Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Right place, right time (III/IV)

Written 3rd June

So Latvia then. Another country where the AA warns about 'very little signposting and very few road markings' and, even more excitingly, the lp cheerily says that, according to the Baltic Times in 2008, Latvia was the country with the highest percentage of accident-related fatalities in the EU ... Keep in mind that local drivers tend to be aggressive' excellent!

This is also the only country we have been in where one of the currency is more than one euro (1 euro = 0.707 lats) so things look really cheap, but aren't... And I keep forgetting where we are, Litas, Lats, Levs, Lei, Lipas it is so hard keeping track - I keep calling it Litvia for a start...

Safely through another deserted boarder checkpoint - where immediately the road quality worsened - even though there were still road markings and signs! -

and on to our first stop, the Rundale Palace.

Designed for Russian aristocrats by italian Baroque architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli - best known for his creation of the winter palace in St Petersburg - Rundale palace is a beautiful pastel palace set in a landscaped formal garden of french design. It was closing as we arrived - apparently 40 of its 138 sumptuously decorated rooms with lavish original furniture are open to the public, as well as the gardens - but we had time for a quick (and free) wander

and a listen to the melodic music box chimes of the courtyard clock. Quite impressive.

Onwards and northwards, we had planned to pop into Jurmala - the chic beach resort just west of Riga - for a look at the traditional wooden architecture but it got late, we got distracted by dinner and so it was midnight before we arrived and settled into a corner of a deserted carpark.

And in the morning, it turned out that for once, we were in the right place at exactly the right time as today was street festival day in Jurmala - excellent! Usually, we arrive in places only to be told "it's a shame you weren't here last week/yesterday/two days ago" or "will you still be here tomorrow/in two days/next wednesday as there is/was a music festival/village dawn procession into the hills, festival of the Rose/food festival" etc, etc. Although to be fair, it has also worked that way with weather but very definitely in our favour "this is the first sunny day we've had in a month/last week this carpark was completely washed away by the rain/it's been the worst winter in memory here" etc etc, so all in all, we haven't done too badly!

Jurmala us where the young and beautiful and the not-so-young and not-so-beautiful of Riga come to see and be seen by the beach. And on sunny street festival day, the whole place has a fabulous relaxed vibe.

Latvia calls itself a land that sings, and that was most certainly true in Jurmala!

We saw;

latvian pop,

latvian folk singers (including audience participation dancing in an 'in-and-out-the-dusty-bluebells chasing kind of way)

and latvian folk dancing - a particularly hearty and wholesome form of foot stamping, skirt swirling fun - for all ages,

with the mid-20s group being the most energetic and mostly seeming to tell the story of decent, hard working men falling in love with pretty, coquettish, flighty young things in flirty ankle-showing shirts

who lead them a merry dance before finally allowing themselves to be 'caught'.

And ate traditional latvian streey festival food, and strolled around in the sun.

and bizarrely, the busiest booth was one where you could get your picture taken on a haybale....  why???

All jolly good fun!

We did find the typical wooden art nouveau houses,

and what is apparently 'considered to be' the biggest globe in Latvia (it's not very big, someone could easily have a bigger one in their front room, which is presumably why it is only 'considered to be'...)

and the crowded beach with its dark coloured sea -

my first body of water beginning with B!  Although 'Bay of Riga' not Baltic

- old and new style resort hotels,

separately demarcated yet largely ignored 'areas of active recreation' and 'areas of passive recreation'

and, most unexpected wedding marquee complete with string quartet, separated from the sizzling plebs by just a few yards of sand.

Lovely fine white sand though and even a sand sculpture competition so fun for all the family.

A spot of people watching - the most diverse cross-section of society and sartorial style from scruffy beach wear, to dainty summer dresses, the shortest shorts and highest stilettos I have ever seen (although with the legs for it), skintight shocking pink lycra bulging in all the wrong places and clashing spectacularly with the bright red sun burn, rock chicks and leopard skin cat suits. And lots of very small dogs.

We felt particularly sorry for this particular example of handbag dog - head of a small scared dog, body of a medium sized leather handbag, natural habitat:

squashed under the arm of a fat drunk woman jigging up and down and twirling around to the music... It badly needed rescuing :( does make you wonder, do people who carry around small dogs in handbags end up with handbags full of poo? It doesn't bear thinking about.

And rounded off the day with some Latvian rock, which does, indeed, rock! (in a very pleasant Matchbox20/Orson soft rock kinda way)

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