To Latvia. First on foot.
After a quick walk around the border town of Valga/Valka (depending on which side you’re on) we headed into Latvia proper.
In Valga a decent walk may see you cross the border a few times. Yesterday it was 33+ degrees and with little shade, so we hopped over the border to say we’d done it then headed back to the van.
I always expect a border area to be a mix of countries, but it’s as if the hard borders still exist. Once you cross over pretty much all cars are Latvian (or Dutch, what’s that about?). And while parts of Norway had far more motor homes than any other form of transport, here there are very few.
Cēsis – go there!
Our target town was Cēsis.
We arrived there pretty damn hot.
We parked roadside in a layby looking over parkland.
After a short sleep and a cold wash we’d regained enough energy for an explore and dinner.
Cēsis is wonderful. I loved it. And yes, I wanted to live there!
It’s at a perfect state between ragged and restored.
Many streets have authentic new cobbles, but most of the houses are unmolested. They’re a good mix of stone, and timber, and the two churches are extreme and beautiful both.
It’s dominated by a large castle that’s part medieval fort, and part 19thcentury mansion.
Cafés and craft beer dives hide in cellars, and spill up onto streets.
Most stay open until the wee hours, and a guy I talked to suggested that the sun keeps people drinking until 3am and later. I felt tired at the thought of it.
A little back alley took us to a grunge bar called Utt where the tattooed and beautiful ones gather to drink strange ales and be serenaded by vinyl only beats. We had a superb burger (one each, imagine!) and rosemary crusted chips. Delicious!
In Hamburg the van was hitting 40 degrees at night. Last night wasn’t quite so sweaty, but only a little cooler.
Our night stop turned out to be a smoking point for the kids.
A couple of cars would pull up, they’d get out, chat, smoke, music good and loud, then, a few minutes later, they’d drive on. And it was getting later and later.
By 2.30am our drive-in fag joint finally closed and the temperature had dropped enough for sleep to finally rescue us.
Tired AC and KC dragged themselves back into town for an excellent coffee injection this morning as the great and good flocked in for a big wedding.
Minty managed to catch a glimpse of the faithful at the Othordox church.
After a short drive, with a stop at Sigulda, we were on the outskirts of Riga, although the capital will have to wait until tomorrow.
This afternoon we had an altogether more solemn destination.
Salaspils, 20 kms south of the city, was the site of a Nazi Prisoner Camp from 1941 until the end of the war.
a Concentration Camp like Auschwitz, this place was a living hell for many, and the last stop for thousands of Jews, Latvian political prisoners and others from Belarus.
In the early 70s a most impressive memorial was built on the site in Europe’s best example of Soviet gigantism.
The centrepiece, on which a line of poetry reads “Beyond this gate the earth groans”, is a massive hollow concrete bunker representing the barracks that prisoners were held in.
This bunker rises gently towards the light, heaven and salvation.
The surrounding grounds have seven utterly massive statues with titles like Mother, The Humiliated, Solidarity, Oath.
At 185cms tall I only reach the knees of these concrete giants.
Appropriately a gentle rain fell throughout our visit.
Nearby very long freight trains rumble by almost constantly. Poignant.
To one side of the site a long black marble slab contains a metronome that thumps out a heartbeat.
It’s not loud, yet you can hear it across the whole site.
You can’t escape it.
Nor should you.
This is a deeply moving place.
While the monument was put in place by the Latvian Soviet, the irony isn’t ignored. There’s a plaque that details how the Nazis were tried for war crimes, while the Soviets have merely been implicated.