Bauska Castle

Bauska Castle

Bauska Pils

January 3, 2017

In my quest to see more of Latvia, I found myself embarking on a two day journey south of Riga the city of Bauska. My plan was to stay in a hotel in Bauska to see the famous and nearby Rundale Palace the next morning.

The snow that had begun falling the night before, had now blanketed the world with white powder. The view from my window was gorgeous, but I would now have to drive in the snow. Ansis’ driveway is long and steep, and I was just hoping that the CRV would be able to get me out onto the main road.

What was I thinking? The CRV is the best vehicle I’ve ever driven in my life. I don’t think I’m exaggerating. I would take this fellow over just about any car ever made. He saved my life today.

For all the snow that fell, the road to Bauska was pretty clean once I got from Ansis side road to the main highway, and then I was on my way. I felt a little foolish booking a hotel for the trip, but I just had to get out for a few days. The drive was only about an hour.

With time to kill, I tried to go to the best place to eat in all of Bauska (according to 3 reviews on TripAdvisor) , Aveni. My running theme for this road trip is that Latvians do not know how to make BIG SIGNS to tell you where things are. Rimi, a “Hypermarket” does a good job. Fenikks, a casino, does a good job. But try to find a restaurant, hotel or castle? Good luck without GPS and some knowledge of the Latvian language.

I drove to where Aveni was supposed to be, but there was just a strip mall with two seemingly abandoned buildings. Luckily a Latvian came walking by and I did my best imitation of a local, “Kur ir Aveni?” He had to correct my pronunciation of the “a” on “Aveni,” but he understood. He pointed around the corner. No signs. No walkway… but sure enough, there it was in the back of this deserted strip mall on a road to nowhere. But, as drama would have it, the restaurant was closed with no sign. No explanation. Just closed at 12:00 on a Tuesday afternoon.

So I drove to the other place that I saw while cruising through Bauska, the tenth largest city in Latvia. It was a decent diner with no lights on, and no customers. I think the vegetables were microwaved, and the “three-time-cooked” potatoes were just giant french fries. I felt like I was intruding by just sitting there an eating.

 

Then I went in search for my Raxwell hotel, and the first rule of Latvia applied… “You can’t get there from here.” Once you are on a street in Bauska, prepare for the long haul. There are no side streets or grids to get you back to where you started. You just have to wind your way through the narrow one ways until you find some sort of cross street that may take you back, or it may take you somewhere that looks more like Nebraska than Latvia where there are dozens of elderly people walking for no apparent reason toward the deserted countryside. Maybe. Could happen!

Again, there was no sign for the hotel. There was a big Swedebank sign, and I knew, according to my GPS that it was near the bank… but little did I know that it was in the very same building as the bank! There was some drama at the checkout counter.  A strange drunk man with the loudest toothless voice I’ve ever heard kept interjecting as I was trying to talk to Zane, the kindly hostess. She just smiled as he sat there with his whisky and coke, slurring loudly. Zane had to call her boss because of some issue. She was impressed with my Latvian passport, so that was cool. They finally got the glitch figured out and they sent me up to my room. I asked for a king-sized bed, and instead, I had this little tiny cot with no wifi. I was too tired to complain, so I collapsed for an hour, and then went downstairs to get a new room with a bigger bed and wifi. Zane was happy to comply and point me in the direction of a Tavern within walking distance.

Oh, and before I forget, if you ever find yourself in a Raxwell hotel, and you get to the room, but the lights don’t work, the trick is that you put your keycard in this slot, and that activates the electricity in the room. I’m not sure if it’s a way to save electricity or a way to make you remember your card every time, but it was something I had to figure out… kind of like a puzzle. So many puzzles in Latvia.

The Castle

Finding the castle seemed easy according the map. This roundabout, then that roundabout, then the river, and poof. It looked like it was right in the middle of the river, so I figured I would see it when crossing one of the bridges. I crossed this bridge, that roundabout, another bridge, but no pils. I really thought that if this is the biggest tourist attraction of Bauska, that there would be this big billboard saying: LOOK! IT’S OUR CASTLE!!! No such luck. I had to double back, and when coming from the other direction, there it was, as clear as could be through the trees. Bauska pils, as advertised.

Cool Shoes.

The castle was laid out a bit like Cēsis pils from the summer, except that the reconstruction was more complete, but they wouldn’t let me exlplore the old ruined part. That was the fun of Cēsis… just wandering through the ruins. I wonder if it’s open in the summer?

I paid my 5 Euro entry fee, put on these cool plastic shoe covers, and then went exploring. Kindly but serious Latvian women dressed in historic garb pointed me in the right direction, demanding which way I was to go first.

The Moat

I wandered through the halls from one great room to another. I marveled at the decorations, but thought about how each of these spaces would be used. Each one was just a giant square, all about the same size and shape. Most of the decorations were modern fabrications based on ruins that they found on the site. I asked one of the ladies “vecs vai jauns?” (Old or new?) and she just kept pointing saying “Jaunu, jaunu, jaunu.” Then another woman came up to show me one part of the tile floor that was “vecs.” Cool.

Tapestries

My favorite room was in the basement (is it called a basement?) where there were some beautiful tapestries on display. I was so hoping they were original or at least based on some medieval design, but I found out later that they are by a famous Latvian tapestry artist named Georgs Barkāns. Nevertheless, they were cool, and the unicorn theme was impressive. I think they could make a mint at the castle by selling unicorn stuff. But who am I to say?

 

Pewter Guard

That’s another weird thing about these Latvian attractions. The gift shops are all enclosed and you can’t really see stuff or touch stuff. In America, the last room you go through is the gift shop, and there are all kinds of things you walk by in the hopes that you will grab something on your way out. But here, I had to ask to see the little painted pewter figures. And there were some nice decorative plates and pots on the shelf behind the counter, but I didn’t want to ask, “Cik tas maska?” over and over.

View from the bottom of stairs.
+3 or +4 at least…

I saw some ancient weapons of war, cannons, and costumes. When I was almost finished, one of the nice ladies pointed down these stairs with a wink and said, “For exhibition only, but you can go,” I felt so special. I walked down the cold, narrow staircase into a cool room with arrow slits, a  +1 crossbow and a +3 sword and Shield of Frost Protection (D&D joke). I felt like I had found the treasure room.

Ye old pub..

I left the castle and saw a pub next to it. Cool! I’ll have a frothy ale while I write my thoughts down. I walked in, and it was just as cool as could be expected. All old stonework with a wooden bar in the center. But the wee ale wench did not want to serve me, so I sat for a bit and left.

I think you have to go to the counter or something. I don’t know. It’s a puzzle as to why these places don’t want to make money. So many puzzles.

upes apvienoties

I wandered around the grounds behind the castle and walked to the end of the path where the two rivers, the Musa and Memele meet, which together form Lielupe. It was cold. I could have just walked back to the car, but something drew me to the end of the path, and I was so happy I made it. Again, that feeling of joy struck as I watched the sun setting behind the hills of Bauska with the two rivers joining together gathering the last rays of dusk. It was stunning.

I walked back to the car feeling enlightened and thoughtful. What does all this history mean? Who were these people? How awesome was it to have a castle built between two rivers and surrounded by a moat? How did it ever get taken over?!

The drive back to the hotel was much easier now that I kind of understood the roads. I parked, went to my room for a bit, and then put my snow gear on for a nice walk through the Bauska streets at night.

Tavern
Sconces

Since I didn’t have to drive, I was hoping for a little Latvian nightlife in Bauska. But everything seemed to close at 21:00. The tavern was incredibly upscale looking. Again, I have to praise all these little cafes for the aesthetics and design. Each one is unique, artful and authentic feeling. I just looked at these sconces and thought… who came up with that idea? Who thought that it was worth how many thousands of Euro it would take to install electricity into these old brick walls, and then adorn them with these lovely sconces? It’s a completely different mindset than the “throw it together it’s temporary anyway” ideals of most American construction that I see.

Cockroach Chicken

I decided on the Cockroach Stuffed Chicken… shrimp stuffed inside the chicken with some kind of a cream sauce. Again, I had to go up to the counter and order. The kindly innkeeper, who seemed to be in no hurry or anything, helped out the Latvian customers at the table, but I had to keep going up to ask for things. Maybe it’s just me.

The chicken was wonderful with three huge sides of various vegetables and real home-fried potatoes. I would recommend this place, but apparently there is no website. But it’s right on the main square, so you can’t miss it!

Liels bruns suns

Since the innkeeper didn’t ask me if I wanted coffee or dessert or another drink, I left, but not before getting a picture of their liels suns (big dog). They had an even bigger one that looked like a small pony waiting for me at the door, but this brown guy is pretty cute, too.

 

 

My nightlife consisted of stopping at Rimi on the way back to the hotel, picking up a bottle of dessert wine and a candy bar, going back to my room and calling it a night. I think I did some good writing.

Next up, Rundale in the snow!

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