How to get to Sigulda and what to do there beside Sliding

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The next sliding season is comming and Showelrace.com management have just announced a schedule for upcoming 2019/2020 season. This is a good moment to think about a trip for some shovelling 🙂

The great advantage of Showelrace over the another sliding sports is the fact that You don’t need to bring a lot of equipment with You, what won’t makes You a headache while You’ll be thinking abot the participance 🙂 With luge or skeleton the only choice is a bus filled with a lot of stuff or big crate and shipping company if You want to go overseas.

Although the luge or skeleton sled is quite compact device the competitor needs to have much more equipment like tools, stock of water displacer or spare parts & runners. This is why this cannot be shipped just as registred luggage.

How to get to Latvia?

Actually there are three options, but only two of them are resonable:

  • Car – That is obvious choice, especially if You don’t live more than 1000..1500km from LV and want to go as a team 🙂 Having a car on place gives You an independence from public transport and a possibility to look for Hotel in Riga, not in Sigulda itself. The roads in Latvia are usually OK and even if some parts are in rough shape it isn’t as bad to be afraid about the suspension. Latvia hasn’t got any autobahns but it doesn’t seems to be a problem as the traffic I observed isn’t so big. Of course Riga as a capital has traffic jams in rush hours but this applies to any big city.
  • Air Transport – This is the best option if You’re alone or won’t spend many hours in the car. Latvia has it’s national airline called AirBaltic which operates from/to almost all big European airports. Prices are affordable and comfort or service is quite good (this is not crappy airline like Ryanair). Polish LOT also has a connection from Warsaw to Riga but prices seems to be higher than AirBaltic.

Latvia has no Autobahns which means that even if a road is marked with A prefix (like A2 from Riga to Estonian border via Sigulda) the speed limit is still set to 90km/h . There is no permament speed cameras on A2 between Riga and Sigulda but police sometimes controlls trafic ad-hoc in few places. So keep calm and satisfy Your ‚Need of Speed’ on the track, not on the publilc road.

What else we may take into consideration? Generally rather nothing. There is a theoretical possibility to choise a bus as the company called „Ecolines” has a direct coach connection from Warsaw (and another east EU cities) to Riga, but uhm…. 12 hours in the tourist coach is definitely outside my comfort zone. Worth mentioning is that from Warsaw to Riga there are only 650km but bus needs these 12 hours what gives us average speed of aprox 50kmh. What’s the shame.

And what about trains? Here there are another problem. Admittely Latvia has the same tracks voltage of +3kV DC but from the very begining uses 5ft russian gauge (ok this is not equal 5 feets but the difference is so small that it is fully compatible with 5 feets) instead of stanard 4 feets and 8 1/2 inches gauge which widespreads across the whole world. This makes Latvian ralilways very hardly interoperative with western companies. There is no direct connection from Poland to Riga. The only option is a train to Minsk in Belarus and then from Minsk do Riga. The journey last longer than via bus and the extra problem is with leaving the Shengen zone and obtaining compulsory Belarussian visa.

There are plans to build something called ‚Rail Baltica’. A normal gauge railway from Hamburg via Berlin, Warsaw, Białystok, Kaunas, Vilnus, Riga to Tallin. Cruising speed is planned between 160km/h to 250km/h (data aren’t precise). Unfortunately it is either under agreeing process or it is constructed only locally like line between Kaunas nd PL-LT border. Total investments are estimated to 6 bilinions euro.

How could You travel acoss Latvia if You don’t have a car? Quite simple. Public Transport in Latvia is very well developed and very user friendly. It can be divided into two secions. Public Transport in Riga (and how to get from/to the airport to City Centre) and public transport outside Riga (how to get to Sigulda)

How to get from Riga Airport to City Centre.

Generally in Riga there are a few means of public transport: Buses, Microbuses, Trams, and Trolleybuses. Everything is operated by single company called Rīgas Satiksme so You need only one ticket. The bus stop is just in the front of Passenger Terminal. The most convinient option to get to direct City Centre (Railway Station) is line number 241 which departures aprox every 30 minutes from 6AM to 11PM. There are more connections like bus line number 22 which is even more frequent, but then You need to get off at National Library bus stop and then walk about 15 minutes to Train Station.

How to get from Riga to Sigulda.

Here there are two options. Train or Bus. As I’m a railway freak I always prefer train, but Bus has some advantages. Both bus and train station is located one close to another. Trains from Riga to Sigulda departues usually 10..12 times per day, always from track 10 or 11 at first platform which is the closes one looking from station building perspective. Stairs to this platform are located in corridor A (most left from the entrance) on the other side where ticket office is.

Riga Central Station plan. Source: https://www.pv.lv/en/tickets/opening-hours-of-ticket-offices/2/riga/

The railway station in Sigulda is located in the middle of the City. Sigulda itself is rather small, so everything including hotels, the track, restaurants etc. are in walking distance.

Because Latvia uses rusian gauge it uses mostly trains developed & manufactured back in the USSR times. Siguldas Linija is operated by Pasažieru Vilciens using RVR DR-1AM diesel train which were built (and then modernized) in riga by RVR (Rīgas Vagonbūves Rūpnīca). This might be great ocastion for any Rail Freak to looks how trains in post USSR railway networks looks like.

RVR DR1-AM Diesel Train aproaches Siguldas Train Station.

How could I buy a ticket? Where I can find a timetable?

The train timetable could be find in the Internet on Pasažieru vilciens website: https://www.pv.lv/en/information-for-passengers/basic-train-timetable/ You can buy a paper ticket in the one of many ticket offices in Riga Station or for another direction in Sigulda Station (ticket office is opened there even on Saturday and Sunday), but there is more smarty solution…..

Be smart – Install Mobilly

There is one thing in Latvia which we doesn’t have in Poland. The one application which integrates almost everything You need from public transport. The timetable both for trains, intercity buses, tickets, parking fees or even payments for taxi. This application is called Mobilly

Even if You’re somehow afraid to have Your ticket on the phone, and You prefer to get a paper version Mobilly is still damn useful for few things. Firstly it is only valid source of timetable. I’ve experienced few times than timetable avaliable via Google Maps on Android isn’t exact in scope of time and bus stops. Probably google doesn’t update it’s data as fast as bus companies changes them.

The next great advantage which should convinience You to install Mobilly is possibility to pay for everything by credit card. The mechanism works simmilar to pre-payd mobile service. You need to configure Your card in the app and then refill the account. Because everthing is done cashless You won’t be charged by provisions or horrible exchange rates between PLN and EUR during cash withdrawal.

The only drawback of using mobilly is mandatory activation procedure using Latvian mobile number. After You install Mobily on the phone You must submit a phone number on which the SMS with activation code will be sent. The application has the +371 intl area code hardcoded and a room only for 8 digits. Regardless this requiremenet I strongly recommend to buy local SIM card (like LMT)

Tickets for city public transport in Riga

As for now Rigas City transport: buses, microbuses, trams and troleybuses managed by Rigas Satiksme isn’t avaliable in Mobilly. You need to buy a separate ticket for these which is called ‚e-Talons’. This is a credit-card form factor card made with RFID chip insde. You can buy it in many kiosks and in vending machines located in many placed of the city.

Propably there are two kinds of ‚e-talons’. Yellow which cannot be refilled and it is sold with certains amount of rides programmed, and blue which is used to store weekly, monthly and another ‚subsctiption-like’ tickets.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:E-talons.png

It is very important do remember that after You get into the bus (or microbus or whatever else from City transport) You have to validate Your ticket. In microbuses You do this by puting Your ‚e-talons’ to the reader located at the right (towards door) side of a cash register near the driver. In any other means of transport You use one of few validators located around the bus.

What to do in Sigulda beside Sliding

After You finally reach Sigulda, check-in in the hotel You can start think what else You can do beside sliding. Generally if this is Your first time on Showelrace and first contact with sliding sports at all I strongly recommend to rest 🙂 The first time is always a very emocionous moment. This wouldn’t be like the Taxibob. This is a sport and You are a competitor with a shovel below and 1200ish meter of Icy track ahed. It’s up to You how to deal with them. I would even recommend that if You have long distance to drive or long airplane journey to go to Latvia it is better to arrive a day before training and spend this time for resting.

The good think to do before the first time is to visit the track itself. It is possible to buy a sightseeing ticket and see not only the start tower, but also the track from it’s access road. The tickets are sold in main reception and there is no option to pay for it by a card so You need to have some casch with You.

Sightseeing ticket. A price of 90 cents is valid for 2018/19 season.

So look at the track from spectator perspective and get familiar with it. Try to memorize the curves sequence. The more You will know about the track now the less You will be afraid on seconds before Your first run.

A valley of river Gauja – Gaujas leja

I think that the main touristic and natural atraction of Sigulda is a valley of river Gauja. It crosses the northern part of the city, the track is located on the southern face if it.

There are a lot of things there, few DH tracks (of course closed during winter season for obvious reason), three ski lifts (definitely rather short for also obvious reson). Sigulda has also the cross country skiing infrastructure in form of Fisher test centre, approx 10km of natural XC track and…. 1200m of artificialy refrigerated ski track 🙂 https://www.siguldassports.lv/en/fisher_sleposanas_trase/pakalpojumi/distancu_sleposana/

For me the most valuable thing is the valley itself. I live in Bielsko — Biała, City in the mountains. Mountains are mandatory for me to feel comfortable, to fly on a paraglider, to hike on, to increase the Radio Frequency coverage of my repeaters etc. Latvia hasn’t got mountains, but there is something in that valley, that city and that forest which magnetizes everybody who been there at least once.

There are few tourist paths set in and around the valley. Ufortunately I wasn’t able to find online dedicated tourist map of Sigulda, but You can always use OpenStreetMaps with ‚Public GPS tracks’ enabled.

https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=15/57.1482/24.8160&layers=CG

The thing worth consideration is to walk the loop starting from the road bridge over the Gauja and then by the river towards west, pass lower gate to the track and then following the tourist path (tarmac road ends few hudrets meters behind the track).

A fragment of the track cut out from its structure for presentational purposes and placed by the lower gate to the track.

After few kilometers (2..3) You will spot the another, this time pedestrian bridge over Gauja. You can cross the river there and go from there towards Krimuldas Castle which is located about 2..3 kilometers from that place on the another side of river. In summer You can go back to Sigulda by cable car. In winter it is closed, so You need to walk by the road and go back to the bridge.

There are one more think to see there. The caves (as there are more than one) with the Gutmans Cave which is the bigger and probably the best one to see. I don’t know if it is open durig winter season (as I haven’t been there) but I think that at least You can look at it from outside.

http://www.tourism.sigulda.lv/userfiles/content/large/135030094868.jpg

http://www.tourism.sigulda.lv/gutman-s-cave-en/

Where to sleep and eat?

As Sigulda is the Latvian important tourist destination and because competitions on the Track attracts a lot of competitors, spectators etc. there are a lot of hotels there. Prices are very affordable for the standard you got. So far I slept in two places: Hotel Livonija and Kakiu Maja (which probably means „Cat House”) and I was satisfied by the service there. Kakiu Maja has also a bar/club and a bistro. If You are a guest there You have a 10% off from prices in the bistro.

Both hotels I mentioned are in walking distance from the Railway Station so really You don’t need to use taxi to go from one place do another.

If the trainig or competition ended very late in the evening, You are hungry but everything is closed You last place to eat something is Hesburger located by A2 road (aprox 15..20 min walking from the track). Let’s say that this is a McDonal equivalent, which maybe doesn’t fit exactly within norms what every sport competitor should eat but hey, it is open to 2AM 🙂

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