Autumn in Riga: first snow of the season

It’s October 26, today. Autumn is in full swing, and some trees are trying hard to hold on to their leaves. But winter is coming to Latvia, and quick. The first signs arrived today. When we woke up and looked out the window, we saw the first snow. Time for a first snow of the season post.

Snow in the morning, this is what we woke up to

Snow in the morning, this is what we woke up to

That was only the beginning. There was more snow in the morning, in what to some seemed a blizzard. Enough snow fell for the first snowmen to come out of hiding.

Snow men came out of hiding

Snow men came out of hiding

Of course, we went for a walk, and B made his first snow tracks of the season.

B making tracks

B making tracks

In Viesturdarzs park, the autumn colours and snow created a beautiful landscape.

The colours of autumn and winter in Viesturdarzs

The colours of autumn and winter in Viesturdarzs

Trees and statues all got a new top-coat, like this statue of big cats playing.

Pumas or tigers? In any case: a fresh white coat

Pumas or tigers? In any case: a fresh white coat

Even our beloved dog run has turned white.

Our Sunu Pastaigas Laukums (dog run) turned white

Our Sunu Pastaigas Laukums (dog run) turned white

One more photo from Viesturdarzs, with the Triumph Arch.

And one more look at Viesturdarzs park

And one more look at Viesturdarzs park

Baltic Postcards

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Dear friends,

This is the week of the Riga Opera Festival. A yearly event highlighting productions of the season. Yesterday, we went to see Il Barbiere di Siviglia. And we were in luck. The interpretation of the Latvian National Opera (LNO) was hilarious and amazingly executed. A true slapstick opera, with a lot of action on stage and brilliant performances by the whole cast, but especially the lead characters of Figaro (Andrei  Jilichovski), Count Almaviva (Karol Kozlowski), Rosina (Evija Martinsone) and Doctor Bartolo (Krišjānis Norvelis). If you’re in luck, you can still get tickets for the summer performance on July 27.

What struck us at the end, after just over 3 hours of entertainment and voice acrobatics, was the ovation. Now, in the Netherlands it has become the norm to give a standing ovation to all performances you go and see. Not getting one, means you have really had a bad night as an artist. Personally, I prefer the idea of rewarding outstanding performances. So, an ovation for a good performance, and a standing ovation for a great one. Last night’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia certainly deserved a standing ovation. But, that is somehow not in the repertoire of the LNO audience. And to be honest, I did not have the courage to change that. So, from the safety of my secluded working space, you can consider this post my standing ovation for the cast, orchestra and crew of last night’s performance.

Best,
A

Possible Icy Roads – a winter driving short film

As Latvia is waking up from the long winter, this clip looks back to the icy roads. With temperatures well below zero, and heaps of snow both on the road and next to it, the car system warning ‘Possible Icy Roads’ seemed to be stating the obvious.

Baltic Postcards – Coastal B-day tour stage 2: Liepaja

Saint Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral Karosta

Dear Friends,

Earlier, I posted about the first leg of the Coastal Birthday Tour along the Baltic Sea Coast. Now, I’ll tell you about the second part, which led us to Liepaja. After the pancake breakfast at the Sarnate Guest House, we went on the road again. We took some sideroads to see the cliffed coast, which was really great. The sea was quite wild, hitting the shore below us with a great thundering sound. We also tried to visit Uzavas lighthouse, but the track leading there was so thickly covered in snow, that we almost got stuck with the car.

We drove further south, in the direction of Liepaja. On the way, we passed the wooden bridge over the Riva river in Jurkalne, a national monument. Even in the cold winter, the Riva river was flowing wildly under it. The bridge is impressive, and if you’re in the neighborhood, you should definitely stop and have a look at it. It’s directly next to the main road from Ventspils to Liepaja. You can’t miss it.

From Jurkalne we continued on the P111 main road in the direction of Liepaja, or stop for the night. We read about Karosta in the guide book and decided to stop there as well. Karosta is just north of Liepaja, and used to be a Soviet era naval base. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the troops were retreated to Russia, and the base abandoned. It is an impressively sad sight. Most of the navy barracks are empty and abandoned, left to the elements. Some concrete flat blocks are half empty, with some people living right next to them. And in the midst of all that, there’s the orthodox cathedral of Saint Nicholas, with its golden domes (see the picture above). A surreal experience. If you want to go further than that, you can visit Karosta prison, where it’s even possible to spend some time being treated as a prisoner of the Soviet regime.

We crossed the Karosta canal into Liepaja and drove to the Promenade hotel. E had chosen places to stay that all had a surprise. In Sarnate it was the cake and sampanietis, here it was the in-room sauna. And as an extra to the spacious room, we had a nice view of the marina part of the Tirdzniecibas kanals, the trade canal. Now, in winter, there are no yachts to be seen, but there was this beautifully rusty fishing boat right opposite to our room. After settling in, we walked around the town a bit. The city center has a real walk of fame. It seemed to be for musicians, but we didn’t know the few stars whose handprints we looked at. We also visited the market, but the wind and cold made us hurry back to the hotel to enjoy the warmth of the sauna.

For dinner, E had made reservations in the hotel restaurant, Piano. When we came in, the restaurant was empty, but still they made a fuss over the fact that we brought B, the dog. We were moved to a private room, behind a door that looked from the outside as a cupboard of some sort. It was not exactly what we had in mind, but we accepted it under protest. In my view, it was a stupid decision from the manager, because there were zero other guests in the restaurant when we arrived, and only a few when we left. Service was, despite the fact we were tucked away, great. As was the food. And then we discovered the cigar menu. Our private dining room was actually the cigar room. Combining a Cohiba with a single malt was a great final for our romantic dinner. After that, we slept like babies in our comfortable beds, and rested well for stage 3 of the Baltic Sea Coast Birthday Tour.

Warmest regards,
A

PS: If you’re interested, I’ve put the highlights of the tour on the Baltic Sea Coast B-Day Tour Google map.

Baltic Postcards – Coastal B-Day Tour Stage 1: Ventspils and Sarnate

Guesthouse Sarnate

Dear Friends,

On my birthday, just after waking up, E surprised me with a great present: a tour along the Baltic Sea coasts of Latvia and Lithuania. Since I was born in the coastal town of The Hague (or more precisely, Scheveningen), I love the sea and the beach. The sound of the surf, where the waters caress the land, is one of my favorite auditory pleasures. Especially in what people call off-season, when the weather is rougher, the waves wilder and the wind clears your head. Since my birthday is in winter, it was a perfectly planned trip.

The first stage meant driving to the port-city Ventspils. We had heard many things about it, mainly good things. Many people find it a lovely town, well kept and very pleasant to visit. A guy who lives there told us there is actually not that much to do. Apart from these opinions, Ventspils is the most important port of the Baltics, ice-free year round and has the capacity for transshipping all types of goods, from oil to juice, with dry goods (my guess is mainly wood and coal) in between.

Seeing the port, so close to the city center, is impressive. It’s not Rotterdam, but still. But the rest of the town is actually a bit boring. Sure, there are a few nice buildings, a great looking beach south of the port and a nice collection of cow statues, but there are only a handful of places where you can have a drink or eat something and not many people in the streets. The Old Town covers only a very small area; outside of that, the town is greyish. And it doesn’t even look that well kept and clean. It might have been because of the cold winter day, but still.

After taking in the sights of Ventspils, we drove on southwards to the guest house we were staying in. Now that was a great experience. At the end of a road leading off the main road from Ventspils to Liepaja, we found a little paradise in the Sarnate guest house. The main building has a bar, a big room with a fireplace (for breakfast, dinner, lounging and parties) and 7 guest rooms. We were welcomed by Janis, the super friendly manager of the place, and directed to the bridal suite. On the terrain there is a pond with a sauna house next to it, and a rabbit run. But be careful if you bring your dog. One of the rabbits once went into a shock when a dog jumped in the run, and played dead for some minutes. If you keep your dog from shocking the rabbits, he’s more than welcome to stay and run around.

We had a great night, with a surprise birthday cake and Rigas Sampanietis after the made to order dinner and a wonderful pancake breakfast, before going on the road again to Liepaja. The Sarnate guest house is definitely worth a stay if you’re in the neighborhood.

That’s it for now; I’ll tell you about Liepaja another time.

Warm wishes from a still very wintery (-15 degrees at the end of February!) Riga,
A

Baltic Postcards – Snow art in Kronvalda parks

Snow art in Kronvalda parks

Dear friends,

Snow arrived in Riga in November, and even if it hasn’t been snow every day since then, the snow hasn’t yet disappeared. Most of the snow in the park has turned to ice, now and then covered in a fresh new furry white coat. Now, Riga is quite a creative city. There are a lot of artists, galleries, museums and other signs of a vibrant creative life here. One of them is this work of snow art, by a mother and little daughter. I saw them work on it yesterday. It’s just a pile of iced snow they’ve turned into what reminds me of the characters of Fraggle Rock.

Have a nice rest of your Sunday.

All the best,
A

Baltic Postcards – Festival of lights on independence day

Dear friends,

Latvia’s first Independence Day is celebrated on 18 November. And since a couple of years, Riga has the Staro Riga, or shining Riga, festival of lights to celebrate. We had heard many great things about it, and despite the wet weather we went out to see what was going on. As you can see from the movie above, there were some impressive light installations, but what impressed me most was the procession through the city. Especially the number of young people who carried their torches through the streets of Old Riga.

All the best,
A

Baltic Postcards – A short trip through Western Latvia

WW I Trenches Near Babite

Dear Friends,

Today was another day of exploration of Latvia. We wanted to go to the widest waterfall in Europe, until we found out that it was at least a 2 hour drive to get there. So, we just drove west a bit and discovered some nice and interesting places. We walked in the fields, until B decided to go into a garden and hunt down a cat. The owners were not happy, and neither were we. After that we saw a small war memorial and went to bread factory Laci, where they have a small shop and restaurant. Of course, we bought some of the baked and flavoured rye-bread strips, a Latvian delicacy.

Even though the guide books do not have too much information of things to do in Western Latvia, regularly you can see some brownish road signs, pointing to sites of interest. So, we followed one of the signs and ended up at another war memorial, for fallen rifle men in World War I. We drove into the forest close by and saw some of the restored trenches. Somehow, in the wet and slightly cold Autumn weather, it was easy to imagine the hardship the young soldiers must have gone through. De path we took with the car led us through the forest, and a swamp-like area, so that was almost off-the road driving. Fortunately, our 4WD Toyota can handle that perfectly.

We’ll probably head out towards that waterfall soon, but will also try and find some more of Latvia’s hidden gems.

All the best,
A

Baltic Postcards – A 10K4N bike ride in Riga

Dear friends,

Today is, amongst many other things, 10K4N Challenge 2010 day. And I was really excited to organize and participate in the second 10K4N edition. However, my recent knee surgery prevents me still from running. Apart from the fact that the doctor won’t allow it, even running for more than 5 meters is still very painful. Believe me, I tried. So, to participate in this years challenge, and to raise money for education for poor girls in India, I took out my bike for the first time since surgery, and rode around Kipsala. It felt really good.

If you want to know more about the 10K4N Challenge, please visit the blog or our facebook page. And if you want to help us change lives, feel free to leave a donation at our sponsor page.

Have a great Sunday!

All the best,
A