Tuesday 11th January, Cesis, Latvia
In the morning,
Sanita and Janis dropped Maria and me off in the city centre on their way to their respective jobs, Sanita in Public Relations and Janis in Advertising. We'd arranged to have breakfast with my mate Kevin before we headed north to our next host. At the hostel, we found the lazy bludger still sleeping. We breakfasted at an interesting little restaurant where you serve yourself from a selection of little filled savoury pastries, mostly similar to ravioli or tortellini, and pay according to how much you take. Maria mistook the minced horseradish (very, very hot!)
with mashed potato, and entertained us with her gasping and convulsions. Unfortunately I was laughing too hard, and couldn't get the camera out in time to capture the moment.
Our next stop was Cesis (pronounced Tsesis)
a little over an hour to the northeast. Buses ran frequently, but we hurried to catch the midday bus, so we'd reach Cesis by a reasonable time to have a look around. Our host Liva- a twenty year old university student- was waiting for us at the bus station. "I read in your email that you've already seen too many churches and cathedrals" she laughed, "so I'm not sure what to do right now."
I convinced Liva that for us it was interesting just to walk around.
There's no point dragging me on a tour of the major churches and filling my head with all the history and dates, cause I'll have forgotten all of it by the time I wake up the next morning. First we needed somewhere to dump our backpacks- why not the nearby computer repair shop, where Liva's Mum's friend works? And while there, why not use their internet acccess for a few minutes to upload my latest journal updates? Great. Now to Cesis...
We did find an old castle
that was worth a bit of a poke around. And in the nearby park, Liva showed us a statue of Lenin- cut down at the end of the Soviet reign, it's spent the past fifteen years lying in a huge wooden box in a secluded corner of the park... awaiting its fate.
The lake in the park was mostly frozen,
still from the pre-Christmas chills and snowfalls, but the weather was quite pleasant, at least a few degrees above freezing, even as evening approached. Maria and I have been unable to believe that there's been no snow yet on this trip. I'm loathe to use the word 'disappointed', but hell.. it is January!!
There have been a few disappointments on this trip,
which I'll get into at a later date. One of the major ones for me has been that we've been travelling from big city to big city. Sometimes I almost feel like I'm on a Contiki Tour- you know the ones "twelve capital cities in eleven days"
, that kind of thing. Any traveller knows that the greatest experiences wait for them in between the big cities, in the small towns and villages where people have time to take an interest, where progress hasn't turned their world into a shopping mall. Over the past few days as we rode through the Polish and Lithuanian countryside, past small clusters of unpainted old wooden cottages, and through sleepy little towns that smell of fresh bread and coal smoke, I was really quite sad that our next destination would be another big city, complete with generic square buildings of glass and aluminium, housing MacDonalds, Starbucks, Subway, TGI Fridays, Radison Hotel, H&M, Zara, Mango, all with intrusively brash advertising..... *weeping*
I liked Cesis from the start.
It was like a breath of fresh air after so many busy, crowded cities, and it's made me rethink the way I will travel in future. Cesis is home to 18 000 people, and in fact the tiny village where Liva lives with her mother and brother is six kilometres out of town, and boasts a population of one hundred. Liva's Mum (whose name we never were given) met us in town after our walk and obligatory beer stop, and drove us back to their home where a hearty home cooked meal was waiting. Tender pork steaks, a mushroom and onion dish, and an unusual but delicious salad of diced apple and sliced leeks, in mayonnaise and cream. Of course, it came accompanied by a pile of potatoes.
Liva had an exam the next day,
and needed to get in some last minute study. I always have plenty to do on my computer, and Maria has been keeping a written journal (she's almost filled an entire notebook, and assures me that all she's writing is nice things about me!) so we all sat around working, taking breaks now and then to drink tea and chat. Liva's Mum didn't speak much English, but understood almost everything she said, and she had an uncanny knack of making herself understood by her hands.
Liva's home in that tiny village reminded me a lot of my childhood.
I grew up in a village of about a hundred families. Our rooms and the water were heated by burning wood, as was the majority of the cooking done on a wood burning stove. Liva (and probably her Mum) wondered why we would want to come to a place like that, and they'd probably find it difficult to believe but if I had time I would have liked to stay for a week.