Another short day, made shorter by winds unexpectedly favourable. Shortly outside Kuldīga I had the welcome sight of communications towers, showing I’d reached some sort of summit. But this is a land where the highest waterfall is dwarfed by a bungalow. There are potholes in Britain deeper than this ‘summit’ was high.
Between Kuldīga and my modest target of Aizpute was one lightly trafficked, flat and unspectacular road: not unpleasant, but it’s all getting a bit samey now.
LATVIA FACTS 9Ice hockey is seen as a national sport in Latvia: when the country’s team beat the US to win the bronze medal in the 2023 world championships, the government met in emergency session to declare a national holiday.
However, there were two exciting events en route. And I’m not even counting the sight of some cows, who were as astonished to see me as I was to see them.
No. First, I passed two cycle tourists, gamely waving and smiling despite battling their headwind. I’ve seen very few pannier-toting pedallers this trip: a few in Cēsis, a handful in and outside Rīga. (They’ve all been smiling, though. Yet another reason I like cycle-touring.)
Given how flat, friendly and easy Latvia is to negotiate, the dearth of two-wheeled tourists is perhaps a surprise. Given how spectacular the scenery is, perhaps not.
But then, second, I saw at one go as many cycle tourists as I had in the entire trip. They were a tour group from northern Germany – all retired, educated professionals, I rather suspected – doing a supported fortnight from Klaipėda in Lithuania to Tallinn in Estonia, via Liepāja and Rīga.
I had pleasant chats with them about predictable subjects with predictable agreement about them. And it’s not true to say that Britain is the laughing-stock of Europe since Brexit. Many Germans have sympathy and pity.
Aizpute is the only staging-post between Kuldīga and Liepāja, so I was staying there out of necessity rather than for sightseeing. But the little town turned out to be a charmer, and I very much liked it.
Much of its appeal is from the traditional Latvian wooden houses that line the streets. There’s also some very cosy little parks, kept clean and tidy by early-morning squads of litter-pickers (paid? voluntary? I don’t know).
Some buildings have striking murals, and the central pond opposite the church is helpfully labelled AIZPUTE in person-sized letters. I also very much enjoyed the cafe in the Top! supermarket which had cheap and delicious lunches, breakfasts and coffee.
I paid a personal homage, too. My favourite Latvian composer is Pēteris Vasks, whose sturdy, contemplative, poignant music has brought him international success.
I interviewed him in Rīga nearly thirty years ago – nice bloke; we had a beer and a Black Balsam or two – and he autographed a CD for me, which I still treasure.
This trip has informed my enjoyment of his music very much. It clearly draws many qualities from the Latvian landscape: serenity, simplicity, birdsong, nature, and – how do I not say ‘flat’? – yes, a sense of being level, that’s it.
(Listen, for instance, to Vasks’s meditative Lonely Angel for violin and strings, but not if you’re in a hurry.)
So, with that in mind, I was pleased to ride past the house where Pēteris was born and brought up, as the son of a baptist pastor, here in Aizpute: the church at Kuldīgas iela 17.
My guesthouse was charming too – and clean, comfortable and cosy, like places in Germany. (I knew it would be: the Germans told me they were staying here.)
I had a can or two of beer and drifted off to sleep contentedly with YouTube playing Vasks.
Miles today: 26
Miles since Borderland: 334