We had an early start leaving the hotel at 8am. Another fairly sleepless night. Tired, in the shore, spreading conditioner in my hands and carefully rubbed it all over my face. Yes. Very tired. Checking out was interesting as the minibars are weighted. What this means is that the shelves are spring loaded. They have fully stocked the mini bar with everything, chips, chocolate, everything is in the fridge. If you take them out it immediately charges that thing to your account. The drinks are all in a special weighted tray with individual holes for each bottle. Hidden behind the chunky kitkat was a tiny sign telling you this info. Most of us had shoved our stuff in, some had moved their things around to fit ours in, I hadn't as my fridge wasn't very full to start with. Yesterday though as part of my visitations the minibar woman also came to restock the fridge. She asked if she could restock it as the previous people wanted the alcohol removed. I said well I don't want it either, she said I had to let her. So she did. Whilst she did that she said you can't have your things in the door. The door is for specific items. So she restocked it and pushed my stuff back in when she was finished. I said I hope I am not going to be charged for the moving around of the things. She said no. I said good because I didn't want any trouble at checkout. So this am, they questioned Kevin about the minibar, as they said the bottles had been disturbed. He said he hadn't taken anything but had put things in. They were ok about it, but it shows how sensitive their equipment is.
Rita told us stories of her life in Latvia under the soviet regime. Sounds rough. A coupon system where each month each person was allocated 1 bar of soap, 1 kilo sugar and 1 bottle if vodka. Money was still earned but worthless as there was nothing to buy. So vodka became the currency. Products and services were bartered by bottles of vodka.
One of the jokes about the KGB was... How many times do you have to tell the same joke?
Once to your neighbour, once to the policeman and once to your cell mate. The Lithuanians and Latvians make jokes about Estonians like we have blond jokes.
So they think Estonians are stubborn, greedy, selfish and tight. Here's one... An Estonian was building a one roomed house. A Latvian asked him why. The Estonian said he didn't think there was any point building a smaller one. I don't know who makes them up. Some people are clever.
The scenery is beautiful. The autumn leaves of the linden trees are falling like gentle snow. Very picturesque. The quaint little farmhouses tucked in behind a tight band of trees and grassland look like traditional jigsaw puzzles. I always thought those ones were stylised but no.., I've seen those scenes with my own eyes now.
The farms are reminiscent of king lake... The rich brown and very black dirt ploughed ready for the next crop. It so looks like potato country. Apart from the trees being wrong, we could be driving though many parts of Victoria or Tasmania. It reminds me of the Otways mostly. Damp and lush. Makes me homesick.
There has been significant logging here, but not recently. It all seems to have revegged or is in the process of. When we've looked closer it seems the bit near the road had been let come back, some looks scrubby with a few bigger trees but there are forest roads which now I've looked with a bit of an experienced eye I see are for plantation coops..some areas have been significantly stripped and thinned.
The little old houses are very traditional, being built out of planks, but vertical, not horizontal as we do. Some have been let go with the owners moving into more modern brick ones close by. Some look derelict but you can see they are still being used. There are still Dutch barns as well, I assume the style caught on primarily because of Peter 1, but stuck because of the pragmatically of the snow.
Our bus is comfy but small. The seats are tiny, the room between seats is short. Our legs are squashed. But it's warm and clean. Our driver who we are keeping now, is raymondus. Pronounced ray-muundus. He's very pleasant. Negligible English. The universal language of smiling seems to work well. He stopped at Parnu to meet his driving rest obligations. It's a beach resort town. It used to be frequented by Russians before independence but now it's mostly visited by fins.
I'm suffering a bit today. At brekky I joked to Alan I needed to be lifted off the ground and stretched backwards to get the kinks out of my back. Bugger me he just did it right then and there. He had a vice like grip and I was struggling to breathe. I think he's bruised my ribs. It hurts every time I take a breath or stretch. I hope he didn't break anything. Crikey the man is strong. He could have crushed me.
I'm missing Tim today. It's such a perfect day here. He would have loved it. I'm up the back go the bus in the corner so no one can see me shed a few tears. The sun is shining, the sky is very blue, the grass very green.
Rita is happy now as we've just crossed into Latvia. She told us that Baltic pine is actually Riga pine. She says it popular all over the world and extensively used by ikea.
She's encouraging us to buy Baltic Amber in the many different colours that it comes in. I have green amber so I'm interested in seeing the red and the blue.
Lana you'll be pleased to know they actually do have wild boars here...I've not been chased by one yet.
Rita is trying to tell us of all of the benefits of Latvia but so far my impression is that as soon as we crossed the border a very heavy fog rolled in.
The countries we've seen so far are definitely where traditional Christmas trees come from and the inspiration for the artificial ones. They really do grow with their branches perfectly symmetrically and in rows. Some are weeping varieties, some are brushy, some are similar to ours. It's Christmas tree country. The fog suddenly lifted again and it was just the most lovely day you could ask for.
Lunch was at a great place where a couple of young blokes are making an artisanal business processing organic fruits. They freeze it, dry it, turn it into syrup, cookies etc. They also do ice cream and smoked meats focussing on locally sourced and all organic products. There was lots of stuff to buy as well, but as Kelly has a dehydrator, what was the point?
Kel, they dry it for 5 days at 38 degrees Celsius. They did all the berries, pumpkin and rhubarb. The rhubarb and pumpkin were really good, much to my surprise.
I went to the toilet just before we were ready to head off and I made sure people knew. When I came out everyone was gone so I headed back to the bus but no one was there either. I jumped on and waited but no one showed up. Eventually Rita came and said they had gathered somewhere else by the river to take more group photos. I don't think I was smiling. I was pissed off actually. Why didn't even one person wait to tell me what was going on? I tried so hard not to hold them up, and ended up holding them up anyway because I didn't know. I don't think ill do anymore group tours. The older I get the less I enjoy it. It's too stressful trying to cope with group dynamics etc. Maybe today isn't a good day due to my broken ribs. It bloody hurts each breath I take now. I'm sure he has cracked something. It's not getting better that's for sure.
After lunch we drove to a state forest that included a castle. We all strolled off and explored the joint which was lovely and ankle deep in autumn leaves. There were 10's of thousands of people there, and that's not an exaggeration. The queue of cars to get there was enormous and the queue of people waiting for tickets ridiculous. Rita must have known someone who knew someone as we bypassed the queue for tickets, and then bypassed the queue of people who had tickets, so that was good. The bit that was amazing though was after we left. Rita said she had never seen so many people there, but even she was staggered by the huge number of cars waiting to get there. There were hundreds and hundreds, gridlocked on every road for at least 30 minutes of us driving.. They were everywhere. And more people walking. We left at 3pm, and they were still trying to get there. There was no room to turn around so the people stuck were really stuck. They wouldn't have gotten there till well after dark. Every second person had their dog as well. One lady had three dogs with her. It was jam packed in the park, and even worse on the access roads. They were backed up past the next town. Thank goodness we weren't caught up in it. We saw where the bobsleds took off from for the 1980 Olympics and saw where her son lived in a new set of apartments. It seems like a nice country, and perhaps they don't get many opportunities to get out and enjoy the outdoors because it was deadset crazy there today. Of course we see the gentrified things, we don't ever see the real state of the people.
Whilst I was walking around it occurred to me again that people all over the world really are much the same. They just want to be with people they love and to enjoy simple pleasures in peace. They just do it in different places and sometimes in different ways to me. This reinforces my thought about this being my last trip.
We got to our motel at about 4pm. I wouldn't know because one of the faces on my new watch has stopped. The one that's set to here time not home time. Bugger. Where's a two dollar shop for a sheet of batteries when you need one?
Our rooms are nice and David discovered the windows open here, so if the air con doesn't work we can at least cool off with fresh (very cold) air. Hurray.
Rita had signed us all up for the optional dinner with traditional Latvian entertainment. It was a duo of youngish people. Hard to tell, maybe late twenties early thirties? She played the ancient traditional instruments... A balalaika type thing, but that's not its name, and bagpipes. He played the piano accordion. They were both great singing and playing. The string thing was fantastic. Beautiful. Much more gentle than the pipa which is the traditional Chinese instrument I really like. This was halfway between a violin noise and a guitar? Or harp? Dunno... Anyway it was lovely. Then there was the dreaded audience participation. Firstly singing... And then dancing. We all avoided his eyes but we had to get up. I partnered with Kevin for the first bit, David got out of it, but then later he got roped in as well. It was actually really good fun.. We laughed and laughed. I'm glad we had to do it.
We tried the Latvian beer... Was good. It all comes in half litres except if it comes in litres! We had paid for the food, so it was only the beer that had to be paid. I paid in euro but got Latts in exchange. 1 Latt =$2. The money gets confusing after a while as now I'm trying to sort it out in euro to Latt.
The last thing I have to tell you is Rita's partner is a pig. He treats her badly. I'll fill you in when I'm not so tired.