King of the Castle — But Just for a Day

Welcome to Birini Castle... Won't you please come in...?

Welcome to Birini Castle… Won’t you please come in…?

I’m not very fond of birthdays.

I’m uncomfortable being the centre of attention, except for in print. It feels weird to see so many people wishing me well — I guess because I spent most of my younger years getting in trouble. And I see birthdays as a moment of sober reflection on time running out, rather than a celebration of the past.

But that being said, I’ll absolutely use birthdays to my advantage if it becomes an excuse for doing something cool… like staying in a castle.

The castle from the park... My room was the tower suite, second floor on the right...

The castle from the park… My room was the tower suite, second floor on the right…

I’m on the road in the Baltics this month, researching a magazine story. And I’ve spent the past 8 days in Riga. We just happened to be moving north yesterday. And Birini Castle was on the way…

The palace is set on a small lake on the outskirts of Gauja National Park. It’s a massive pink birthday cake of a place, with forested grounds, stables, a garden with fresh produce, and a watermill that houses a cafe and traditional Latvian sauna.

Still waters of the castle lake...

Still waters of the castle lake…

We booked the massive second floor tower suite. But I think there were only a couple other guests, and for most of the time we had the entire castle to ourselves.

A few small groups of tourists came by that afternoon to tour the grounds. But when they left, the only sounds were the clop of horses walking down the gravel path outside, and the swoosh of a stork flying up to his nest on the roof.

This stork lived on top of one of the towers...

This stork lived on top of one of the towers…

I had my own key to the back door, which opens onto a massive foyer with double wooden staircase and soaring ceiling.

The massive foyer and double wooden staircase — I had my own key to the back door leading here...

The massive foyer and double wooden staircase — I had my own key to the back door leading here…

I let myself in and creaked my way up the stairs, pausing to examine the ballroom. The thought crossed my mind of inviting some friends, or perhaps sitting down at the grand piano to tickle the ivories. But I stood there for a while in silence instead, and then went down the passageway to my room.

Wandering the ballroom, at the top of the grand staircase...

Wandering the ballroom, at the top of the grand staircase…

The antique desk was the perfect place to write. And when I had finished scribbling in my notebook, I sat in the curve of the tower and sipped a cold glass of Bollinger champagne. And I imagined myself living in this beautiful place, with this room as my library and my desk nestled below the windows of the tower.

Sipping a cold glass of Bollinger in the tower...

Sipping a cold glass of Bollinger in the tower…

We wandered down to the watermill before dinner, for a cold glass of local beer and a traditional Latvian sauna. Those old wooden walls had seen a party or two. But like a king living in splendid isolation, we had the building to ourselves, and hot lashings of steam soaked away all my cares — and hopefully a wrinkle or two.

When we were thoroughly sweated out, we walked back up to the castle to dress for dinner.

The restaurant in the vaulted cellars was outstanding. It’s also the only place I’ve ever been that had beaver on the menu.

This is the first place I've ever been with beaver on the menu...

This is the first place I’ve ever been with beaver on the menu…

Now I’m not sure about other countries, but “beaver” is slang for something entirely different in Canada. And it’s very lewd. The meal was incredible, but it was difficult to keep a straight face when the charming waitress came over to ask, “How did you like the beaver?” I told her it was my wife’s first time to try it, and that we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Lewd jokes aside, it’s not something I’d ever considered dining on before. But it was delicious accompanied by grilled vegetables from the garden, pureed green peas and buckwheat. And I can confirm that beaver goes very well with a California Zinfandel.

I can confirm that beaver goes well with California Zinfandel... (note the strawberry cake on the right)

I can confirm that beaver goes well with California Zinfandel… (note the strawberry cake on the right)

The castle fell silent soon after dinner. We took a late night walk around the grounds, with light still in the sky this far north until after 11pm. I was greeted by indifferent horses and a very friendly cat.

Walking on the castle grounds after 11pm... The sky is still light this far north...

Walking on the castle grounds after 11pm… The sky is still light this far north…

And then I let myself in by the castle’s back door and wandered through the hallways, looking at old photos in midnight silence on the second and third floors.

Birini Castle apparently has a resident ghost — a young servant girl who hanged herself in one of the rooms over unrequited love. But she wasn’t anywhere to be found last night.

And so I retired to my room for more champagne, sketching layouts and renovations in my head.

What better drink for the occasion than James Bond's champagne of choice...?

What better drink for the occasion than James Bond’s champagne of choice…?

I was sorry to leave Birini this morning. But the Road Gods were calling, and we had to drive north across another country and a half.

I leave you with some images of Birini Castle. And of my brief one-day reign as Lord of the Manor.

The tower was the perfect place to read...

The tower was the perfect place to read…

I found several volumes of Tolstoy in the small library in my room...

I found several volumes of Tolstoy in the small library in my room…

Chatting with the local residents in the castle grounds...

Chatting with the local residents in the castle grounds…

The crypt, a long walk through the woods... It was apparently vandalized during Soviet times...

The crypt, a long walk through the woods… It was apparently vandalized during Soviet times…

The rooms were heated by these massive wood-fired ceramic stoves...

The rooms were heated by these massive wood-fired ceramic stoves…

Pondering old age with a very large pipe...

Pondering old age with a very large pipe…

"Tell me I'm not that old, Mr. Bollinger...! Make me young and beautiful!"

“Tell me I’m not that old, Mr. Bollinger…! Make me young and beautiful!”

 

Photos ©Tomoko Goto 2015

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Geoffrey Daigle says

    I guess I’m a little different than you, Ryan, regarding birthdays. As I get “older,” I appreciate them more. I used to take them for granted in my 20’s and 30’s but life takes us on different paths. Also, in my younger years, I was too much of a “good boy” because I always seemed to be the one getting in trouble while others got away with stuff.

    That is so cool that you had virtually the entire castle to yourselves. Imagine the peace and quiet, as well as the imagery with the “clopping” of the horses hooves on the dirt road.

    Like you, I can’t help but have my mind in the gutter, so-to-speak, when referring to beaver being on the menu either. Because I’m always been immersed in pro wrestling, I believe the “beaver” reference in Canada would be the equivalent to “poontang pie” in the States, at least according to The Rock Dwayne Johnson. Never thought I’d be comparing wrestling references with your travels through the Baltics, so there ya’ go.

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