Digging Kuldīga (part two)

Finally, it was time to visit Ventas Rumba (Kuldīga Waterfall) and Vecais Tilts (Old Bridge), which if I’m honest, I’d been putting off a little for fear of being disappointed. At a tinchy 2 -3 metres high, it’s not going to rival Niagara Falls any time soon, but it does have the distinction of being Europe’s widest waterfall.

Following the signs, I ended up here.

2013-06-15 15.43.43


Convinced that the guidebooks, the internet and everyone else had been taking the mick, I had to give myself a bit of a shake. Of course this couldn’t be it. I’d seen photos. Keep walking.

So I kept going, following the street around and was rewarded by this beautiful sight.

Ventas Rumba

Ventas Rumba

You can’t imagine the relief I felt. It was gorgeous, everything I’d imagined and more. Spanning 275m, Ventas Rumba is the reason Kuldīga has the strange moniker ‘the city where salmon fly’. Seemingly, during spawning season, the salmon swim upstream and attempt to hurdle the waterfall to bypass it. On this particular day though, there were no salmon, just a few locals and tourists having a quick dip.

Wanting to get closer, I turned and made for Vecais Tilts, one of the oldest cobblestone bridges in the world. But before I could get there, I had another ‘am I dreaming?’ moment as a real-life cowboy rode past. Was this place for real?

Džons Veins

The Latvian John Wayne – meet Džons Veins

With the noble steed neighing behind me, I took my first steps across Vecais Tilts, admiring the bridge, the falls and the colourful wedding party in front of me in almost equal measure.

I reached the end of the bridge and started working my way towards the falls. At this stage, part of the wedding party (including the bride and groom) was ahead of me, with some guests straggling behind. As I cut through the long grass towards a tiny bridge over a creek, I tried to overtake them but even in trainers, I’m no match for a Latvian woman on rough terrain – even if she is wearing a gown and 6-inch heels.

When I got to the bridge, half of the party was already there but that was fine. Figuring we were all going in the same direction, I’d just have to trail behind a little. But no, they’d stopped on the bridge to do the ‘lock the padlock’ thing. I turned to go back but by now the rest of the wedding party had caught up, so I was sandwiched in the middle of all these happy wedding guests like the little Irish gatecrasher that I was.

Some people had started to notice the stranger in their midst and were sort of whispering and pointing at the awkward-looking weirdo in jeans and trainers. I meanwhile shuffled and shrugged and smiled, unable to explain in Latvian (or even in English at that particular moment) how I had accidentally worked my way into the happiest day of their lives.

Eventually, laughter rang out as they realised I was just a random tourist in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they moved to the side to let me pass. Unable to remember the Latvian for congratulations – good luck was the only phrase that came to mind, and I didn’t feel that was entirely appropriate – I squeaked ‘Congratulations!’ in English, with an idiot grin, and stumbled off the bridge.

I paused at the other side to watch the ritual, which I’d never seen in person before, and was lucky enough to take this shot.

Throwing the key

Throwing the key

If anybody reading this knows the bride and groom and wants a copy, feel free to get in touch! Also, if the bride and groom are reading this and you change your minds in a few years, I saw where the key landed.

And now, a few more gratuitous shots of the waterfall and bridge before we move on.

The great thing about Ventas Rumba in comparison to say, Niagara Falls, is that it hasn’t been touristified to within an inch of its life. You don’t have to pay anything to go there, there are no stalls selling tat you don’t need, and the town hasn’t been turned into some sort of Frankenstein’s monster like Niagara. I know. I’ve been there. Oh, and you don’t have to wear a poncho to get close to Ventas Rumba.

The viewing tower was a bit of a disappointment after that…

Um, no thanks.

Um, no thanks.

…as was the museum, which was closed for renovations. By now, my jeans were starting to chafe my inner thighs a little but, despite a little discomfort, this was actually good as it added to my cowgirl swagger. I headed back into Kuldīga through the town garden which was an oasis of calm. I just couldn’t understand why there weren’t more people there, but was also very glad that there weren’t.

I wandered into a local cafe and ordered a piece of ‘rausis’ the closest name I could find to ‘sklandu rausis’ but it was more of a rhubarb crumble than a Viking carrot cake. Not that I was complaining. The total for that and a cup of tea? 69 santimes. My jaw might have actually hit the counter as the girl said ‘Yeah, a lot of people think it’s cheap here.’ ‘Cheap? It’s madness!’ I replied. ‘Well, if you want, I can charge you double. Tourist prices, y’know.’ Unsure of whether she was joking or not, I decided to sit down and shut up. Although, even at twice the price, it would have been a bargain.

Bolstered by sugar, I worked up the nerve to ask her where the bathroom was.

‘We don’t have one. You can try the park.’ Surely this time she was joking? But no, this is Latvia.

Now I feel roughly the same way about park, bus and train toilets as Aboriginal people feel about photos. Every time I enter one, I feel like a little bit of my soul is being chipped away. But desperate times call for desperate measures so off I trotted. How bad could it be?

This bad

This bad

Aside from the fact that the public toilets were also the lost property, gardening tool shed, cleaning supplies closet and flammable liquid storage unit, the stall doors only went up to my chest so you could hover over the loo and still see, and be seen by, anybody unfortunate enough to walk in while you were doing your business. Thankfully, the luck of the Irish held firm and nobody did. I got out of there fast and tried to gorge myself on beauty again to wipe away any lingering toilet flashbacks.

With my sightseeing done, it was time to check out a local watering hole. I forgave the friendly barmaid for having to put ice into my white wine to chill it. (See? A smile can go a long way!) Finding a sunny spot on the terrace, I proceeded to bake and jot down a few notes about my day in my nerd-notebook. A few of the local lads rocked up, one taking off his shoes before going into the bar. This was something I hadn’t seen before.

2013-06-15 17.01.35

Make yourself at home!

A few minutes later, beers in hand, a couple of men came out, sort of chuckling and nudging each other the way men do when a woman they don’t know is present. ‘Good morning’, one said, to admiring guffaws from his mate. This was 5.30pm. Maybe they’d been drinking since the morning? ‘Writing, huh?’ Well, yes. Clearly. I guess they don’t see many people writing in public in tham thar parts. ‘Just like home’, I said, nodding at his shoes. Cue delighted schoolboy laughter and more elbowing. The weird thing is, I don’t think they realised I wasn’t Latvian throughout this exchange. They must have been drunker than I first thought.

Strangely pleased by this fact, I slugged back the rest of my wine and headed for the bus station. So, my conclusions on Kuldīga? I loved it. Sure it was a bit rough around the edges…

More EU funds, please...

More EU funds, please…

…but I think that just added to the character of the place and the feeling that you’d walked onto a (slightly unfinished) movie set. Was it worth the 7-hour return bus journey to spend less time than that there? Absolutely. Uz redzēšanos, Kuldīga!


About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
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50 Responses to Digging Kuldīga (part two)

  1. K says:

    Yes, Kuldīga is special. All it takes for a city to be special is the air around it, something one can’t explain. Nice architecture and fun adventures help, of course.
    Regarding the toilets, it is not alright if someone says – go to the park. That really has to be made clear that they have to ensure a toilet if they call themselves a decent business or at least direct you to the closest place with a bathroom. There should never be an idiotic excuse “This is Latvia”. Yes, it is, meaning the EU standards and increasing number of tourists. Once a receptionist in London told me – Here are different standards when I complained about mice in our room (oh, so it means – here, in London mice go along with the approved standard?). Traveling through Latvia, I haven’t had a problem to find a bathroom (unless you really are in the middle of a forest).

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, I kind of thought restaurants and cafes HAD to have a toilet on the premises – or at least access to one! It all added to the experience though! Just need to go back next year and try to catch the naked man run 😉

  2. That is official – latvians know how to complain if there is anything to complain about others but they are very tight arsed towards complimenting.
    Now I am so proud that I am from Kuldiiga 🙂 It wouldn’t matter really if you did not like. For me it is the most beautiful city in the world 🙂
    I used to like Ventspils a lot but since all of the roads were covered with modern paving, the lovely old town lost its charm. I hope they will not do the same in Kuldiga.
    Sorry for the toilets. I know what you mean. That is Latvias disgrace in any city there.

  3. Normunds says:

    Hello Linda. I just read your post about our city Kuldiga. I am local for 25 years (i have 25 too) and live here permanently and work in Riga. My name is Nomunds and I noticed your blog through sharing by my friends to the another post.But suddenly i saw a photo on the upper page which are very similar to my city. Then i read about you and i am very suprised that one Irish women moved to here in Latvia and was visit even us here. After i read both part of your adventure here i came to the fact that some beautiful place is missed. It is normal for sure because some tourists nothing see more than stenders bar with alcohol, girls and inn and next day go to riga back. But in my eyes you are as a scout and saw very much of our city. So i come to a conclusion that if you have any idea to come to here again i will be very proud to present remain city which is full of fun. For example very high popularity derived a famous sands cave. If you are interesed you can to write me back by skype (mors18) and who know having a some cofee in here again with company. 🙂 p.s – sorry about my english.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hi Normunds, thanks for getting in touch and for your kind offer! I’m not sure when I’ll be back in Kuldiga but I really liked it there so I’m sure I’ll be back at some stage! I was sorry to miss the sand caves but I didn’t have my own transport and I’d read that public transport there isn’t great. Maybe next time! Kuldiga is definitely one of the high points in Latvia for me! 🙂 Linda.

  4. 1WriteWay says:

    Other than the toilet, it sounds like you finally had a fun trip 😉

  5. You are getting soft. This was mostly a positive post… I do like the idea of taking my shoes off before entering the bar. I am going to try that this weekend at my local watering hole.

  6. Aggie says:

    …I was realy hoping that you were invited to wedding… there is so much interesting going on until midnight… Why did you choose go to Kuldīga???

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha, no sorry, I’ve never been to a Latvian wedding – I don’t know anyone getting married in the near future either. All the good ones are already married 😉 I guess I could put a shout out on here – any Latvians getting married soon? How about having your special day immortalised in blog form?! Invite me! I’ll be good I promise! – And Kuldiga because I’d heard it was the prettiest Latvian town and I think I agree! From my limited experience anyway! What do you think?

      • Liga says:

        I completely agree – Kuldīga is prettiest town in Latvia (I’ve this opinion since I visited it as a child). Coming from Kurzeme (Talsi: town with 9 hills and 2 lakes) I might be biased, but would dare to say that Kurzeme is most beautiful part of Latvia with nice landscape, magnificent beaches and cute little towns and, yes, in Kurzeme we have specific sense of humour (like that offering to double your bill just to make your snack tastes better).

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha, yes I like dry humour! She made me laugh! From what I’ve seen of Kurzeme so far, I agree with you – will see more of it this weekend I think – road trip! Kuldiga really was lovely 😉

      • K says:

        I could write a book about Latvian wedding now that I’ve had one. It is magical! The ANCIENT Latvian wedding is. If you have a chance to go to one of the ancient ritual weddings – you will be blown away or at least entertained. So many things are identical with Viking/Scandinavian wedding rites (autumn wedding, reps from groom’s family coming to arrange it first, dowry and gifts, the passage ritual from maiden to wife, then 3 day celebration: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norse_rituals#Marriage). Newly-weds are received by wedding guests at the ‘party’ place and they go through Gate of Honor (Danish have that too), there’s myriad of games and little rituals guests ask couple to do. At midnight the main ritual starts which is full of sexual subtext. The wedding ceremony for us was done by 4 people group among which 2 are the leading couple (shamans). Here they are: http://laikraksts.com/raksti/rakstsFoto.php?kuraFoto=4623&KursRaksts=2725 All focus is on the bride since she is changing status to a much higher one and going away with husband’s family. There are separate rituals for groom (Bear dance around the bonfire with all the men to gain the force of a bear) and for bride (encouragement from all the women e.g. standing around the bonfire, then in a tight circle around the bride telling her nice words and singing a song about a bee that to some foreigners reminded of a Scottish folksong). The woman is seen as a free bee – she has the right to choose which ‘bear’ to ‘sting’. The central ritual is removal of the wreath – bride is wearing a crown or flower wreath which is taken off her head by the groom who uses his sword (almost symbolic defloration). Then wife’s head is covered with a married women head dress tied on the back of the head (like the shaman ladies have it or like these ladies: http://senzeme.lv/?page_id=1747#jp-carousel-1774 ; http://www.videsvestis.lv/format.asp?ID=105&what=8). Then the perform the ‘wreath dance’ (the couple are rotating it on a waistband). We were also tied together with that wide Lielvārde-style waistband and the ceremony performers and passed a big lit sheaf of herbs around us (yes, looked like a big joint). Sacred words for goddesses Laima and Māra, and the God – Dievs were incorporated in the ceremony as well. After the ceremony wife is giving gifts to husband’s family from her dowry. Party goes on all night (in olden days 3 days and nights) and then guests are walking the newly-weds to their room (but they may go on partying). We had a Latvian folk band and folk dancing before and after the ritual (we also danced Irish dances).
        Most Latvians will go for the universal type of wedding: church or (if they believe in Devil ;)) a registry office. Then they do all sorts of activities until they get to they party house (country guest house mostly) and eating, 1st waltz, toasts, games etc. goes on. The padlock thing is smth. very unLatvian (and I don’t know a couple who would see a point of it) but I’ve heard many other nations do it. There are tons of traditions and everyone has their own wedding. One thing is quite common though. There must be a leading couple (vedēji), they used to be a married couple who lead and guide the newly weds into married life but today are more like Maid of Honor and Best Man or hosts coordinating everything.

  7. I agree with you, Kuldiga is a really nice town to visit, and reading your two blog entries I was reminded of my own visit to this nice place a couple of years ago. Talking of rough edges, for me that’s an essential thing to make a real and lasting impression. Too much of ‘touristness’ and the charm’s gone, a rough edge or two and its alive and lives

    • Expat Eye says:

      Agreed. You saw my pictures of Niagara – it was horrendous! The town of course, not the Falls!

      I liked the rough edges in Kuldiga – all added to the experience! Definitely recommended. 🙂

  8. The things you put yourself through for us – five stars ***** 🙂

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