Madona & Cesis Latvia 27 & 28 August

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August 29th 2014
Published: August 30th 2014
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Madona & Cesis Latvia 27 & 28 August

We are now in Latvia after 2 hours going through the border at Terehova which is near Zilupe. It has been so very different being in Latvia compared with Russia; back to our alphabet, more English spoken, many camp sites for motor homes, excellent sign posting, easy to fine tourist offices, not the big distances to drive between towns, beautifully landscaped villages, back to the Euro, our GPS loves Europe(!), and lots of maps and information about special places to visit. I don't often compare countries because they are usually so different that it is unfair to compare, however we have immediately found it so much easier as soon as we entered Latvia. In saying all that, we wouldn't have missed seeing Russia for anything!

As it was heading onto 6.30pm we found a spot in the town near Ludza to park for the night.

The next morning we headed for Madona, a beautiful, neat little town in eastern Vidzeme, surrounded by hills, forests and lakes, and is the capital of winter sports, and is only 89 years old...very young. We went to the tourist information office and was greeted by an amazing young lady Elze, who spoke excellent English. We learned later that she had been in her position for only 2 months.

With maps in hand, we 1st went to a lovely little restaurant (on Elze's advice) for lunch. It was next to a bakery so the food smells around the area certainly made us hungry. Madona is full of landscaped parks and lakes & ponds. Walking around the town was lovely.

We needed to get the mirror fixed in our bathroom, so went back to Elze who said 'I am going on a break so just follow me and I will take you to a place', which is what she did. In 30 minutes, our mirror was her boyfriend. Excellent service.

We then drove NW to another little town called Cesis. Half of Latvia is covered with forests and many lakes. There are deep river valleys with some sections having sand cliffs on their banks. It was lovely driving to Cesis.

We could see the highest point in Latvia on this drive which is Gaizinkalns , at 312m above sea level, just west of the town of Madona.

It was easy to find the Medieval Castle (1550) and the 'New' Castle (18th Century) in the town. You just had to look along the skyline and see the towers. We were given a lantern to climb up the tower of the old castle and into the dungeon. The old castle was partly crumbled but in the 18th Century there were 300 people who were taking refuge in the castle when the Russian's were attacking. Instead of being taken by the Russians, they decided to blow the tower up with themselves inside. To this day it is one of the worst mass-suicides recorded in Europe.

The New Castle was a museum which depicted the lives of the people over the past 5 Centuries. These buildings are stunning with their spiral stair cases, chandeliers and striped wall paper, dressed with paintings and beautiful ornaments such as gold clocks etc.

There was a fantastic view of the surrounding area from on top of the tower.

The roads in Latvia are mixed, but on the whole, are OK. There was one stretch of road on our first day in the country where we went through 15 temporary traffic lights which were there to control the one way traffic as one lane of road was being dug up and resealed. Patience is a virtue!!!

There were 2 camp sites near Cesis. The 1st one we went to didn't have WiFi and the water had to be boiled so we went to the 2nd spot. We were so glad we did because it was fantastic. There was a big group of Dutch Motor Home Association people using the camp site. Gosh the Dutch know how to travel. We always have a good chat to many of them. The manager of this camp site (Alpalkalns Camping) put up an Australian flag on the reception building after we arrived - how good is that. This site was very well set up. In fact we think it is equal best with one of the sites we stayed in Finland (Rovaniemi - Anaskoski Camping). This one was by a lake which had mist over it in the morning. When I peeped out of our window in the morning, I saw a boatman paddling out to do a bit of fishing. It looked magical. Oh the life of a traveller - beautiful. It looked wonderful.

The van pitches were paved and each site had its own BBQ. We wished we had a couple of steaks on board to BBQ. WiFi was excellent and bathroom facilities very good. The Dutch were good company also.

We got away by about 10.00am - we had to turn our watches back an hour when travelling from Russia to Latvia.

Here is some information about the history of Latvia:

"Latvia is a famous ancient trading point on the Baltic Sea. It was a famous route for the Vikings and the Greeks. Across the European continent, Latvia’s coast was known as a place for obtaining amber. In the Middle Ages amber was more valuable than gold in many places. Latvian amber was known in places as far away as Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. In the 12th century, German traders arrived, bringing with them missionaries who attempted to convert the pagan Finno-Ugric and Baltic tribes to the Christian faith. The Germans founded Rīga in 1201, establishing it as the largest and most powerful city on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea.

During WW2 Latvia was occupied by the Russians. and later, a puppet government headed by Augusts Kirhenšteins led Latvia into the USSR. During the time of the Iron Curtain, Latvia was a province of the Soviet Union, and the concentration of heavy industry was enormous. Contacts with the West were regulated. The Baltic region had the reputation of being the most urbanized and having the highest literacy rate in the Soviet Union. Latvia gained independence on September 6, 1991. Between 1991 and 2007 the country saw unprecedented economic growth. However, the global recession and the banking crisis hit Latvia brutally, and severe economic contraction and destructively high unemployment have returned."

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