Two Thousand Miles for a Cup of Tea
The next day was set aside for the eternal joy
that is ‘touristing’. It was a simple plan. We’d be looking around
Liepaja in the morning, and then heading over to the capital Riga,
in the afternoon. It was a simple plan.
Martinch turned up at around 10am, and of course,
Jonathan faffed around for a while longer. When Jonathan finally
got himself together Martinch took us into the town centre to show
us around his home town. We parked in the town centre and our first
experience was a small child begging. He was rewarded for his troubles
with a can of coke (symbol of the free vest). I wondered if this
is a locally grown phenomenon, or if beggars are also imported here
as they are in London which had previously run out of poor people.
It’s evidently basic physics; water flows downhill,
small objects orbit larger ones, poverty seeks wealth. Wherever
We were shown around the town markets, where Jonathan,
being a big fan of hats, bought himself a proper Latvian hat with
ear warmers and the works, which he then continued to wear for the
rest of the week. He looked just like a native (except that I never
saw anyone else under sixty wearing one). It did occur to me, that
this simple, though obvious mistake could get him shot as a spy.
As you’d expect in a country where it allegedly reaches minus twenty
in the winter, there were a huge number of very warm looking coats
for sale. There was also all the usual stuff that you get in English
markets that I assume comes from the Far East, as well as a lot
of amber jewelry for sale. There were also, and I hesitate to mention
this on the grounds that there may be some deep religious connotations,
very large numbers of pumpkins. It is of course possible that in
Latvia, they simply eat them instead of carving faces into them
to frighten children.
We then spent a while driving around the town looking
at all the older houses and buildings that predated the soviet flats.
As lovely as they were, I didn’t like to mention that we’d seen
all this several times the night before while trying to find
our way home.
Then as you’d expect we headed down to the beach.
Well, it was January after all, in a country where it reaches minus
twenty in winter. What else would you do? We’d been told that the
beach had remarkably white sands that we should see. I couldn’t
help but think that perhaps they were confusing it with snow. It
was actually a really pleasant bracing walk. It’s the sort of thing
I’d happily do at home in the winter if there was a beach anywhere
near me. Jonathan utterly hated it. Maybe hate is too strong a word.
Perhaps it was more a simple case of ‘loathed with a passion’.
Martinch then took us back over to Karostas, so
that we could see the Orthodox Cathedral that we had seen from the
outside the previous evening. Jonathan started making noises about
wanting to go home instead and have a rest and a cup of tea (“You
come several thousand miles to another part of the world and rather
than check out their most impressive architecture, you’d rather
‘have a sit down and a cup of tea!”) I had my tourist head on and
one way or another managed to persuade him to come along.
The cathedral is a seriously impressive building
from the outside, and although the inside doesn’t quite match up
in the glamour stakes, I still found the sense of stillness and
tranquility there that’s often evident in such places. Whatever
you choose to believe I think there is something special about that.
Paintings were hung in just about every available space, with little
paintings to fill in the gaps. It wasn’t generally up to the splendor
of the art in the cathedral in Xantern but it gave the eyes something
to do while the mind soaked up the ambiance. Of course with the
church being as ever the first to catch onto capitalist ideas just
after the porn industry, there was of course a gift shop for the