Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lost and found in Latvia

I must admit, when I thought of the Baltic states I remembered Estonia and Lithuania. Estonia because of the composer Arvo Part and Lithuania, I am not sure why I remember it. I thought it was that Lithuania got into the world cup but I stand corrected by a reader. But Latvia? I thought it was the country ruled by Doctor Doom, the arch enemy of the Fantastic Four. Well Doctor Doom comes from the fictitious country of Latveria... see?!?!? And the closest thing that came to my mind about Riga, was the final Boss Ryga, in an interplanetary version of Street Fighter. Ok, you can see how lame my knowledge is and where I spent my time becoming so lame.

So I really did not know what to expect from Latvia. It rhymes with Bavaria, so should I expect something Germanic. Well, as it turns out, Riga, the captial, started as a German colony for the conversion of the local populace to Christianity. So there is a German link. And Riga was an important European port, with lots of rich merchants and a cosmopolitan population. The tradition carries on now with a surprsing number of Japanese restaurants in Riga.

What I can say now is that the old town of Riga is definitely more grand than Vilnius. They have refurbished some of the merchants' guilds in Riga, and boy are they showy. The churches are pretty nice too, large but not too overly ornate and complex inside the churches. I like that. I also found an unexpectedly good restaurant at a reasonable price called Le Crabe! Yes, I am looking after myself.

But Riga is not just the medieval old town. It has several outrageous Art Nouveau houses to the north of the old town. I have seen a lot ornate buildings in my time, but these buildings really left me gob smacked! And I kind of like that style, very sexy!

So after a good time with good food in Riga, I take a bus along the coast of Riga to Cape Kolka. Cape Kolka, or Kolkas Rags, is in between the Baltic sea to the west and the Gulf of Riga to the east. It does not have a high cliff at the point but it does really look like the end of the earth. And the clouds all around are always spectacular. It is still warm enough to take a swim in the sea when the sun is up. And it has relatively fewer tourists here than on the Curonian Spit in Lithuania. I think that it is just harder to get to Kolka than Nida in Lithuania. And Kolka is in the Slitere National Park, with wonderful forests and old Livonian towns. I cycled 45km today to see some of the sights. This really tired me out, but it was worth it. I think if someone wants to do a sword and sorcery epic, Slitere Natioanl park would be the perfect place to film it.

I am so glad that I am having this opportunity to explore the Baltic states. And as much as I love the romance of old towns, the beauty of nature is having an effect on me. It kinds of puts into perspective what is important in life and it is not the rat race.


Raimonds said...

you have a mistake in the first paragraph - Lithuania's football team has never made it to the World Cup, and that's a fact. Latvia participated at Euro 2004, but Lithuania has never been part of a major football tournament.

Heng said...

Thank you. I stand corrected. Learning every day.