Latvia and the city of Daugavpils

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July 1st 2013
Published: July 7th 2013
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We are now really in territory we know little about and Latvia is probably the most mysterious of the three Baltic countries to us with reportedly a still heavy influence of its past ties to Russia evident.

Taking the A14 north out of the city the countryside passed by quickly with few towns and villages to slow us down and with little traffic around we got to the turn off for the R114 faster than we thought we would.

We decided to take a lesser road that ran between a series of lakes thinking it would be more scenic and although we didn't actually drive close to the lakes to view them the forests surrounding them were still enjoyable.

We were that close to the lakes that we thought we would take a chance and drive down a side road to see what they really looked like.The road we chose was unsealed and in the dry conditions we made a huge dust trail after us.The road surface was good and eventually we came to within a hundred or so metres of the water.However an open gate was ahead and with some derelict buildings around we proceeded with some caution which was just as well because we came across a guy chain sawing up some felled trees.He gave us a look that suggested we shouldn't be where we were so we stopped,turned around and went back to the main road frustrated that we didn't quite make it to the lakeside.

A short distance on we arrived into the village of Labanoras and took a stop for a drink with the elderly men sitting outside the only store taking an interest in us and our French number plates on the car.There was a timber built church on a small rise and we took a look inside the simply adorned interior.We couldn't tell exactly what denomination it followed as it appeared to be neither Catholic nor Lutheran which are the principal religions in Lithuania.

Heading on, we finally got to pass by a lake that was adjacent to the road and as it was lunchtime we took a stop for a boot lunch and a walk in the forest around the side of the lake.One of the things that is noticeable in Lithuania is the solitude in the rural areas and if this had been a lake in NZ in summer there would have been people and their boats enjoying the outdoors.Today here it is quite different with just us and a couple of other cars parked next to the large lake.

Just north of the lake we stopped at for lunch we came close to the Belarus border and Gretchen suggested we should sneak across and seek out that cheating discus thrower from the last Olympics and sort her out on behalf of all Nzer's.

Away from the National Park that the lakes were located in, the land was cultivated with a crops of primarily wheat and corn as we rejoined the main road to cross the border into Latvia.

Like all other border crossings with formalities it was a non event and it was only a new road sign telling us the speed limits for Latvia that told us we had changed countries.Although the road conditions did deteriorate and after the smooth surfaces in Lithuania,even on the secondary roads,the patched A13 into Daugavpils changed the comfort of the ride.

Entering the city was a different experience where in the past Vicky had taken us directly towards the centre,this time she took us off on a side road which turned into a road under reconstruction.We could see the city om the other side of the Dauga River but this definitely wasn't the main road into the city.

With only one road bridge across the wide river we did eventually join in the main road and came upon the very imposing statue, at least 30 feet tall ,of a Russian soldier with an unfurled flag looking very aggressive and defiant.This made us start to wonder what the city of Daugavpils was going to be all about.

We followed a route through the city and arrived at the street number of the hotel just on the edge of the downtown area but couldn't see any signs for the hotel.In fact the buildings all looked unoccupied.So we parked and walked back to the building with the number we w ere looking for and sure enough a very small sign above a very solid timber door said it was the hotel we were looking for.Now we did really have some doubts about our overnight accommodation.

Gretchen pushed a buzzer and a young woman came and let us escorting us through an internal door to what was an open office with another very attractive young woman sitting behind the desk with a computer.She turned out to be reception and after all that we had seen since arriving into the city she surprised us speaking very good English.She showed us upstairs to our room which had a kitchenette and a very nice furnishings.We still had a way to go though to be convinced we w eren't actually in Russia.

And that wasn't helped in the first building we went into when we took a walk through the city of just on 100,000 people.

What looked like a mall from the outside turned out to be a building almost identical to one that we went through in the Moscow suburb we stayed in 4 years ago.Rather than separate shops as we would see in a NZ mall or anywhere else for that matter in the west,this was a collection of tiny enclosures of glass absolutely chocker full of stock with hardly any room for a shopkeeper or customers, with lanes between the rows of enclosures.And rather than a ceiling in each' shop' there was just the roof of the building high above with all the electrics and air conditioning ducts exposed.

We did some grocery shopping in another smaller mall which was more like what we are used to and then continued to walk around the inner city streets and a tree lined square with a Russian Orthodox church as its feature.Adjacent to the park was an imposing dark grey concrete building that was a cinema and theatre.

The city also boasts a university and a tram system with the oldest trams in use that we have on this trip.

In difference to many other Eastern European cities,Daugvapils,didn't have any cranes on its skyline and seemed to be in a bit of time warp which probably relates to the lack of investment since independence.

Many of the people on the street looked different to those in Vilnius and Warsaw for instance which probably relates back to the large Russian population that stayed on after independence in 1991.Up to 30% of the population are designated Russian and almost all of them live in the cities and towns.It will be interesting to compare the look of the people in Riga,the capital.when we have a couple of days stay there next week.

Part of the furnishings of our room were dark brown curtains and we were pleased for these as it is even more noticeable now that the sun is setting later and the twilights lasting longer which tends to encourage one to stay up a bit longer.

Tomorrow its remote Northern Latvia and a log cabin for our overnight stay.

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