the hotel where they will stay for the night. They checked in, left their things and then went out again to continue the excursion. The first stop was the Nacional Opera House. It is also where Jennifer, the assigned tour guide, was waiting. The students were then guided towards the Old Riga and a lot of facts were brought into conversation while the group was walking around the small alleys of the town. Everyone was all eyes and ears to the tour guide and it was very evident that they were learning while enjoying the tour. Another place that was introduced to them was Black Magic. It is where the Riga’s Balsam is being processed. As a matter of fact, they were fortunate enough for being able to have a taste of such Balsam. Aside from the trivia that were given by the tour guide, they were also caught by the architecture of the buildings around such as the St. Peterburgh, Three Brothers, and The Blackheads. The first part of the excursion (in Riga) ended around 7 in the evening. It was indeed a long day for everyone. The body of each person was very tired from walking and travelling, but the joy is still shown through their radiant faces. Hence, the group had a good night’s rest while looking forward for the places to visit the next day.

Baltic Sea, Jurmala Region

Blue skies, warm breeze and just enough touch of sunshine rays – this was the perfect ambience for the ERASMUS+ students to explore the resort city of Jurmala. This town showcases the vast beauty of the famous Baltic Sea, its location strategic, however, it was not the only highlight during our excursion in this particular area. Since this part of the region caters to hundreds of visitors, coming from all parts of the world, the panoramic town vibes screamed both comfort and luxury, with restaurants and townhouses showing varied, aesthetic, architectural designs. For instance, the ship-like, five-star Baltic Sea Hotel adorned the seashore of the Baltic Sea, being colossal and majestic. Furthermore, the preservation for old buildings within the town was also noticeable and commendable. Aside from these breathtaking infrastructures, the tidiness of the town was also admirable. Well, one can expect nothing less from a town considered as wealthy.

Rundale Palace, Pilsrundale

Waves of euphoric royalty and grandiosity surely overwhelm every visitor of the famous tourist spot in Latvia – the Rundale Palace in the town of Pilsrundale. This baroque palace was the summer residence of the Duke of Courland, Ernst Johann Biron and was built according to the ingenious architectural design of the Italian architect Francesco Rastrelli from 1736 to 1740, and from 1764 to 1768.  Every corner and inch of these masterpiece and legacy was created in detailed perfection, portraying the stellar standards of regal and aristocratic life. The palace rooms were filled with aesthetic montage of angel-themed, ceiling paintings, as if the heavens were carved right there and then. Several portraits of the aristocratic family were also displayed for the public eye, in almost all of the rooms, to share the rich history of the palace. Artifacts of the original part of the palace before and during the restoration of the palace between 1972 and 2014 were displayed on the first floor of the palace. Another sight and feels to experience is the splendid Park of the Rundale Palace. This baroque garden of unimaginable 10 hectares was created under the gardeners Christopher and Michael Weyland (1736-1740) and was restored by the museum in accordance to the initial layout by Rastrelli. One of the most attention-catching during the group’s tour in the park are the roses in thousands of varieties, specifically, the famous blue rose. Unfortunately, it was not the peak season for these roses to bloom. Nevertheless, the mere tour around and within the garden via the electronic vehicle was enough to appreciate the detailed, graceful designs that makes it a must-see scenery in Latvia. It was truly patriotic and meritorious of them to choose preservation and restoration of this historic palace.

Bauska Castle, Bauska City, Latvia

Last day of the excursion was brought to the Bauska Castle which became a nostalgic travel trip back to the medieval times. The restored castle stands on the narrow peninsula at the confluence of the rivers Musa and Memele, joining to form the Lielupe river. Before becoming a residential home of the Dukes of Courland, the castle served as a fortress under the Livonian Order before its fall on 1562. Unfortunately, due to the Great Northern War in 1706, the castle was heavily damaged by the retreating Russians and was left unrestored. Presently, the castle was restored and preserved, depicting the medieval life of the regal ancestors living in Bauska City. When the group ventured in the castle, cellophane shoes were used in order to avoid damaging the newly, restored wooden floors. Aside from the vibrant feels of ancient times, the whole castle was filled with exhibits in glass confinements, showcasing the rich history and memorable artifacts of the castle. One of these interesting finds are the displays of royal medieval fashion that looks uncomfortable in the modern world. Nevertheless, these fashions were extravagant and timeless. To add, a knight’s armor was also displayed. It’s a shame no one gets to try it on, though, that would be really cool. To add, the group also had the opportunity to look at the different rooms, specific for its function and happenings. An example of this was the kitchen, filled with varied types of pottery and other utensils used for cooking. It was unfortunate that the watch tower was under renovation that the group didn’t have the chance to see the panoramic view of the Bauska City. Still, the overall fun was not spoilt.

            At large, the trip had been a brief but remarkable experience for everyone. Each moment, certainly, a remembrance of a once-in-a-lifetime ride.

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