Latvia’s Niagara Falls, Latvia’s Venice, and Latvia’s Pub Brawl Capital: welcome to Kuldīga, where there really is plenty to write home about. If you can find a postcard. Good luck with that.
After a week of sun, the forecast today was gloomy: heavy rain between ten and three, horrible headwinds after that. So I was keen to get out early, in the dry and mild. It wasn’t even six before I was cycling out of Sabile on empty roads.
The landscape was identical to almost everywhere so far – flat tarmac, endless woods and farmland either side – though with the novelty of grey mushy clouds as backdrop.
Consequently, I got into today’s destination of Kuldīga with more than enough time to enjoy sightseeing, at half eight. Nowhere was open, which meant I had the damp, grey Old Town to myself.
Last time I came here, backpacking during a two-hour bus layover in 2014, I was underwhelmed. On this visit, with more time to explore, I was more impressed and enjoyed it far more. Being on a bike does that, I find.
Kuldīga’s pleasures, like Latvia’s generally, are modest and have to be taken in context. Touristspeak clichés induce amusement rather than insight.
‘Latvia’s Niagara’, for instance, the 300 yard wide waterfall visible from the bridge over the Abava river into town, is lame compared to Yorkshire’s Aysgarth Falls, never mind Iguazu.
And tagging Kuldīga as ‘Latvia’s Venice’ on account of a brook running through the centre, as one information board in the place does, makes you wonder if the writers have ever actually been to La Serenissima. Or even Birmingham.
Though many locals I met have been to provincial England. Quick chats with amiable people in local bars and shops always seemed to end with some cheery potted biog: ‘I working longtime in Preston. England people very nice.’ Or ‘Five years I am work in Peterborough. But oh very dangerous place.’ Or ‘I visit my brother he student in Newcastle. I like. Very beautiful city.’
Maybe the info-board scribe lived in Brum for a bit, and was swayed by the ‘more canals than Venice’ line.
Anyway, my early arrival meant I could spend some quality time enjoying local culture, such as having lunch at Hesburger (a very successful Finno-Baltic rival to McDonald’s).
Or watching a fist-fight break out in a dive ‘sports’ bar on the pedestrian strip of Liepājas iela, with tables and chairs flying as the manager unceremoniously shooed off a group of stubbled, swimmy-eyed, sunken-cheeked men who were swigging a bottle of supermarket vodka on its patio tables.
Ah, that sort of ‘sport’.
LATVIA FACTS 8Jeans were invented by a Latvian: Jacob Davis devised denim trousers in Reno, Nevada, partnering up with merchant Levi Strauss.
Ten minutes later in the same bar, one fuller-cheeked young man was exposing himself to the long-suffering barmaid.
All this before one o’clock. In the afternoon.
Eek. I’d come here to sit out the rain, but it clearly wasn’t a place to be hanging around.
That said, beer was only €3 a pint, so I just had one more before beating a retreat.
Anyway, staying in a cheap, clean and comfy apartment on a main road out of town, in a friendly and smiley area, I felt like a local.
Especially when I ambled round the corner to pick up lunch and dinner from one of three supermarkets within arm’s length. Which probably explains all the graffiti.
Miles today: 29
Miles since Borderland: 308