A few days in Daugavpils (Part one)

“It’s a total shithole.”

“It’s a dangerous shithole.”

“It’s a shithole full of crazy people.”

My friends’ reactions when I voiced my travel plans only made me more curious to check out Latvia’s second largest city. Daugavpils, with a population of over 100,000, is the most Russian of the Latvian cities and lies just 33km from the Belarusian border in the Latgale region. Anyone who’s spoken to a ‘real’ Latvian will probably have heard horror stories about Daugavpils – in short, it sounded like just my kind of place.

I hopped on an express bus at 2.30 on Thursday afternoon, and steeled myself for another 3 hours and 40 minutes of tree porn. However, this route would turn out to be a pleasant surprise, dotted as it is with lots of little towns and villages along the way. I even managed to finally go through the wonderfully-named ‘Ogre’ (pronounced something like wo-AH-greh). The road mostly follows the path of the Daugava River so the views were pretty, if not spectacular. Finally, at just after 6pm, we rolled into big bad Daugavpils.

I headed for the loo where I was charged 30 cents for the pleasure. The attendant was saying something but it took me a couple of seconds to realise what she was gesturing at. Then I noticed it.

Choose the amount of toilet roll you need BEFORE you go to the toilet

You have to choose the amount of toilet roll you need BEFORE you go to the toilet

Having demonstrated that I could use toilet paper responsibly, I left the station. In a rare moment of organisation, I had printed out directions to my hotel. Google said that it was a distance of 3km and would take around 38 minutes. What Google had failed to mention was that it was 3km of mainly dug up pavement, crumbly embankments, railway lines, Mormon-dodging, and weird pipes sticking out of the ground.

I arrived at the hotel around 45 minutes later, looking a bit like the wild woman of Borneo, sweaty, sandy and with stones in my trainers.

Welcome to 'Paradise'

Welcome to ‘Paradize’

To my dismay, but not total surprise, the door was locked and the reception in darkness. I had chosen this hotel because it was cheap, not too far from the centre, had alright reviews, and had furniture like this:

Brilliant

Brilliant

But now it seemed that I would never get to see it. I walked around to see if there was another entrance but couldn’t see one, so I called the number on the door.

Receptionist: Unhh?

Me: Um, is this Hotel Paradize?

Receptionist: Yes.

Me: Right. Well, I’ve got a reservation and I’m standing outside. Is there any chance I could get in?

Receptionist: Unhh. 

A light went on a few minutes later and she materialised from the gloom. She managed to figure out that I did indeed have a reservation and then asked me:

Unhh: What time do you want breakfast?

Me: What time is breakfast?

Unhh: Morning.

Me: Right. Well, around 10 then?

Unhh: Unhh. 

She then took off at a run up and down a bewildering array of staircases, pointing out the door that was actually open (it seemed the main door never was), and the breakfast room which doubled as the hotel café. I then paid, which also seemed to be impossible at reception, and she brought me up yet more stairs to my room. The room itself was actually OK, though the bedding could induce an epileptic fit, and the toilet had definitely seen better days.

2014-05-02 09.50.11

Relax. It’s ‘normal’…

2014-05-02 00.04.20

At this stage, I was ravenous but a stroll around the local area revealed no cafés or restaurants. (On a side note, seriously, what is it with all the bloody flower shops in this country? I’m hungry, for God’s sake – I can’t eat flowers.) So, in a rather depressing move, I bought the world’s worst chicken sandwich and a bottle of wine from the local supermarket, went back to my room and had the most depressing ‘first night in a new city’ meal ever.

The next morning, I showered, dressed – and then realised there was no hairdryer in the room. So I trotted down to reception. No sign of Unhh. I went to the breakfast room. No sign of her there either. I went back to reception and there she was.

Me: Is it possible to get a hairdryer?

Unhh: Unhh. OK…

She did the stairs trick again while I obediently followed. With my hair finally under control, I made my way back to the breakfast room again, which was in darkness. I walked over to the kitchen door where I could see Unhh and the cook standing. Clearing my throat to get her attention, I asked if breakfast was still available.

Unhh: Unhh. Sit.

I sat.

She switched on the lights and the TV, which was set to some dodgy Russian shopping channel. I’d arrived at 9.59, and by 10.16 I was leaving with a belly full of ham, cheese, bread and fried eggs. All in all, pretty good.

Unwilling to chase Unhh all over the hotel again to ask how the tram system worked, I worked my way through the jungle outside my door, and walked, as instructed, through the car service place next door, getting on the first tram that came along.

No words but lots of sneezing fits.

No words, but lots of sneezing fits.

It had a conductor, something I hadn’t seen in a while, who charged me the bargain price of €0.43 for a trip to the end of the line – the train station.

So, what do you think? Will Daugavpils delight or disappoint? Stay tuned for Part Two to find out!

I know, I’m such a tease.

 

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About BerLinda

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

93 Responses to A few days in Daugavpils (Part one)

  1. starovoitovs says:

    Those chairs

  2. 1WriteWay says:

    The breakfast sounds like it might have been worth the angst of your evening meal 🙂 Sorry I’m so late in catching up with posts, but now I’m trotting off to your next installment 🙂

  3. pollyheath says:

    So you’ve just described every small Russian town I’ve ever been to. Guess that Soviet charm is all over the USSR.

    I’m just breathless with anticipation over your next adventures in this marvelous cityscape.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Polly, do I detect a little sarcasm there?!
      You really should take Anna on your next adventure – she’s missing out 😉

  4. It could have been a lot worse, but I am with you on those bed sheets – talk about dated!! The breakfast sounds pretty good!! Looking forward to your next post!

  5. thriftygypsy87 says:

    You’ve got me on tenterhooks until the next installment. Looking forward to it! ;P

  6. I do hope you paid a visit to the Rothko museum? 🙂

    And maybe it’s just not the best time yet. Been there in summer. Not so bad. About socializing in small towns – you have to understand that for Latvians going out to have a meal somewhere is only for special occasions. Here I’m talking about older generations. Therefore even if someone starts up a cafe or restaurant it soon dies because the clientele just won’t come.

  7. Heather says:

    I’m having flashbacks to China! I’ll definitely be checking out Daugavpils – and Ogre! – so thank you for helping manage my expectations 🙂

  8. OMG! I’m so looking forward for the ‘to be continued’ part. I’ve wanted to visit Daugavpils like for ever, but just never happened to actually going there, so your impressions might become ‘make it or brake it’ for me 😉 Anyway, there should be some fort or castle or something in that town, so if you get to see anything good and stay safe and sound, maybe i’ll follow your suit 😀

    • Expat Eye says:

      Well, I managed to get out alive so that’s one good thing! 🙂 I’ll write the next part over today and tomorrow I think! What’s your motivation for wanting to visit?

      • Tourism? (*eye roll*)
        Well it is close-ish to our country side house, so I figured I could go visit someday, but so far all my Latvian routes bypassed Daugavpils direction by hundred kilometers, so go figure 😉

      • Expat Eye says:

        You could spend a day there, I reckon 😉

      • yeah, I could. But since i prefer traveling with some company for fun and some navigational help since i usually do all the driving, my previous attempts to go to this town were outvoted in favor of some other places in Latvia. Last year when I put Daugavpils card on the table the furthest we went in Latvia was Rundale and Daugavpils lay victim to Biržai and it’s sink holes

      • Expat Eye says:

        Sounds interesting! Rundale is nice though – but there’s nothing in nearby Bauska. I think I counted one café 😉

      • Yes, that’s a common problem in smaller towns and villages. Last year we ended up sleeping in a small Lithuanian town, and in the morning we counted at the very least 4 cafes/bars looking for any place to get a cup of coffee and anything to bite before the journey, but all of them were closed and locked, and in the only one which wasn’t we were told it only works during special occasions, e.g. weddings, funerals, etc., but they don’t serve hungry customers like us who have no prior reservations. Thank gods there was this lousy gas station some 30km away with even worse sandwiches, and bad coffee which that one morning were heavenly manna LOL

      • Expat Eye says:

        I can almost forgive it of smaller towns and villages (though I wonder what people there do to socialise – maybe they don’t?) but for the second biggest city in the country to be this limited was quite a surprise!

  9. Daina says:

    That toilet paper roll set-up is hilarious. (Thanks for reminding me to always have some tissues in my purse during my upcoming trip.) And the street – wow, the fact that you didn’t just turn around and return to Riga is quite amazing. That view alone might have scared me off, but you are clearly a bit more adventurous than I am! (Or more crazy. One of the two!)

    • Expat Eye says:

      Probably crazier 😉 Yeah, I was tempted to just leave my stuff at the hotel and get on a bus a couple of times! And YES to always carrying tissues with you!!

  10. Anna says:

    Wow. You are a brave, brave woman! No WAY would I venture out somewhere like that. NO WAY. I have chills.

  11. Kristine says:

    It sounds like you really enjoyed it 😀 i remember the summer 2 years ago when i was travelling through Latgale with my bf, we decided to spend the night in Latgola. The room was quite good but the breakfast on the 10th floor (with a beautiful view) was exceptionally crappy. The only normal food that we had was in Čili pica. Oh, and the cinema is very cheap and has sweet popcorn, which was a big plus as well 🙂 can’t wait to hear the rest!

  12. Mārtiņš says:

    Have you seen Hotel Splendide? I can only imagine this movie to be fuller with adventures and more charming.
    A service you had with that bored, unconcerned lady is something similar you could experience in Soviet times. You have to love the exotics you experienced.

  13. What, and now I’m supposed to go to bed? How many sleeps till part II????

  14. nancytex2013 says:

    Unhh…why are you still there? LEAVE THIS PLACE!

  15. Paul says:

    Sounds interesting but serviceable. At least the food was palatable.

  16. rigaenglish says:

    Daugavpils can hardly fail to amaze and delight after the trips to Brekshi, Ziepniekkalns and Daugavgriva. Nevermind the flower shop, what is it with these place giving themselves pleasant sounding but hugely inappropriate names? You visited a Dream Cafe and a Cafe Paradize with me (in Daugavgriva) and they turned out to be anything but. Sounds like you haven’t given up on finding your paradize in Daugav-whatever?

  17. lizard100 says:

    Another post with a view of the loo! That’s the way you roll! Some people go to Borneo to find a wilderness while yours is on the doorstep. Can’t wait for part two! Last time I got to a hotel in darkness it was in Ennistymon!

  18. Expat Eye says:

    Reblogged this on Expat Eye on Latvia and commented:

    Reblogging this as it didn’t show up in the reader first time round! Enjoy!

  19. Emmi says:

    Leopard chairs! Love them! did you actually get to see them when you were in the hotel? I feel like Latvia needs a leopard pride parade instead of the one with the pink blondes.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I took that photo 😉 But here’s the link to booking.com – animal print bedding as well although I was disappointed mine wasn’t 😉 Ooh, leopard parade! Excellent idea!

      • Emmi says:

        leopard curtains… leopard beds… maaan… and after this Latvians claim its a foreighn thing? Nope, they should just accept the fact that they became leopardised=)

      • Expat Eye says:

        They’ll say it’s the Russians 😉

      • Emmi says:

        I seriously doubt they ever had any leopard print during soviet times. I feel like in the 90s when latvians had free market and were finally free to buy and import whatever they wanted they (along with a bunch of other eastern european nations) started folloing the cheapest trends picked up from american TV and films such as pretty woman and other hollywood movies where you see those trashy woman wearing leopard print and miniskirts… Russians certianly have smth to do with it but I feel like a lot of people in eastern europe are still stuck in the 90s

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, the Dallas and Dynasty era 😉 Or Pretty Woman as you say!

  20. Kat says:

    A visit of a mystery guest to my home city – interesting 🙂 I work in a hotel in Leeds and reading reviews on the Trip Adviser is one of the tasks on our check list (usually guests are happy, but sometimes we get feedback, which makes us laugh and cry at the same time).
    I think it would be more entertaining to visit Daugavpils on the 9th of May (the Victory Day parade), but I hope you will enjoy your trip anyway. I remember you wanted to visit Rotko museum (and the fortress), it is quite nice historical place. Also I would highly recommend to have dinner at the Plaza restaurant (which is located on the 10th floor of “Latgola” hotel, right in the city center). Me and my English boyfriend were surprised by an outstanding quality and presentation of our meals. Most cafes and restaurants are located on the central Rigas iela.
    Can’t wait for part 2!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hey, I’m already back in Riga but there will be posts on all the places you mention, don’t worry! Let’s just say the ‘Latgola’ didn’t live up to expectations 😉

      • Kat says:

        Thanks for the reply 🙂 I know that my opinion on Daugavpils is biased (because I grew up there), but it is a bit offensive to hear that Latvians call it “a total dangerous shithole with crazy people.” (Linda, thanks for being brave enough ;)) All I know it is a lovely, green city with lots of history. The population is multicultural (Latvian, Polish, Russian, Belarus, Tatar, Jewish etc), most people speak Russian, that’s true, but historically Latgale became part of Russian empire in 1722 and Russians lived there long before Latvia entered USSR.
        I hope those Latvians could visit Daugavpils and have a great time, I would also recommend to check out our lakes, I think the best place to stay is “Silene Atputas Parks” http://silene.lv, it’s very modern and offers a lot of activities (even a jet ski ;)).

      • Expat Eye says:

        To be fair to the Latvians, it was three foreigners! The Latvians just seem to have a fear of the place – stories of people being beaten up or killed for speaking Latvian etc. I spoke Latvian (and English with the odd spaisiba 😉 ) and had no problems. I’d actually go further and say that it’s much friendlier there than it is in Riga. People don’t stare at you like they do here, service overall was better.

        I should have got your recommendation for a hotel before I went 😉 But then I never would have met Unhh so every cloud and all that 😉 Hope you and Inti manage to meet up! So cute that you guys met here haha!

    • Inti says:

      hey Kat do you live in Leeds too? I’ve recently moved up her for uni.

  21. Gunta says:

    I am so excited! But I know you made it out alive so it can’t be that bad 🙂

  22. janis says:

    Hahah I love the leopard print chairs.

  23. Maris says:

    Love it. I so hated it when Latvia started trying to emulate the civilised West but you obviously found a gem here. How much did you pay for the ‘viesu nams’ just out of interest?

  24. So I actually have several recipes for flowers (nasturtiums, marigolds, chrysanthemum, the old rose, of course – and then don’t forget floral vegetables such as the broccoli etc, although I’m guessing they weren’t in the arrangements). Let me know before your next trip.

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