Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Vacation in Latvia

As promised, here is the first installment of the tale of our vacation.

We started by traveling to Latvia on Saturday, 16 September. But this almost didn't happen on schedule because our Citroen van was in the shop and the mechanic wasn't sure if he would have it ready in time. He was able to fix the biggest problem (a major leak in the cooling system which made the van undrivable), but not the problem that causes the battery to lose power overnight, and we had a new problem that the cable you use to pop the hood open from inside the car had snapped. But the car was still drivable and that's all that mattered. I could deal with the other problems by each night when I parked the van standing in front of it and pulling hard on what remains of the cable to pop the hood. Then I could disconnect the battery so that it wouldn't die and I could start it in the morning. Inconvenient, but not the end of the world.

On our way to Latvia, we stopped in the Estonian seaside city of Pärnu for lunch, where we had our last taste of good Estonian food for two weeks.

From there we headed to Riga, where we stayed with our friend Major Evie Diaz. She was even kind enough to let us take over her apartment while she stayed upstairs with some friends! We enjoyed the chance to spend time with her and to relax and do things at our own pace.

On Sunday, we went with Evie to the Riga 1 Corps, which gave us a nice view of the Army in Latvia (which has been growing stedily since the Army first arrived). Elizabeth even made a new friend, a young girl named Bethan who is from the UK and whose family are missionaries in Latvia. From there we had a nice Latvian meal (the key to Latvian cooking seems to be shredding the meat into little bits, shaping it into various forms, and then cooking it) and Evie gave us our first look at Old Town Riga, which is nicely preserved much like Tallinn.

The next day, we set off on our own in the morning exploring Riga's old town. In the afternoon, we met up with Elizabeth's new friend Bethan and her family at the Riga zoo. It was a nice zoo with a variety of animals, and not as run down as many zoos built in the Soviet era. The kids especially enjoyed the bears, which would sit up and beg so that people would throw them food. And near a large playground they had peacocks roaming free, which fascinated Peter.

The next day we decided to see some of the rest of Latvia, and I picked a few places in the south to explore. I didn't plan on getting lost, or some serious road construction, so it took much longer than expected, but when we finally reached the city of Bauska the pay-off was worth it. There is an old Livonian Order castle there which is partially in ruins and partially restored, and it is a very impressive sight. It sits high on a hill at the meeting point of two rivers, and you can see why they would choose that location to defend their ground. The kids loved exploring the ruins and looking down from the top of the castle.

From there we went to Rundale Palace, a restored baroque palace that sits on a sprawling area of well-kept trees and gardens. After walking around outside a bit we decide that it might be too much for Peter to go inside, so we headed back to Riga for another relaxing evening.

On the last day, we spent the morning in Riga, where Evelyn and Chris visited The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, which gives a moving picture of the country during Soviet times. From there, we had another nice Latvian meal with Evie before she drove us to the airport for the next leg of our trip.

It was really nice to get to know our Southern neighbor, and I have a feeling we will visit there again.

Following are some pictures of the trip. For lots more, go to http://picasaweb.google.com/EvTimClark/LatviaVacationPictures
--Tim

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