Norman loves Latvia and now, so do we!

Driving out of Estonia from Tallinn and through their seaside escape town Parnu, the Family P. headed south into Latvia the second largest of the Baltic North European States after Lithuania. We loved Estonia and the record breaking summer of 2018 continued as we hit the Latvian countryside. We’ve swam in some pretty cold waters in Finland so we were braced for the worst on the North European coast but to hardened English sea swimmers such as the Family P, the beaches were as warm and balmy as any tropical Island and let’s not forget the beach volley ball courts in the centre of the city – how often do you stumble upon those in a country that can pick up a Finnish television broadcast signal?! You can keep your over touristified Greek Islands, thankyouverymuch this is our kind of beach holiday.

Crossing through the rolling hills and forests of Latvia and while enjoying a very pleasant stroll through the gardens of the lovely little town of Cesis, we met Norman. I love Norman, Norman is a special guy. Norman is a man for whom obsession is not just a word, it’s a life choice. Norman loves castles and while we only met Norman for a few minutes it felt like we shared a very special moment. Within that time we were treated to a clinical and comprehensive break down of the national castle situation within Latvia including, but not limited to, information on; size, age, location, parking facilities, family friendly likelihood and total time required to experience the full majesty of each building. The Family P also think that Norman is punching above his weight with his fiancé, also pictured here, if her steadfast yet undeniably uninterested reaction during our conversation is anything to go by. Regrettably she declined to leave her name for immortality here on this blog. We wish Norman and his soon-to-be wife all the best for the future, it was an absolute pleasure getting to know you both. It was one of our saddest Brexit goodbyes, but so long our slighty geeky, slightly bonkers Latvian friend!

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Norman – We love you!
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Cesis Castle, the site of our meeting with Norman
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This was perhaps the most questionable castle recommendation from our man Norman. Because nothing says castle ‘enthusiast’ like a field with a hut in it.
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Would we have discovered these incredible ruins without Norman? I suspect not, the man gave us GPS co-ordinates from memory. I think that says it all.

Before getting to Riga, the capital of Latvia, we should spend some time talking about some of the other incredible parts of the country. Cesis and Silguda are both towns situated in the forested central region of Latvia and are truly captivating to visit on a balmy summers day. We didn’t manage to get over to the beach on our trip but similarly, the coastal region of Jurmala and Bulduri are supposed to be phenomenal places to stop for a while.

 

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Sunset over Riga – beautiful
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The lucky animal statue of Riga – we rubbed everything we could reach for some extra good ju-ju
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With facilities like this all over the city, competitive Beach Volleyball is practically the national sport here

Riga itself has a lot going on. Maybe we just managed to catch ourselves a good guide but I thoroughly recommend ditching the Old Town tour and catching the ‘Alternative Riga’ tour guide because it takes in all the bits of the city that tourists never get to pay attention to. How about massive Communist statues? Maybe a former KGB office building? Do you want to know about how the local market is the biggest indoor market in Europe consisting of four ex-Zepplin aircraft hangers that were chopped up and shipped over from the Latvia/Russian border? I know I do because that’s the really interesting stuff!

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Say what you like about the Communists but besides the enforced work camps, brutal secret police and state sponsored internal terrorism; they did make a good statue
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The ex-KGB office in Riga, you can visit this and view the city from the roof. For a Secret Police headquarters, they weren’t exactly going undercover were they?

You also hear about how the Latvians eat Lamprey which if you don’t already know what it is, go here. We saw these live at the fish market and the knowledge that these are eaten by choice is still haunting my dreams. And speaking of food, the Latvians seem to have quite a specific, if peculiar diet; almost every family has a connection to a personal farm in the country which seem to supply them with as much fruit and veg that they could wish for. The markets are groaning with the type of fresh produce that is a nutritionist’s wet dream and with the Baltic sea on their door step, fresh fish is landed and shipped across the country with ease. On the surface then everything is hunky dory. Well, perhaps not because when it comes to protein the Communist stereotype kicks in with fermented this and salted that. If it fits in a jar then it’s pickled or smoked and if it can’t fit in a jar then bits are chopped off so it can and then be pickled. Eels are smoked then pickled and let’s not forget the previously mentioned Lampreys.

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Smoked eels on the left here, they taste of mud and disappointment
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The Freedom Monument in central Riga with guards – symbolic much?

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But hang on Rob, I’m imagining I hear you cry! I think you’ve forgotten something! What on earth did Norman think of Brexit? You can’t leave us hanging on that cliff edge of uncertainty! Well, of course not. Once Norman had managed to reach castle saturation point, we got on to Brexit. Norman’s view is tinged with sadness as he feels that the UK is not looking to learn from the lessons of the past. Like Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia suffered enormously under the occupation of the Germans and Russians so as a result, they know how damaging it can be to be geographically cut off. Norman can’t understand why we would actively choose to do that when every example he can think of tells a story of integration being the route to better social, economic and artistic growth.

This is perhaps the most striking view of Brexit we’ve had so far – we’re moving to Lithuania next and then onwards to Poland and a part of that country is a warning for the whole world ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ George Santayana. We’ll see if The Child can see the relevance in those words when we get to Auschwitz.

Latvia

The #2MenEUTour Big Brexit Tour journey so far:

Estonia

Greece

Bulgaria

Romania

Malta

Denmark

Sweden

Finland

France

Italy

Austria

Germany

Luxemburg

Belgium

The Netherlands

Slovenia

Croatia

Ireland

Scotland

Where it all started

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