6: Liepaja, Latvia
It’s 7:00am in Riga and I’m slowly waking up and feeling every sore muscle in my freaking body. I need some time to stretch. I try to remember every stretch I’ve ever learned and started to do them. It feels good to stretch. I am SOOO sore. It will be good to sit in the bus for a few hours, I believe it’s four hours to Liepaja. I don’t want to wake Karyn. She is sleeping soundly. I notice she gave me her only pillow to use. That pillow helped me sleep wonderfully. Thank you Karyn, for being so giving.
Thirty minutes later and I’m nice and stretched. My blood is flowing. Karyn stirs and sees me awake. I leave for Liepaja at noon to get there around 4pm. So, we are off to start our day.
I brush my teeth and I notice the water is warm. The water is heater is going full blast! What a great start to a new day. I quickly share with Karyn the good news! The water is warm!
I gather my stuff, pack and get ready to leave. When I arrived yesterday, there were these two dogs. They were a bit mangy but I just love dogs, so I immediately liked them. They knew I liked them because they followed me around all the time. When I left the room to go outside, the dogs came up to me again. The old couple were outside doing some work too. They came up to me to shoo the dogs away but I petted one of them a little. I immediately reached in my backpack and showed the picture of my spoiled black lab – Amos. No English was spoken but I immediately bonded with this couple. Lots of smiles. Karyn soon joined us and we started to walk to the gate. The old couple (I never did get their name) shouted, till next time, we will see you again, Karyn translated for me. Lovely people.
We rode the bus back to old town and we said our good byes.
My ride to Liepaja was fast and pretty. I was heading towards the sea. I was in good spirits and I was looking forward to meeting Svetlana. She will be waiting for me at the bus stop.
The bus arrived on time and as I was collecting my backpack, this lovely lady in a black dress approached me. Are you Lizza? She asked. Yes, Hello Svetlana. I held her arm and she led me out of the train station.
We exchange pleasantries and we are off. My flat is close by, she says. How was your trip?
Svetlana is a school teacher and she teaches English and History in all levels of elementary. She speaks great English. She’s a slender woman in her 50’s but she doesn’t look it at all. We keep walking – I’m hot but glad to be out of the bus and looking around again.
We get to her flat and we climb stairs to the third floor. Uugh…are we there yet? I walk in and immediately, I felt like a child. Take off your shoes, she says. Oops, sorry. I remove my shoes and stand in the living room, looking around. Her flat is small but very clean, neat and tidy and showed a lot of Svetlana’s personality. I immediately like it. She shows me to my room and I deposit my stuff there.
First we will eat, she says. Good! I thought. I’m hungry. I’m in room when she shouts, do you drink wine? Not really but I say, “Yes, white.” I come out to the living room and she’s standing there with red wine. “Red?” she asks, “Yes, red.” No, I thought, not red. She gives me the bottle and said, “Please open it because I’m busy in the kitchen.” “Oh absolutely,” I replied. Absolutely?!?!?!? I thought. I’ve never opened wine in my life.
So, I’m in the living room, halfway laughing at myself because I’m struggling figuring out how to open this bottle of wine without spilling red wine all over her clean furniture. This is a lot of pressure without even being here 10 minutes. She comes out to check on me and sees me struggling. She tries and gives up in two seconds. She hands me the bottle and I’m at it again. Bingo! I open it! Success! I walked the bottle over to the kitchen and I sit down and talk to her. “You must stay longer. One night is too fast.” I try to explain as best as I can that I have a tight schedule. It doesn’t make a difference to her. She convinces me to stay one more night. Reluctantly, I say yes, and in my mind try to figure out how many emails and phone calls I must make to move all my reservations back one day.
She serves fish fillet, lettuce and cucumber. She asks, “Do you like?” I say yes. Yes to everything, I thought. Just say yes to everything. She pours me a glass of red wine and I pray that it isn’t too bitter for me. I take a sip and I’m excited. This tastes great! It’s from Georgia, she says. I immediately asked her to show me Georgia on the map because Karyn had mentioned it to me and I didn’t know where it was. I drink more red wine and start to eat the fish that she prepared. I love it and thank goodness I did because she piled them on my plate.
We talk about Liepaja, her home town. Svetlana is Russian but she was born in Latvia. Liepaja is over 300 yrs old. She complains that since the freeing of Latvia from the Soviets, she feels that the Russians are not treated well. She is very proud to be Russian and she speaks Russian to everyone because she knows that they will understand. However, when she speaks Russian to the people, they pretend they don’t know Russian and respond in Latvian. This really bothers her. When she mentions this, I remember on my train ride with Karyn to Segulda, an old Russian lady approached her to ask her if this was the train to Segulda. The lady asked her in Russian but Karyn responded in Latvian. Interesting.
Svetlana and I talk some more and she asks about my background. She finds out that rice is a staple in Filipino cuisine. She asks if I can prepare dinner tomorrow night. Yikes. Yes. Yes to everything, remember? Okay, I will. The problem with this is that I am not a cook and I don’t cook well. I agree to make vegetable stir fry since vegetables are her favorite food. She has never had stir fry vegetables over rice before. She is very interested.
So, for the remainder of the day, we will drop off my laundry, to be picked up tomorrow morning, walk around Old Town, visit the beach and then see what next.
The old town is nice and small. 300,000 people live in Liepaja. It’s the next largest city in Latvia. We stop at a church called St. Trinity Church. We go in and it’s a beautiful church with stairs to the top. So, for a small fee, we climb the 200+ steps to the top and I get a nice view of Liepaja. Very very nice.
Liepaja if translated in English means Lemon Tree Town. We keep walking and she gives me bits and pieces about her town, what this building was and so on. Lana just came back from a trip to Italy and she fell in love with the country. I ask her to show me pictures when we get back to the flat. I am taking it all in and enjoying the slower pace of the day compared to Riga. We end up in the beach and oh my gosh is it spectacular. I have not been to a beach in years. The Baltic Sea, I’ve only started looking at in the map since I planned this trip and now I’m looking right at it, feeling its salt water on my feet. It’s refreshing. Not too cold. The sand is white, clean and very very fine. I want to take a picture with Svetlana.
She says we will be back tomorrow to lay out in the beach. That sounded like a great idea to me. But now, I wanted to take Svetlana to dinner. Before dinner, we go home, and I look at Italy pictures. She very much wants to go back and stay longer. This was a ten day tour group and it just went by so fast. After seeing pictures, we leave again to go have some dinner. She takes me to this place that reminds me of something that I would see in Seattle. Lots of young people, a lot of smoking people, something I am not used to seeing anymore. Lana doesn’t smoke and doesn’t like the smoke either but here we are.
She talks to the waitress in Russian and we are informed that there is only a Latvian menu. I feel some tension between them but she will not tell me what the conversation was about. We order and wait. There is a man in the next table that is smoking a cigarette and this bothers us. I look over and say, “He’s almost done.” I wait another minute and I look over and he’s lighting another cigarette. So, I exclaimed, “He’s smoking again!!!!” Thinking I was upset, Lana called the man and in Russian, asked him to not smoke. He replies IN ENGLISH, “This is a public place, sorry.” I immediately feel like a heel…lesson number two (did I give the first one already?), never assume no one speaks English, just because you are in a foreign place. So, for the rest of the dinner, I try to smile at him, looking for some sign of approval. I end up getting it but the damage is done, regardless.
Dinner was very good. I had some grilled chicken with fries and good Latvian beer called Luve. I think the dish was American but I was too hungry to care.
Dinner is over and I am tired once again. It’s close to 11pm. We walk home, I take a quick shower and to bed I go. As I lay there, I think about the day, the place I’m staying and Lana. This is as close as I get to a local. I’m in her house and it looks Russian all over. Books, posters, everything. It feels very good to be here, like I’m home. Lana is a wonderful mother. Her son is in Canada and she is waiting to join him there. Her eyes sparkle when she talks about him. I fall asleep effortlessly.