Cēsis: The Grinvalds

Cēsis: The Grinvalds

Somewhere in Cēsis


December 31

I love Gita. Can I just say that for the record? Never a dull moment! When she plans something, she goes all out! Even on New Year’s Day, when things are closed, and it’s raining, and cold, and all the forces and elements are against her, she still manages to make the day unforgettable!

Gita doesn’t like photos.

Gita is my cousin-once-removed on my father’s side… my father’s sister’s granddaughter. You may remember her from posts this summer or from my post about the Christmas music show.

Anyway, I was trying to find a day to see my cousins Janis (Gita’s uncle), Mara (Gita’s mom) and Juris (Gita’s little brother) who all live in Cēsis, which is about 90 kilometers from Riga. I was happy to be able to spend New Year’s Eve day with them.

The day started out rough because “drama” is my middle name. Gita sent me an address to pick her up, and I was impressed because I made it out of bed by 7:30 and was actually on time for our rendezvous at the Supernetto shop by 8:45. However, when I followed the address on my GPS, I ended up in a dead end alleyway with no Supernetto in sight. I got a text from her asking where I was, and I asked her the same question. It was a misunderstanding… she sent me an address with a 1 instead of a 31… so she was a few blocks away.

She walked and found me and we were on our way to Cēsis after a quick stop for McDonald’s coffee, which, we both agreed, is pretty awful. Then she got a call from her brother, presumably wondering where she was… but her phone was locked. It wouldn’t do anything. And she couldn’t shut it off and on because she didn’t know her pass code. It was written down in her other purse. Amazing set of circumstances, really.

I let her use my phone to send him a Facebook message (because neither of us knew his phone number), but he didn’t have the internet, so he never got them. We drove, hoping they would be waiting for us, and, of course, they were.

We had a quick greeting in the parking lot of the bus station where they discussed plans and I tried to keep up. From what Gita told me, we were going to some ruins and to see some caves with a natural spring. Outdoor stuff on a cold, rainy, Latvian day. I was game! I heard the word “udens” which is “water.” I got that much.

We hugged and shook hands, and then Juris got into his white Audi, and drove off with the intention that Gita and I would follow in the CRV. Janis had to go back to work, but he would meet us later for lunch, or something. Whirlwind. Latvians just do things so quickly.

Ilmars Cerins

Our first stop was in the small town of Rauna, which doesn’t have much of a wikipedia page, but it does have a cheese factory! And not only that, but Gita called the guy who owns the small factory to give us a guided tour. Ilmars Cerins was just awesome. You can check out his wares here! Spread the word. Good stuff!

He met us at the door and gave us these hairnet hats to wear. Then he took us inside and explained first in Latvian, and then in English, exactly what this was. He and his mom started making homemade cheese, and then they bought this space and started making different varieties of cheese and

Mara buys stuff

butter. Then he took us back into a larger room where he also showed us packages of noodles. He was expanding into the noodle business. All hand made. Nothing but the best! He had little samples of the cheese and butter to give us, and at the end of the tour, he sold us some of his stuff. Apparently, it’s in supermarkets around the area. He’s an inventive entrepreneur. Very admirable.

Looks deserted?

The best part was as we were leaving, and I pointed to this giant abandoned looking building next door, and I asked, “What’s that? Is it still in business?”

“No, ja, it looks deserted, I know. But a friend of mine owns it. He uses it to make narcotics.”

I did a double take… he had me going for a second. Gita later explained that he was joking. It was really some kind of metal shop. He just deadpanned it so well.

After packing our noodles and varieties of powdered cheeses into the car, we drove to the ruins of the Rauna castle just up the road right behind the elementary school. How could would it be to go to school with a giant castle behind the playground? Because of the weather, and the fact that we had lunch reservations, we didn’t get much time to explore, but the view from above was nice, and I got some good photos of the four of us.

Then it was back to Cēsis for lunch at the only place that was open on New Year’s Eve. As we drove, Gita confessed that she had called many places trying to find interesting things to do. Sadly, many things were closed for the holiday. But we did see a guy in a bunny suit and two Santas selling fireworks, so they were open. I never found the shop, but a lot of people did (as was apparent at midnight).

Lunch with Janis

So we found the lunch lodge, which literally looked like a log cabin. I tried to explain “log cabin” to the Latvians, but I guess it’s an American thing. The menu was huge, but they all ordered in like fifteen seconds. The waitress left, and I thought we had just ordered drinks, but they were getting food already. Latvians. In a hurry. Go! Go! Go! No time to waste!

I finally settled on an authentic Latvian dish similar to what my mom used to make, ribs, kraut and boiled potatoes with cream gravy. It was delicious, but Latvians like to put too much sugar in everything including sauerkraut. I have yet to find truly sour kraut here. But the ribs, gravy and potatoes were all quite good, and the portions were tremendous. So far, not a bad meal in this little country. I’ll keep trying.

My shirt!

Janis showed up, but he had already eaten his ham and peas for lunch, “Tradition,” he explained. So we exchanged gifts. They got me a cup with my Latvian name, Džefries and a cool shirt with Latvian symbols that says “Mani sargā Latvju zīmes” which literally translates to “My guardian Latvian trademarks.” What it really means is that the Latvian symbols on the shirt will protect me from harm! So don’t mess with me. Especially if I’m wearing this shirt!



Filling up the jug

The final outing was to this magical natural spring. Gita told me to pack a water bottle, so I found one of Ansis’ mostly empty ones and took it. He fills them up at Bruno’s country house, but this place in Cēsis was even better, I think. We drove down this muddy little road, and there were already several cars parked with bustling people loading and unloading water bottles. We walked down a path and there it was, this fresh water just pouring down this wooden trough. People held their bottles and buckets under it to fill with fresh spring water. It was something I have never seen. Water just poured out like a large spigot. It was also the best tasting water I think I’ve ever had. It was just perfect.

The natural beauty of the landscape around the spring was breathtaking. We were in too much of a hurry to actually explore, and it was cold, and rainy, but the water from the spring created this marshland of trees, and moss. The colors and variance of foliage was stunning. Every photo feels like a painting. My deceased cousin, Ansis Cepure’s, art makes so much more sense to me now.

But, no time to lose, we were off. We said goodbye to Mara and Juris in the muddy parking lot, and then we drove off. We took one quick drive around the castle, and then headed back to Riga. It seemed like a short day, but we had spent a good six hours together. She wanted to spend New Years with her cats and a bottle of wine, and I was so tired that I couldn’t stop yawning.

Now it’s 3 a.m. and I’m still awake. Go figure.

Less than half…

On the say home, I stopped at a supermarket for some supplies. All I got was a bottle of chianti, but it was very good. In front of me was a woman buying bread. I swear that she had twenty loaves. I wanted to ask her was all the bread was about, but that would have been rude.




One quick note about Latvia in the winter. So far, I have seen the sun only one time… we had a short miraculous burst of sunshine on Christmas day. Since then, the sky has been grey. It’s kind of like someone turns on the light at about 8 o’clock, and it gradually gets a little lighter until about 3 p.m. when the light goes dim and it gradually gets darker. It’s never really bright, and you can never tell where the sun is. It’s just this oblique blanket of gray that hovers over everything. I told Gita that no one smiled at me when I was in Jēkabspils. She asked, “Did people smile in summer? With this weather, you would not be smiling either.”

It was a fun trip home!

If you want to see what I did on New Year’s you can read about it on Facebook.

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