Yet again, I woke up at the crack of dawn, thanks to the paper thin blinds and the creaking of old trams (and old bones) outside my window. After trying to convince myself that I was asleep for another couple of hours, I gave up at around 8.30 and went downstairs for breakfast.
There was no sign of Unhh, but the cook came running out of the kitchen to switch on the TV and the lights. We both panicked a bit when we realised that we couldn’t understand a word the other was saying, but I managed to get across black tea with milk by pointing at her (black) jumper and making (insane-looking) pouring motions with my hands.
A couple of minutes later, I had a plate of pancakes smothered in strawberry jam and cream – and my tea. Excellent. Pointing and mime save the day again.
I had it in mind to go to the Mark Rothko museum that day, but as luck would have it, I got on the tram going in the wrong direction, so I ended up taking a little spin through the forest instead, seeing graveyard, graveyard, graveyard, hospital, graveyard, graveyard… To be honest, it didn’t inspire much confidence in the hospital. When we got to the end of the line, the conductor looked at me like I was a bit mad, but I just paid again and stayed on until the end of the line in the other direction. At 43 cents a pop, why not?
For those of you who don’t know, Mark Rothko was born in Daugavpils, or Dvinsk as it was back then. His art came home last year when the Mark Rothko Art Centre opened. Unfortunately, they still haven’t completed the infrastructure to get people safely from the tram stop to the museum, so you have to trek along a sandy bank, and then across a busy roundabout. Hair-raising stuff.
As you can probably tell, I made it. Located inside a 19th century fortress, The Rothko Centre is home to the Rothko collection, other exhibitions, artists’ residences, a video hall, a library – and a café. The museum itself is actually the old arsenal building, and is quite stunning.
I paid in (€4.98 to the Rothko sector), left in my coat, and proceeded through security. The interior is very modern, with lots of touch-screens displaying information about Rothko’s life, projections of his art, and BBC shows about his life and work.
However, although impressive, it felt like too much style over too little substance. Of his 836 paintings, there are just 6 originals, donated by his family. At one point, I started following one of his famous quotes around a wall – “(We) are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.” Thinking it led somewhere interesting, I was a bit disappointed to see the same quote in Latvian, then in Russian and arrive back where I started. All in all, I spent around an hour there, but that was pushing it.
I walked outside and over to the café in search of cake. Again, more style, but badly planned. Of the three rooms, one was taken over by a private party, one was reserved for later, and the third was full – of huge tables, but not many people. The terrace was also full. So I wandered over to the visitor information centre, just as a man was locking the door. The sign said that they were closed at 13.05, 14.05, 15.05, 16.05… so I was unable to figure out when they were actually open. After a stroll around the fortress, I headed back to the tram stop.
Once back in the metropolis, I headed for Randinš again. This time there were other customers, even though I was the youngest by around 40 years. Not a bad feeling. After a stodgy feed of chicken and potatoes, I tried to work some of it off by walking up to Church Hill, where four different churches of four different religions stand – Lutheran, Catholic, Russian Orthodox and the Community of Old Believers. The Lutheran one was easily the least impressive (in my opinion) but the other three were beautiful, if in very different ways.
After that, it was back to the hotel. Remembering that I was running low on loo roll (nobody had cleaned or restocked my room since I’d been there), I hunted down Unhh.
Me: Would it be possible to get another roll of toilet paper, please?
Unhh: Unhh. OK.
After a nap, I put my glad rags on and headed out. After the debacles of the previous two nights, I wasn’t taking any chances.
Tonight, I would be dining at the Plaza Restaurant on the 10th floor of the Latgola Hotel – which turned out to be closed for a VIP party. Bastards. I installed myself in the lobby bar instead. And waited, and waited, and waited. The waitress seemed to think it was more important to pick up empties and faff around behind the till than serve new customers. It was as I fumed at the menu sitting on the table that I noticed the ants running around.
Picking up my coat, I hightailed it out of there. I went back to Lidadis… which was closed.
Feeling more than a little homicidal at this point, I gave up on food and headed for Artilērijas Pagrabi, one of the most happening spots in town.
Despite the dodgy exterior, the interior was both funky and cosy, with friendly bar staff and cheap pints. I calmed down. After paying €1 for the concert that was taking place that night, I settled in to enjoy ‘polk’ (punk/folk) music by Laimas Muzykanti. And they were… fantastic. There had only been around six people there when I arrived, but the place soon filled up. Even Sleepy from the café showed up – and stayed awake. The atmosphere was great – people laughing, singing, clapping and even dancing.
They saved the night for me – and probably the lives of a bunch of people.
The next morning, I got the bus back to Riga. On arriving at the bus station, I ran upstairs to the loo where a homeless woman had taken off her trousers and pants and was washing them in the sink. Ah, the smell of stale urine – welcome back to Riga.
As for Daugavpils? It’s clear that a lot of money has gone into the city, and is still going into the city. I just wonder if there will be anyone left to appreciate it in a few years time…