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Balls To The Baltic - Latvia or Bust



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 you go.

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 truly spiritual.



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