After an amazing weekend, we finally had a day to settle into our downtown apartment on Ausekļa (a Latvian poet) iela (street) near most of the foreign embassies and just a short walk from Old Town, the hub of the city.
After a slow, lazy morning allowing us to catch up on sleep, we took Vitauts down the daunting steps and walked toward Old Town. Our goal was to stroll, have lunch, and then come back to the apartment.
Kronvalda park is literally across the street from us, and it’s a beautiful city park with a canal, trees, statues and bridges. We lazily walked around and chatted with dad about some of the famous names and faces we saw.
He got a bit tired after we got to the end of the park on the edge of Old Town, so Sue decided to stay with him on a bench while Glen and I scouted for lunch spots. We found a patio restaurant that we thought at first just didn’t want us to be there, but it turned out they were kind of upscale, and the service was slow, but the food was exceptional.
After lunch, dad decided that he had walked enough, so we took him back to the apartment. Four flights of stairs are cruel punishment for his 88 year-old feet, but he made it up.
We turned on the television for him, and then went out to explore more of the city. I know it sounds a bit selfish, but I really think dad would rather be in a comfortable chair with his remote control most of the time. He never was much for sight seeing even when he was young.
Glen, Susan and I saw some of Old Town. We shopped for some souvenirs (and every time I saw the signs, I couldn’t help thinking of the movie Top Secret where the old man says, “souvenirs” with a really strong, German accent. We bought some trinkets for everyone (no spoilers) and Sue found a deck of playing cards for dad so he could play solitaire in the apartment just like he has every day of his life for the past 50+ years.
We were able to find Maruta and Monta’s costume shop, Sena Klets (Old Barn). Monta was working and she gave us a tour. We were just amazed at the quality and craftsmanship of the work. They also have been working on creating a line of modern clothing inspired by the ancient Latvian costumes. These were also beautiful and well-made. I tried on a classic linen shirt, and I was happy that the biggest one they had did actually kind of fit. My goal is to put together a traditional costume for next year’s Ligo. I just need to save my Euros.
The viking costume with the dagger and bronze jewelry was calling my name!
One highlight of this trip was the fact that after we stopped at the German Latvian restaurant by St. Peter’s church, a whole bunch of other people joined us on the patio. Before we got there, it was empty. Sue chalked it up to the people wanting to go where the Americans were. Or it was just a happy coincidence. We sampled their brewed beers and had a sausage platter. I also had the sauerkraut soup which was almost exactly like mom used to make.
These Latvian guys doing acoustic “Purple Haze” rock!
We ended our trip at Black Magic, a Black Balsam specialty shop. The shop is based in an old building set up like an ancient drugstore. The bathrooms feel like dungeon cells with four-feet thick brick walls. It is hauntingly beautiful. Black Balsam is the Latvian national liqueur. When dad brought some home after his trip in the 80s, we kept the bottle and forced it on friends who dared to enter our house in Yutan. Many of my friends still remember having to drink the Balsam. Here we found out that there are many different varieties including one made with currants which gives it a fruity, sweet flavor and one mixed with rum giving it a … well… some kind of flavor that you don’t want in your mouth for very long.
We had desserts and coffee in this medieval apothecary candy store and talked with the lovely shopkeeper whose name was Rita. There are so many beautiful women in Latvia. Have I mentioned that?
When we returned home, Bruno had come over to visit with Vitauts, and they were having a nice conversation. Dad never could figure out the remote control.
The next day, we were heading to Smiltene!
Side Note: I like to find unique souvenirs that you can’t buy in stores. I collect rocks, and leaves and flowers and other artifacts. As I walked around St. Peter’s church, I saw that they were doing some construction and I wanted to take a rock from the church home. There was a pile of old bricks and dirt. I picked through, and I found an interesting looking stick, but it was harder than any stick. Petrified wood? I was in a bit of a hurry, so I put in in my pocket because I had to catch up with Sue and Glen. When I stopped to inspect it, I’m pretty sure it’s a rib bone. Human? I don’t know. I hope not. I hope I haven’t cursed myself. And does taking it make me a terrible person?
Photos of Riga