On Saturday morning, I woke up at 6am, around 6 hours earlier than a typical Saturday, and sprang out of bed. This wasn’t a typical Saturday, you see – on this particular morning, I was going to Kuldīga, the most beautiful town in all of Latvia…
By 7.45, I was at the bus station, working my way to the front of the queue to buy a ticket. The woman at the ticket counter smiled at me. It suddenly occurred to me that I was still sleeping and that this was all just a dream. I pinched myself hard but she was still there and still smiling. Weird. I managed to mumble that I wanted a return ticket to Kuldīga. ‘No return tickets’ she chirped, ‘only one-way’. Ominous, but left with little choice, I bought a ticket and headed for the bus.
At 8.10, I boarded – along with the camping crusties, culchies and wrinklies – and tried to build up the mental fortitude necessary for 3.5 hours of looking at trees. But it turned out that this route would prove to be a revelation. Well, after a 10-minute stop in Tukums.
Of course, there were trees. There are always trees. But this time, there were gaps between the trees – fields of crops and wildflowers, lakes and rivers, cute cottages and even little towns. It actually reminded me a bit of rural Ireland, with fewer cows (I counted four) and fewer rocks (zero). Spot the difference.
The odd Latvian I spied along the way was always engaged in some sort of tree-related activity. Cutting, chopping, moving a pile of logs, making a big pile of logs from smaller piles of logs, making small piles of logs from bigger piles of logs… Fascinating viewing indeed.
Speaking of trees, I’ve come up with an idea for a horror movie, based in Latvia. The trees, tired of Latvians disturbing their peace by tramping around the forest 24/7, come to life and hatch a plan to wipe out the pesky intruders. The only person who can save the day is a 6-toed Latvian… Will they find one in time, and save themselves from almost certain doom?
Anyway, I digress. At 11.40 exactly, we arrived in Kuldīga. It was a warm sunny morning, despite a wind that had the instant effect of making me look like one of those trolls you stick on top of your pencil. The bus station is almost a kilometre outside the centre so I started walking, trying to look a little bit ‘country’, you know, to fit in. The walk in was pretty standard. A few shops, a few run-down houses, a few yoofs cat calling out their car windows. However, I got a surprise as I turned into Town Hall Square. I felt like I’d walked onto the set of a Western. The whole town looked like something lifted from a John Wayne movie.
I even spotted a man in a cowboy hat walking along. This was great! Joy aside though, I was starving so I located the salooniest-looking restaurant I could find. This place seemed to fit the bill.
I knew I’d made the right choice when I walked in. Country music blared from the radio and the bar stools were basically wooden saddles sprouting from the front of the bar. As I moved it, my heavy wooden chair scraped over the uneven wooden floor, and I had to resist the temptation to pop a toothpick in my mouth and say ‘Howdy lil lady’ when the waitress came over.
Of course, any pretence at being local was blown when I said that, along with my pancakes, I wanted black tea with milk. ‘With milk??’ she echoed. ‘Yeah, I’m Irish’, I said in my best Latvian. She actually giggled. When the bill came (a whopping 2.90 lats for two ham and cheese pancakes, and tea), I left a bigger tip than usual. I don’t know if she was laughing at my bad Latvian or my bad joke but that was irrelevant. A laughing Latvian waitress is something to be cherished. This was truly a red letter day. Maybe people in the smaller towns really are friendlier?
But then, the Kuldīgans have reason to laugh. They have achieved two ‘the somethingests’. It’s rare for anywhere in Latvia to have one ‘the somethingest’, let alone two, but Kuldīga has managed to bag both the prettiest town in Latvia and the widest waterfall in Europe. Maybe that’s why people here have a little extra pep in their step?
I left Stenders and took a mosey down Liepajas Street, checking out some of the wooden houses Kuldīga is famous for along the way.
My walk took me to the other main square, supposedly the place where the first potato in Latvia was ever traded. This square was pretty unremarkable though, having been modernised, so instead of a photo of banks, I give you another Latvian potato joke:
Latvian girl is say, “I want go America one day.”
Father say, “I send you America.”
Daughter is thank father. Make tears of happy. Father use for salty potato.
Father think moment, say, “Daughter, I no send you America.”
Potato needs more salt.
Still to come – the wedding party, the waterfall and the local talent. Don’t miss part two!