Latvia Here We Come
We fell through the rest of Lithuania as if gravity
itself sucked us into Latvia. Nothing else was of any consequence.
It was getting dark. We were tired. It was time that this section
of the journey was complete. By the time we reached the Latvian
border the temperature was falling, and snow had started to tumble
gently. The border guard reared up from his nice warm cave to bid
us welcome to his country, and then went back into his nice warm
cave while we headed on our way in our nice warm carriage. It was
all very civilized in an ‘in the middle of nowhere’ sort of way.
We sent a text to Katriina to let her know that
we were over the border, and then we continued on towards Liepaja.
It was dark when we arrived… and cold. Nothing compared to the minus
twenty I'd been led to expect, but cold all the same. We sent them
another text to tell them we'd hit the outskirts of town. Then we
drove into the centre of Liepaja, with the intention of finding,
first a toilet, and then a landmark so that we could tell them where
we were and they could come and get us.
It's an interesting way of doing things, and it
makes a certain amount of sense. The person who knows the place
gets to do the running around, instead of the person who doesn't
have a clue where they are.
Eventually we found a toilet, which meant that
Jonathan could finally uncross his legs and drive with his feet
on the right pedals again. Then we started looking for a suitable
landmark. Liepaja isn't a huge city so this shouldn't be too much
of a problem…. We'd passed a big metal statue of a guitar going
through town, which it turns out is outside their Rock Cafe, so
I suggested this, only to find out that Katriina had misunderstood
our message when we'd texted previously to say we'd reached the
outskirts of town. Her brother had headed out to the outskirts of
town' to meet us. We agreed we’d all meet at the guitar instead.
On putting the phone down, we realised we'd lost
our bearings, and couldn't find our way back to the guitar.
Liepaja is a beautiful city by night. They still
had their Christmas lights up, which was a novel for noel given
that it was the 18th of January. We got to see quite a bit of the
city while we were driving around looking for the poxy guitar. Finally
we saw a supermarket and decided it would be much easier to just
stop there, and again, get them to come and find us. We made the
call. Yes they knew where the supermarket was, they'd be there in
a minute. Apparently we weren’t to move.
They can't have been that far away, because the
first car turned up in about a minute, but there was no one who
spoke English in it. We said hello's and waved, but there was a
brief, mildly embarrassing moment as we just looked at each other
and waited for a translator. Then the second car turned up, which
I have to say looked not unlike a cross between the Ghost Busters
ambulance, and the bat mobile. Everyone else piled out. I was expecting
to be met by one person. I think once both cars emptied out, there
were about two hundred and fifty of them. Maybe I'm exaggerating.
Maybe. Even knowing we were meeting people from the local circus
group, you don't expect them to bring the magic cars that keep regurgitating
Bottles of champagne appeared, and given the exceptionally
mild winter (it was only about zero degrees, and not minus twenty),
it was obviously appropriate that we should be sprayed with them.
I wondered if they'd have still done this had it been minus twenty,
and we'd have been hit with flying shards of iced bubbles. All said
and done, in what was apparently the mildest winter for years, we
were given an exceptionally warm welcome.
We then all piled back into the various cars and
vans, and we were lead to the building that our hosts used as a
practice hall. We were told we could leave the van here, and they'd
drive us to the flat we would be staying at over the next week.
Apparently the van would be safer here … which did make we wonder
about where we were going to be staying…
Jonathan took this opportunity to present them
with a six foot unicycle that he'd brought over for them. We spent
some time playing with that, which was a pretty good ice breaker.
Then, locking up the van, we piled into the cars, and we were taken
to the flat where we’d be staying for the next few days.
The block of flats could probably be best described
as ‘soviet, concrete and grey'. It was a five story building, and
needless to say we were on the top floor. And yes, we were going
to use the stairs because, well, there wasn't a lift so it wasn't
an option. By the time we reached the second flight of stairs, they
were lined with little candles. By the time we reached the third
flight, there were balloons. By the time we reached the fifth flight
and our flat, there were even more people, and a cake.
"What do you mean we have to blow out the
candles? We've just climbed five flights of stairs!"
On heading inside the flat hallway/entrance had
the most fantastic seventies wallpaper I've seen since, well, the
seventies. We headed into the main living room, which contained
a table, a wardrobe, and a couple of beds, and dropped the cases.
More champagne came out. We found somewhere to park ourselves and
we were fed whilst we talked about the 'fun' we'd had at the Lithuanian
border. An alternative explanation came out as to why we'd eventually
been let through. The truth of the matter was that that they'd kidnapped
a couple of Polish tourists and we had been ‘exchanged’.
We were fed and then we carried on being watered
while we swapped stories and tricks while we all continued to introduce
ourselves. I did a bit of juggling with some tangerines, which got
passed round for everyone to have a go. Gunita, the lovely Latvian
contortionist, showed us how she could put her ankles behind her
ears. I fall in love easily.