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Published: July 29th 2014
The Baltic Rally that we had been traveling with on and off through this area had gone to Lithuania when they left Gdansk. With us taking more time to explore Poland when we had a good weather window we moved up the coast further to Latvia. We left Gdynia at 8:30PM on June 18th
with clear skies and about 10-12 knots of wind. We left this late at night because the winds were calming down some and with it staying light so late here we still had light for leaving the harbor. At the beginning of our journey we only had about 1 foot seas but by 4AM they had increased to 6-8 foot seas and finally got up to 9-10 foot seas by 4PM the next day. The winds had climbed to between 29-23 knots which had kicked up the seas. The Baltic is shallow so the waves are closer together making them choppier (not a fun ride). About 24 hours after we left Gdynia we were tied up at the dock (well, not really, we rafted up to another boat, Spellbound as there wasn’t any more room at the dock) by 8:30PM on June 19th
. We met up with
quite a few of the other boats that have been traveling with the OCC Baltic rally —it was nice to connect again with others in the group. The marina is actually managed by the hotel located there and is nicely located close to town so it is handy for exploring by foot. Liepaja is Latvia’s third major port handling mostly timber and grain, but it is obviously also a fishing harbor and has a shipyard and naval base.
Walking through the town one of the things we noticed was that many of the homes were built of wood which we haven’t seen in quite some time. One of the highlights of our short time here was visiting the Craft House. We had asked at the hotel for directions which we were given so we didn’t take time to stop at the visitor center. Well, as a result of the directions we were given we didn’t find the Craft House but did get to see another part of town that we are pretty sure not many tourists get to! It turned out to be a pleasant walk and we got to see quite a variety of building construction methods. It
was also interesting to see that very quickly when you leave the main streets in town, many of the streets are dirt roads. Some of the wood homes are being restored; however, unfortunately we saw many that need quite a bit of work in order to save them for future generations. It would be a shame to lose them, but these always take plenty of money and time to maintain (we know this from firsthand experience back in Trumansburg). We decided after this detour we should swing by the visitor center to find out where the Craft House was located. We are very glad that we pursued this as it turned out to be a very interesting visit. We first came across a shop with numerous looms and high quality hand woven products for sale. The three women there did not speak any English and we definitely didn’t know any Latvian, but they were very kind and we were able to communicate how much we admired their workmanship. We were shown through their workshop and saw many of the intricate patterns of material they were making. They also did handwork such as crocheting, tatting, and intricate beadwork. We knew we
is common when there is no space at the dock
couldn’t leave without buying something. We found that the hardest part was limiting what we bought as it was all so beautiful. After our purchases there we started to walk around to find if there were any other craft workshops and found another weaving workshop. We had a chance to talk to a younger woman there who spoke excellent English and learned more from her about the workshops. They have been running for numerous years and they give people an opportunity to continue many of the traditional crafts and have an outlet for their products. This workshop makes many of the traditional patterned materials that are used in the traditional dress. Each of the regions of Latvia have their own traditional outfits that are very specific down to the point of their own pattern of weaving, similar to how a Scottish tartan is very specific for a clan.
Fortunately she also took the time to take us to the next building that housed many of the craft workshops. She showed us up to the jewelry/metal workers. There were a number of people working on making custom jewelry, belt buckles, clasp for sashes and any other items that a person
This is the first time in quite a while that we have seen homes built out of wood.
would like to order. One of the people there was the designated tour guide due to his excellent English skills. He took the time to explain many of the pieces that have been made in the workshop. He told us that there were two master craftsmen and two apprentices currently. He has been working there for a year and looking forward to many more years of learning the craft. We were taken to a room that was set up with numerous traditional Latvian outfits so we could see how the numerous crafts come together to make these outfits. One of the clasps that he showed us in the shop is actually made of 3 pieces that are tied together and used as a shoulder clasp for the sash that is worn. He stated that they have numerous research books with the ancient designs that had been used so that they can either replicate it or create new designs incorporating some of these ideas.
We stated that we were sorry to take him away from his work but he assured us that it was part of his job. We questioned him about this and he told us that in the
were only a few streets away from the main part of the town.
past all of these workshops were in various locations throughout the city. The City a few years ago gave the building to the craftspeople rent free in exchange for their opening up their workshops for visitors. In this way they help with tourism in the area, but it also helps bring in people to see that these traditional crafts are alive and well here. The building housed numerous workshops –they included a woman that has been doing leatherwork for many years. We found out that this workshop had been run in the past by her mother and prior to that her grandmother. She specialized in leather bindings of books, but would do other custom leather work as well. Another workshop was for women that made items out of felt such as hats and wall hangings. A basket-maker had an interesting technic of using a wood base and attaching the woven basket part to it. For any of you that know us at all and our love of baskets, guess what we bought from this Craft House? Yes, we now have an additional basket for our collection but it differs not only in having a wooden bottom but it also has
pieces of amber woven into the basket. Amber is found in many parts of the Baltic and this will definitely remind us of where this basket came from.
By this time we were ready for lunch and found a restaurant where we were able to try a couple of traditional dishes. Bob had what was considered very traditional –it was a casserole of various types of meat and vegetables which he really enjoyed. Janice enjoyed another traditional dish of “pancakes”with vegetables and an excellent dill sauce. You may think of crepes as being French but we are finding as we travel around that these are considered “traditional”in a number of countries –it seems to us that the fillings are what make it different in the various countries, apparently good ideas travel well throughout the world.
We were sorry to only have a day to explore this town and that we weren’t able to spend any more time in Latvia, but with having specific dates on our visa to visit Russia we had to keep pressing on. Next will be Estonia. When we went to check out at the hotel we were asked if we would be willing to
A Residential Street
that would not look out of place anywhere in the US as well
be interviewed about our travels. They said it would only take about 15 minutes so we agreed. Well, about 1 ½ hours later we finished the interview. We found out that the hotel had just recently hired a new marketing director and he thought that it would be worthwhile to promote the marina that is attached to the hotel. He and a photographer met with us and asked numerous questions about our travels and our first impressions of their city. They both seemed fascinated with the idea that we lived full time on our sailboat so we invited them to see “our place”. After lots of looking around and taking photos they left and promised to send us the photos which they did later. Even though our time was short in Latvia we came away with a very strong feeling that these people were very eager to have us in their country. The young people seem to have no difficulty with English and enjoy the opportunity to speak with us. Everywhere we went we were met with smiles. It’s obvious that since they received their freedom after the fall of the USSR they are making great efforts to develop an
Look Closely Under the Windows
to see the wood architectural details
economy that is not dependent on Russia. They are members of the EU and when we were in England last winter we were surprised with how many of the workers at restaurants and cafés were from Latvia and Lithuania as they are still struggling with their economy in their homeland.
The history of Latvia is very similar to that of Poland except that Latvia has had much less time being independent. From the arrival of the Teutonic Knights right through to being a forced satellite of the USSR the Latvians were rarely able to control their own fate. It appears they are making great efforts to becoming an independent and productive member of Europe.
Next stop Estonia!
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