L is for Latvia and Lovely Luscious Cakes

Elaine had to leave early – so it was a quick breakfast and we waved her goodbye. By 8am we were motoring out of the long entrance, past all the squawking birds. Sails up we were heading south at a reasonable speed on a beautiful sunny day. With a very low coastline we soon lost sight of land which hasn’t happened much on the trip. We were able to sail for about half of the trip then the wind dropped off – so it was engine on. Well, until we were about to enter the harbour of the small Island of Ruhnu and the wind came from nowhere and we had a stiff breeze entering a very small harbour. So in the end I decided to stay in the outer harbour – which was still very sheltered from the wind direction. We were joined by the ferry – which provided an even better wind break.

With Mags’ bike out of order – we took the minibus the 3.5km to the centre of the small island.

The small hamlet had a shop and museum and 2 churches side by side the old one from 1644 – the craftsmanship of the carpenters evidence on the Baroque steeple which was finished about 100 years later. Right next door it the more modern Lutheran Church (1912).

There are about 60 permanent Estonians living all year round but the numbers well up to 10 times according to our minibus driver. Before 1944 it was inhabited by ethnic Swedes who fled the Island before the German invasion and the later Soviet occupation.

Early start was slightly delayed as it was obvious that the ferry was due to leave at 7am and there wasn’t room for both of us to manoeuvre in the confined harbour. As he left we followed him out. We had a cracking wind for our sail and at 7-8 knots we were soon eating up the miles – which, as we had 57 to do, was just what we wanted. By lunch time the wind was easing – but we were still doing a creditable 6 knots. By 3pm we were off Riga’s safe water mark and sailing into the very commercial harbour. Once in the River we got the sails down and motored to the fuel pontoon to fill up. We still had another 6 miles to motor up this deep river passing many wharfs with their clanking chains unloading trains, the banging of the containers being unloaded – but with lots of reed clad banks between the commercial docks. It was clear that Riga’s wealth was and is still generated by the port.

We were due to meet Steve and Simon outside the orthodox church – it was only 10am but they were hiding in the shade as the sun was already scorching. It was brilliant to see them – I was always very doubtful if we would get the right weather window to get to Riga – but here we were being taken on a walking tour of Riga which was very kind of them as they were repeating what they had done the day before.

We wandered down cobbled streets, chatting and looking up at the amazing buildings many of which were centuries old. As is common in this area ( Estonia and Latvia) some of the building are almost over restored or as in the case of the House of Blackheads build from new. It looks like the brash kid on the block. The problem is it looked too perfect – old buildings are never true and the building lacks any wonkiness. The Cathedral Square was filled with Buddy Bears. Identical bears where each country has painted one to represent their country and they symbolise peace. There was an eclectic mix from the meaningful, to the odd and the creepy but all very colourful. Since 2002 they have been doing a World Tour.

There was a pleasant atmosphere in Riga – the streets aren’t heaving with tourists and there is a relaxed café culture – with the cafes spilling out onto the street. So we stopped for tea and cakes – Latvia does amazing cakes.

We walked back via the Art Nouveau District back to Carra and had a delicious meal in the restaurant overlooking the harbour and I discovered Sommersby pear cider. The boat now has a supply onboard to come back to the UK with us.

The next day Steve and Simon came onboard for breakfast – and then we set off to Rundāle Palace – billed as the Baltics equivalent of Versailles. We were all rather sceptical. We arrived at the car park and are scepticism grew as we appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. But as we got closer this enormous grand palace which had once belonged to the Duke of Courland appeared surrounded by very formal gardens.

On top of the Palace chimney was this enormous nest with 2 storks sitting in it. The Palace rooms had been restored to their former glory – which given that it had been used as a grain store, school, hospital has been a labour of love.

After touring the Palaces Public and Private room we treated ourselves to more tea and cake and a scrummy apple and salted Carmel cake – the best I have ever tasted. We then walked around the gardens, long avenues of tall hedges lined with pom pom trees ( pollarded limes) stretching into the woods beyond.

Although the formal structure looks impressive, close up there were some very strange planting combinations which would give them an enormous amount of work but also detracted from the simplicity of the formal structure. There was a green open air theatre – with an impromptu Shakespeare performance by Mags.

What was fantastic was walking around with Simon who knew so much about plants and design – seeing the gardens and the countryside through his eyes was very educational.

We set off back to Riga via a road marked on the map as a yellow road – as we were to discover is an unmade road – so we had a long dusty ride through the countryside. Passing many storks’ nests on poles and chimneys, lots of very poor humble farms. Most of the housing still had asbestos roofs. As Simon pointed out the beautiful cornflowers in the small fields of wheat indicating that this is traditional farming without the use of pesticides.

We emerged from a cloud of dust after about an hour of doing no more than 30 miles an hour, with a very brown car, onto a main highway and arrived in Jellgava looking for a palace. We stumbled across this rather run down palace. It was a university and we were in search of the sarcophagus of the Dukes of Courland. The palace was a massive square with an internal quadrangle – which had been restored on 2 sides and was rather magnificent. We found a lady who was going home so we asked here where the coffins where – but her English was non existent – so Mags did a hilarious impression of a dead person in a coffin and we were directed to the museum. We arrived at 4:45pm. The curator, who clearly never receives any visitors, wanted to show us around his one room museum – but there were no coffins here. But told us where to find them – so we made a fast exit as the vault closed at 5pm. The entrance was on the outside of the palace and covered in scaffolding – we would never of found it. It was now 4:50pm and we only had a 50 euro note to pay the small entrance fee. DSC06685But wow it was worth it – the most ornate peuter coffins arranged in the underground crypt, each strikingly backlit – there was a small exhibition of some of their clothes. The oldest coffin dated back to late 16th century. Despite this being the only visitors the curator had had this week – she closed at 5pm. We headed back to the centre of Riga to eat in a small restaurant which was selected by Steve and Simon – not based on the menu but the cute waiter! Thankfully the food was excellent.

Steve and Simon arrived for breakfast – but we retreated down below to escape the windless heat as it was cooler in the boat. We were going west today to the coast – the air conditioning in the car was a real treat.

We passed through a small village of Sabile and a gaggle of little straw people looking at us. 120 in all – loving arranged in little groups. Rather charming oddity.

We then arrived at Kuldīga, which boast a 240m wide Waterfall – allegedly the longest in Europe but as it was only 4m high it proved slightly underwhelming. However the town was charming, beautiful wooden buildings, supposedly Baroque – but far simpler. Thankfully only a few buildings had been restored so it had a far more authentic feel. The whole town oozed a feeling of pride with beautiful flowers in pots at every turn. There was a fete on, so the town was bustling – in the market square there was a traditional dance class/ rehearsal being held on a mini stage. But it was hot and we were all tacking across the street to find bits of shade. After lunch we ambled through the street market – I bought a felt glass case. We visited a couple of wonderfully cool churches before heading further west.

DSC06751Palivosta is on the coast, with a beautiful beach with incredibly fine sand and a wooden board walk. Amber can be found on the beach. You get the impression it wants to be a surfer dude kind of place. Though the warning of phosphorus may be washed up on the beach and the USSR Navel defences does mean it might have a large sand dune to climb before it can attain a kool status. There was a beautiful craft shop selling Jewellery made out of sea glass – I bought a simple necklace with sea glass pendant.

Further down the coast was Leipaja which had been billed by the tourist guide as having Art Nouveau buildings. The first quarter we passed through was grim, concrete tenants, a product of the soviet era which bore more resemblance to the Gulags than a European city. Next we visited old Soviet defences tumbling into the sea as the coast line is being eroded. Hard to think that this area was completely out of bounds less than 30 years ago. Nearby was the Holocaust Memorial where 19000 Jews, Soviet Prisoners of war and Latvians who had aided the Jews were executed.

We were determined to find the Art Nouveau buildings and after several tours of the rather dilapidated centre they proved very illusive with only 3 being spotted. The original plan was to eat here but completely uninspired we set off back to Riga and planned to get something enroute. A fruitless hunt round one town with the most frustrating one way system yielded no restaurants – so we settled for a fast food burger.

We had been warned that there was a open air night club in close proximity to the Marina. It was just getting going as we arrived back at the boat at 11pm….. the noise ( as it wasn’t music) continued to 6am. Thankfully Mags is deaf and I had ear plugs – which meant that I only woke 3 times.

Steve and Simon arrived for their breakfast and then we took them for a sail in the harbour. It was a real shame that the river isn’t more scenic. We motored up into the wind then sailed/ drifted back down the river passing the UKs contribution to making the Latvia feel safe against the sabre rattling Russians – a tiny minesweeper. We tied up and had lunch – and passed the afternoon chatting. They took us to the supermarket which is so much easier with a car and then we said our farewells. It has been wonderful seeing them here.


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