Jelgava – home of the Jānis

I fear I may have been overworking a little lately. This week, I fell asleep while writing up some invoices. I fell asleep on the bus and nearly missed my stop. I couldn’t understand why my boot didn’t fit anymore – until I realised I was trying to put it on over my slipper. Then on Thursday, I had to choke back a fit of the giggles when it suddenly hit me that I was in a roomful of Latvians, teaching them English, in Latvia. This struck me as inexplicably funny at the time.

Realising that I might be at best, a little overtired, at worst, careening towards a (mild) psychotic break, I thought it might be a good idea to take a break – for a day anyway – and get out of Riga. And so, I decided to take a day-trip to Jelgava (pronounced yell-gava).

Jelgava, population 65,000ish, merits a quarter of a page in the Lonely Planet and boasts, um, a castle…and very little else by the looks of things. That’s not why I wanted to go, though. Currently, I have three students called Jānis and two of them come from Jelgava. (The other one really comes from the arse-end of nowhere.) So, I thought I’d go and see the natural habitat of the frequently-spotted Jānises (Jāņi for any Latvian readers. Pronounced ‘yahhhn-nyee’ – sexy, right?)

And so, on Saturday morning, with a belly full of Irish bacon, Latvian eggs, and ‘British’ beans (made in Hamburg), off I toddled waddled to the bus station. With my change and ticket fecked at me by the charming sales lady, I made my way to the stop. Entertainment for the ensuing 10 minutes was provided by 3 still-drunk-from-the-night-before, glassy-eyed English guys. They staggered around, one of them clutching a litre of orange juice like his life depended on it. “We just need to find someone who looks like they work here and ask them where the bobsleigh is…” I mentally wished them luck with that one.

Once on the mini-bus and out of Riga, a look out the window confirmed what I already knew. Trees, trees and more bloody trees. Faced with looking at that view or the wart on the back of the guy’s head in front of me, I chose to doze until we arrived in Jelgava at around 12.45.

Jelgava used to be the most beautiful city in all of Latvia, even more beautiful than Riga – home to dukes, barons and all sorts of fancy folks. Then it got bombed to bits in 1944. Nowadays, you’re more likely to see this sort of building than anything befitting a duke.

Cheers, Russia

Cheers, Russia

Anyway, I set off down the main street, following the signs for the tourist information centre. After walking for a while, I reached the conclusion that the information centre must be invisible. Instead, I came to this pretty pointless, probably stupidly expensive bridge.

Thanks again, EU funds

It seems that a lot of money is being ploughed into making the waterfront a nice place to be. But as usual, it’s all a bit half-arsed. You can take the load off on one of these nice benches…

Nice benches

Nice benches

…and treat your eyes to the aesthetic delights of a massive pile of mud or… a massive pile of sand.

I carried on over the bridge and found myself in a little park, faced with the one building that survived the bombings – Jelgava Palace. Former home of the Duke of Courland, the Latvians, practical as ever, have turned it into the Latvian Agricultural University. A once beautiful building, it’s very photogenic – from behind some trees or from a distance. Up-close, it could do with a lot of plaster and a good lick of paint.

Would you stand on this balcony??

Would you stand on this balcony??

Having been in Jelgava for over an hour at that stage, it suddenly struck me that I hadn’t seen any leopard-print. What was going on? Then it hit me. Single-motherhood is clearly the fashion here, not leopard-print – everywhere I looked, girls were pushing buggies, sometimes alone, sometimes with other girls pushing buggies. But where were all the men? Were one or two Jānises going around impregnating everything that moved under the age of 25? Maybe…

Jānis strikes again...

Jānis strikes again…

After a wrong turn, I found myself at the elusive tourist information centre, cunningly disguised as a church tower. A statue of Jānis Čakste, the first president of Latvia, greeted me outside.

Yet another Jānis

Yet another Jānis

I popped in, picked up a map (not really necessary) and a postcard for my granny. I wandered around the town for a bit longer, taking some photos of churches and the like. As usual, the Russians kicked ass in the flashy church department.

2013-11-02 13.58.53After all my meanderings, I decided that I’d earned a cup of tea and a cake, and headed back to the main street – where something strange had happened. An army of old ladies seemed to have taken over the town centre. It was all a bit surreal and Twilight Zone-y, but also quite a nice feeling to be the youngest woman in town by around 40 years.

OK, we've got Grumpy. Where are the others?

OK, we’ve got Grumpy. Where are the others?

There they are.

Ah, there they are!

I went into a nearby cafe and asked for a cup of tea and a cake. My foreigner’s Latvian was met with a suspicious eye but she checked my order in Latvian, I confirmed in Latvian and we were done – take note Riga. Oh, and it cost me 63 santimes.

Figuring 2.45 was too early to start drinking, I went back to the tourist information centre which is also a museum. After paying a paltry 1.50 lats for the whole experience, I started on the 9th floor where the sightseeing platform is located – and Careless Whisper was playing. Unfortunately, it had been raining and the windows were a bit fogged up so my photos were a little underwhelming – unless condensation really turns you on.

2013-11-02 15.07.30

Jelgava – maybe

One floor down, I learned all about the dowry chests that women had to bring to their marriages in the old days – which could have been filled with hundreds of items, like handmade mittens, socks, sheets, ribbons, belts etc. The chest and the ‘worth’ of the bride would then be evaluated on the wedding day by the groom’s family… I wonder how my home-made cake would have gone down?

Dowry Chest

Dowry chest

By the time, I reached the last level, I felt like something of an expert on Jelgava so I decided to take the interactive quiz. I answered (most of) the questions correctly and was awarded with a nice certificate for my troubles.

You're welcome, Jelgava

You’re welcome, Jelgava

It was now 3.45 and a perfectly acceptable time to start drinking, so I called up one of my Jānises. Thankfully, he picked me up along the way or I don’t think I ever would have spotted the bar, nestled as it was between a bridal shop and a dentist’s surgery.

Spot the bar?

Spot the bar?

Despite looking like nothing from the outside, Balerija turned out to be a real find – cosy and dimly lit, with lots of comfortable sofas and a great selection of beers. It was also where all of the men in Jelgava were hiding.

Taking a break from impregnating the local females

Taking a break from impregnating the local females

Since Latvians are always telling me how honey is good for your health, I opted for a honey beer. And it was good. And paid for by Jānis which was even better. (I know all the best Jānises.)

A real live Jānis

A real live Jānis

Now this Jānis is probably the smiliest Latvian you will ever meet but naturally, I had to make him do ‘miserable Latvian face’ for the photo. He tried, bless him, but didn’t quite manage to pull it off.

Pint downed, it was time to head back to the bus station. I did, however, stumble across one more hidden gem on the way…

YESSSS! Leopard print!

YESSSS! Leopard print! And knickers!

I wonder if those English guys ever did find the bobsleigh?

About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
This entry was posted in Beer, Expat, Humor, Humour, Janis, Latvia, Latvian men, Latvian women, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

86 Responses to Jelgava – home of the Jānis

  1. Janis says:

    recent time lapse video from jelgava

  2. Careless Whisper made me literally LOL. Lovely post and I’m glad you included a picture of a real live Janis I. It’s natural habitat. 😉

  3. gina4star says:

    Aaah the return of the Jani! 🙂

  4. Mr Kev says:

    Well well, what a tourist haven! I love the idea of turning the only nice building in a communist blunderland into an agricultural uni, so it gets messed up by all the farmer types. So I’m going to guess that you plan to move to Jelgava, right?

  5. barbedwords says:

    Will keep my eyes peeled for smiling Jani. Glad someone else commented on the less than salubrious bar, I was thinking the same thing!

  6. I have to say that the bar kind of looks like a dump and you complimented it.

    • Expat Eye says:

      In comparison to some of the bars here, it was a palace! Trust me! 🙂 I’m going on another drinking challenge in the Riga burbs on Saturday – I’ll show you some dumps after that!

  7. Aussa Lorens says:

    Super trippy that you only saw women everywhere. I felt the opposite way when I was in Turkey– I rarely saw women, especially not alone. There were these groups of men running around everywhere or hanging out drinking chai tea but the women were ghost. My friend over there explained that the women were all at home taking care of the houses. Nice.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha! Yeah, I was at a resort in Turkey a couple of years back. It was a nightmare. Like you say, not a woman in sight. But SO MANY annoying men. ‘Hey, lady, lady, where you from? Lady, Lady, come over here! Lady, I make you special price…’ I couldn’t wait to get out of the place. There was a row of around a hundred shops and a guy outside each one… In the end, I just went from hotel to beach it got so irritating.

      You should visit Latvia 😉 Far more women than men! Although I’ve never thought of that as a good thing before… 😉

      • Aussa Lorens says:

        I’m glad I’m not the only one! I always feel bad when people ask about my time there… I’m like… Yeah, it’s probably the only country I’ve been to that I’d be okay with never going back. It did clear up the question of whether I would like to be called “Barbie Doll” or “Spice Girl” every 5 seconds. Answer = No.

        I’ll have to put Latvia on my list… Girl Power 😉

      • Expat Eye says:

        You certainly won’t have that problem here! A guy might give you a shifty look out of the corner of his eye, then his girlfriend will beat him back into submission while giving you the evil eye 😉

  8. You’d need to make a few chocolate cakes to fit into that whopper of a box: )

  9. bevchen says:

    A smiling Janis… there’s something you don’t see every day 😉

  10. You go to all the best places!! =)

  11. pollyheath says:

    Ah yes, the charm of old cities that the Soviets totally ruined.

    The bar actually really awesome, though I do hope you escaped unimpregnated. I worry about you with all those Jani, I do!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Don’t worry – I had one beer and got out of there! I wasn’t taking any chances 😉 A buggy just wouldn’t go with anything in my wardrobe… 🙂

  12. Pecora Nera says:

    The sky is a little grey over there at the moment. I was going to comment on the comments…. but then thought better of it. pass the popcorn

  13. Anna says:

    I could use a smiling Janis and a beer this morning. And that red palace – it will be suitable for my dacha needs after a bit of renovations!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ooh, I could totally see you swanning around there in your ball gown! 🙂 My smiling Janis was in Brussels this morning unfortunately – and I’ve had to replace beer with tea. Sigh.

  14. So that’s how it is pronouncd over there! That’s good to know in case I end up somewhere near the area and they mighy think I can’t even say my own name right 😉

  15. Jude says:

    Hang on, there is a place named ogre in Latvia? Why aren’t you making weekend jaunts there?!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, yeah, I laughed a stupid amount when a student first told me they were from there! 🙂 I believe that there is a new carpark there… it’s not pronounced Ogre though, more like WOAH-greh! 🙂

      • Antuanete says:

        Actually, I live in Ogre too, though I spend my workdays in Riga. If you ever want to be adventurous again, welcome! I have to admit that Ogre has even less sights than Jelgava (it’s new town, started to build only in the beginning of 20th century), but in winter we have fabulous hiking and skiing trails in nearby hills, and there is new viewing tower just erected. Beer is available as well 😀

      • Expat Eye says:

        Well, anywhere there’s beer is a friend of mine! 🙂 I might do an Ogre-Madona tour – strange names in Latvia sort of thing. Yeah, I remember a lesson where I asked 4 guys from Ogre what there was to see there and all they could come up with was the new car-park 😉

  16. I don’t think I ever really appreciated the abundance of Jani until this post. Is there some sort of naming law over there?

  17. mikemajor9 says:

    Well, I gotta tell you I’m impressed you held out as long as you did before hitting the pub. I love travelling and exploring new places but… from the sounds of this town I think I would’ve lasted about a half hour before I said screw it and spent the rest of the day making merry. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again – beer makes every place interesting 🙂 — good on you for recognizing the need to take a break from over-working though – if you let it, work will swallow you whole.

    • Expat Eye says:

      It’s true! The problem of being self-employed – you’re afraid to say no to work in case you don’t get any more! 🙂 Massive piles of mud aren’t your thing?? (I would have hit the bar way sooner but the problem is the 50-minute bus ride back with a full bladder vs Latvian roads) 🙂

  18. I just love that misty photo – very artsy! The leopard print dress made my day. You need to go on excursions more often.

  19. oliviasydow says:

    ”We’ve got grumpy-” my exact thought when I saw the photo- too fun!

  20. Kaufman's Kavalkade says:

    The pearls make the outfit. What girl doesn’t love a long stringed pearl necklace?

  21. Lila says:

    two hyperactive janises impregnating everyone… yeah thats very likely to be the truth(

    here s a converstaion i had with a latvian customer today:

    – Hello Mr Ozolins, this is Lila from the company so and so.
    – Huh?
    – we re calling u to inform that ur online credit card has been activated upon ur request.
    – aaahhh….
    – U can use it now. Do u have any questions?
    – ok
    – I mean, mr osolins, do u know how to use ur online credit card in order to make transactions? if u like i can send u an email with detailed instructions
    – I dont know
    – what exactly is it that u dont understand?
    – aahh??
    – all right, mr ozolins, goodbye and have a nice day.
    – hangs up the phone.
    hmmm… dont know what to make of it. i probably overestimated his knowledge of english. but i immediately thaight of ur blog=) is that sort of behaviour typical for a latvian?

    • Lāsma says:

      I don’t want to be rude here but if someone asked me, ”what exactly is it that u dont understand?”, I’d probably try to end the conversation as well. It’s not a polite way of talking to a client.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Maybe he just doesn’t like Russians 😉

      • Lila says:

        well im not a native english speaker so even though my phrases may not have bee correct or tactfull, i always speak in a soft and sweet voice=) and i really needed to know what exactly he does not understand so that i could explain in the email. but i think he just didnt understand or didnt care. i just hope he doesnt mess up his transactions, cause otherwise im gonna be dealing with him, patiently explaining cause im usually responsible for all of the eastern european users…. god do they get on my nerves sometimes! the other day i was talking to a guy who started the whole conversation in his native tounge and i was pretty sure it was russian so after i hang up i look at his profile again and undertsand that he s actually a bulgarian and can only speak bulgarian. im like… what? i spoke russian to a bulgarian dude for 10 minutes… no wonder he sounded strange. jeez i wish i was an english teacher. then at least u get to see the person ur talking to face to face

      • Expat Eye says:

        I’m not really sure what to say to that!

      • Lila says:

        i dont think he could tell who i was. he sounded half asleep=)

    • Expat Eye says:

      They’re not known for their chatter but his English might not have been very good! Ozolins is a very common name though! 🙂 I quite like the idea of a couple of Janises impregnating the entire population!

    • Lāsma says:

      Sorry, Lila, but your English is also far from perfect. Maybe you shouldn’t be dealing with foreign customers if neither your English, nor your social skills are good enough to do that? You should have tried to paraphrase the question if you felt that his English wasn’t good enough to understand you. Instead, you just hang up. Err, right. Also, ”cause otherwise im gonna be dealing with him, patiently explaining” made my day.

      • Lila says:

        i dont mind dealing with him again i just wish he doesnt mess up his transactions and then it may be hard for him to get an explanation on the phone if he doesnt understand english. as for my english i dont really try too hard when commenting on a blog… since when did ppl become so obsessed with correct internet english? its not a school test=) thank u lasma for ur advice and another insight in a latvians lovely personality=) best wishes, lila

    • Lāsma says:

      Good grammar is credibility, and it’s very important on the internet. People are going to judge you based on your written language, it’s the only thing you have online. Also, if you deliberately use bad grammar, you’re disrespecting your readers. If you can’t make an effort, why do you bother posting any comments at all? I’m not talking about an occasional spelling mistake here, we all make them. However, if your text is full of mistakes even though avoiding at least some of them would take just a minute of your time, it tells a lot about your attitude.

      Regarding my personality, tell me something I don’t know. 😉

  22. Lāsma says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen any men pushing buggies, ever. I spent 25 years in Latvia before moving to the UK.

Comments are closed.