LatviaPosted: June 6, 2011
Following the West coast North, we arrive into Latvia. Our destination is Liepaja. A small coastal city, it is raining as we pull into excellent parking in the town square in the city centre. We have not had a lot of rain, and whilst we don’t want to encourage it, there is something cozy and nostalgic about the day. As we park I notice a cinema on the corner and dream of an English speaking movie. A quick visit I discover an English movie starts in one hour!!!! Enough time for a quick cubby lunch and we nestle in to an all America car chasing, gun slinging, great fun film, Fast & Furious. It felt surreal to leave the cinema and remember we were in a completely foreign country.
Liepaja, the 3 rd largest city in Latvia, was fantastic. Being a port and a university city, gives it a diversity of people and facilities that make it really interesting. It’s a very easy city to ride our bikes around, supplies very cheap groceries, and has a wonderful beach. Our first foray of “gumboot footed feet” into the Baltic sea, photos above. (I’ve got to say, we love these “catalogue photos!!!!.”) We discover a tall monument of a woman looking out to sea. It’s a memorial for 10 crew of a US Navy Aircraft shot down by the Soviets as late as 1950. A stark reminder that war and occupation has lived here recently.’
We then traverse East to the middle of the country and its capital, RIGA, nestled in the Gulf of Riga. We had not intended to drive all the way to Riga this day, but something prodded us along, and we were so glad it did. Arriving late we settled into the camp ground and went to sleep. Our phone rang at 4 am. It was Tony’s daughter, informing him that his sister Silvana had passed away suddenly. We instantly worked out how to get home. Thankfully, being in Riga an international airport was literally 15 minutes away, and being at the campground we had excellent 24 hr WiFi and could make all the necessary arrangements. The Australian Time Zone differences worked in our favor and we were able to speak to our Travel Agents in Aus, (Thankyou Kelly and Nicole at Harvey World in Dromana for your brilliant, kind and efficient service). We were packed, parked and on a plane by 11.30 am!
It was a sad and busy trip back to Australia and we needed to be with family. Silvana was a wonderful person and is dearly missed. Our thoughts are very much still with family as we arrive back in Riga, it is also a little like returning home!! Cubby was loyally waiting in the airport carpark and it took us no time to chill out and settle in to our Cubby Routines. Having slept at the right times on the plane we were actually ready for an afternoon explore of Riga. We parked in the city center and got on the bikes. Another brilliant capital city.
Riga is incredibly well preserved and offers over 30 points of interest. Criss-crossing the Daugava River, through Botanical gardens, into the cities Art Nouveau District was just the ticket for a jetlag hangover! We visited an extremely well resourced museum on the Occupation of Latvia. Once again, the effects of the war are never too far away. Situated in a classic Soviet building the museum documents the struggle for the Latvian people who, like the other Baltic countries, were bullied by the Russians, and some a short time the Germans, for over 51 years, 1940 – 1991.
The difficulty for these small countries has been that they are flanked by the empires of Russia and Germany and will never be big enough to be an empire themselves. In the museum we learn of the terrible way the Latvians were treated by the incoming Russians in particular. Latvian citizens alive today had fathers disappear to “work” camps in Siberia, whole families were displaced or fled. 1/3 of the Latvian population disappeared during this period. Entire generations lost! The social fabric, ways of life, accomplishments, gone. We look at photos of families before the occupation, proud, well educated and hopeful….. then there was the propaganda.
Latvians, as the other Baltic countries, loved the land. To be a farmer was an occupation to be proud of. Living with the seasons, celebrating in turn the first fields been sewn, and then the end of harvest. Visiting this museum it’s also not difficult to imagine the lives of these industrious families. Celebrating with national costume, dancing, a fiddle, accordions and folk songs, some songs 1000’s of years old. Romantic images in a country destroyed by Cold War Power, but a spirit, we can feel will thrive again.
We felt we could have spent more time in this lovely city. Perhaps enjoyed a concert or other musical offering of the city. The Baltics have a history of music, composing and singing and they are fiercely proud to see their love of music endure even after so many years of oppression. Each Baltic country hosts one or more Music festivals each year. The first Estonian song festival was held in 1869 and had 845 participants. In 1975, more than 30,000 people performed on the stage!