A Travellerspoint blog

Day 13 n 14 (30 n 31 Jan)

Back in time - Ventspils

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I will give it to you up front.

Even with all the efforts of an excellent tourism board, Ventspils is struggling to attract international tourism fame. Early on, Scandinavia was a target but I guess the Swedes are too busy in summer to boat around their own islands. Although Ventspils has truly a nice clean beach - by European "blue flag" quality standard. Seems the Lithuanians have found it in summer as they do have a short shore and not as clean....

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So Ventspils (have you checked where it is on the map by now? - I certainly had to at the time I was considering to accept the job) is my visit to the earliest days of my container terminal CEO past. With all the changes of last year - basically stop work as well as settling back in Belgium - went quite fast and not really planned. Bit of boredom sitting at home pushed me to get out and do something. Seemed a good idea to connect with my past and see if it helps to place everything somehow.

In a nutshell, Ventspils is a small provincial city. But big in terms of its port. During the Russian days, railroads and large fertilizer/coal/oil terminals were built in Ventspils as it is indeed the most Eastern ice free port AND has deep water for the large vessels. Anything more east needs expensive ice breakers (such as St Petersburg). It was the largest export port for the Sovjets.

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There is a one time mayor from the start and with his team he has been trying to diversify after independence because the future with Russia and its exports were not always clear. Hence the idea to also build a container terminal. Ready in 2000, and in partnership with a Belgian stevedore (Noordnatie) - the latter was asked to manage and find someone to go on location. Yours truly.

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PS - cannot find any picture 2000, this is 2005 - put some more hair on and few kilos less... there is no copyright so you may copy this for your personal files ......

Unfortunately the market(ing) assumptions were not accurate and the terminal actually never took off as it should have been.
But that is boring stuff for port people only.

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So accommodation was a challenge at first and looked like a student room. But they soon renovated a nice old building with all the modern trimmings.
Really was happy in that second place.

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Language and good restaurants was an issue in 2000. Today this has changed, specially use of English.

Unfortunately today the center of town is suffering from some abandoned houses, the new Latvians want to live in modern houses outside town..... hope this gets resolved somehow.

I have been sitting here and trying to put a story and try and convey what it has been to me. Simply cannot. The few pictures of the few sites are not linking up to anything what my experiences and emotions have been in those days. So I just throw in a few picture, like that.

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Simply would like to leave it at. It was not easy to make the change as a first terminal in the first uncommon location. But I learned a lot and met some fantastic people. It helped me for everything else that followed and for that reason Ventspils and people will always be special! (even the not so good experiences......)

Cheers

Posted by moustache17 13:15 Archived in Latvia Comments (0)

Day 12 (29 Jan)

driving - what did you expect?

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From Riga to Ventspils today.

Short trip. Checking back on the Mac; Google maps tells me 187.7Km.

Deeper into history. I probably did this road some 100 times in 2000/2001.
Most business meetings were in Riga as opposed to Ventspils itself.
Flying in/out was from the Riga airport.
Shopping was also Riga.
Weekends to Riga to change the environment of Ventspils.

I notice with myself that there is no real desire to put many pictures here or even to stop and take them. You have to understand that it looks up front impossible to me to even try and let you get a feel of what those experiences were over those 2 years. My first international (terminal) job.

A more simple reason is, is that Ventspils and the road from Riga is not really a top touristic destination. Probably the only yardstick you would apply to looking at any pictures I place here - as most of you are used to international holiday destinations. Exotic ones as far as Thailand and Bali.

So bear with me. I hope it still tells a little story.... however short.

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This is it!
The road is from beginning to end lined with trees - spur and birch.
Few towns, some villages.
Some lonely wooden houses.

Two things struck me on the road;
1. some of the lonely wooden houses that were part of the returning weekly scenery in the old days, have been just abandoned. Apparently few hundred thousand Latvians have emigrated during the last decennium. Young educated people looking for better jobs in the UK, US et. A population that used to be around 2.2m apparently is reduced to some 1.6m. Perhaps the empty houses are part of all that emigration. It looks particularly tough to me to try and make a living on the land in this day and age.....

2. the ice fishermen

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You probably need magnifying glasses to see the men on the ice. On the picture smaller than fly droppings. They always have been out there in winter, for hours on the ice to catch some hibernating fish. In the old days it was partly a must to save costs. Someone told me they also enjoy it but find that hard to believe....

OK. With a decent and upgraded road it was fairly quick to get to Ventspils. Only 2,5 Hours.

Will get back to you.

Cheers

Posted by moustache17 10:41 Archived in Latvia Comments (0)

Riga (2)

only when you are interested in museums 1. Occupation museum 2. Fine Arts 3. Cars

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1. The Occupation Museum

All those visits to the City, never visited the museum. So this time felt obliged to walk in....

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I will not comment too much because it is such as serious matter and very sensitive to the Latvians.
They have been annexed a few times by Russia and the Germans during WW2.
In a sense it is a lot like the Flemish nationalist feeling, from 19 hundreds, through the war till end 60's and the Leuven reaction....

Herewith copy three titles of some display boards;
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Breakdown and Sovietisation of Latvia's Economy.
Destruction of Cultural and Social life of Latvia
Political Terror against the population of Latvia.

Clear language - and there is lots more. If you are in town, just go in and suck it in. Not necessarily a happy visit but kind of a must if you want to understand the country.

2. Fine Arts

Nothing wrong with some finer things in life. Besides the fact that it is warm and a beautiful building.
I refrained myself for a few pages from mentioning each time the European Community funding, but it keeps coming back (as on the trams previous page and the roads to Ventspils, next page. And technical school Ventspils, and music school) Ok, enough (for now?).

Whilst I enjoyed the building and change during the day, it is not the collection itself that wow-ed.
All Latvian art (nothing wrong with that by itself..).

A modern section that is as strange as anywhere else in the world - not my cup of tea anywhere.
Just a few impressions.
Quite liked the socialist realism in the picture with the fishermen. But that is taste for you.
Also quite a few pictures of snow landscapes - at least a place to enjoy the wintery scenery.

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3. Car museum

On the outskirt of town there is new building that holds the Lativan car museum. Nice trip to change from the walks.
Not huge but some damn pretty cars in a very pleasant environment.
Particularly nice to see quite some old Russian stuff next to the usual international brands.

Here we go;

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Tatra 87 (Czech) yr 1949 and Selve (German), forgot to write down the exact year but twenties for sure
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1943 BMW R35 and Bentley MkVI from 1949
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Russian Zis 101 yr 1939 and TMZ Tula yr 1959
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overview and Horch 853 yr 1936
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BMW 327 yr 1938 and (forgot to write down)
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Zis 115 of 1949 and Renault 10CV, 1928

Good show.
Enjoyed all three.

Cheers

Posted by moustache17 10:00 Archived in Latvia Comments (0)

Riga (1) (Days 9-10-11)

the general stuff

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Yes, unexpected snow on the first day in Riga (and the only day since then).
From below you can see how the weather changed from one day to another....

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The Dagauva river was frozen over, which is always a nice view.

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Riga.
I was lucky to visit it first time 1994, just a few years after Independence (1991) and Russian changes (1993). Then lived in Latvia 2000/2001 and visited again few times after.
First impression is that it is less Russian looking/sounding. Latvia was historically the Baltic state with the highest percentage of Russian inhabitants. Literally imported when they annexed Latvia in 1940 (and some Latvians into the other direction of the Gulag). Subsequently controlled the economy as it was directed from Moscow. Today it is still some third of the population who are ethnic Russian and to my feeling they are more in the background. Latvians have taken since independence strong affirmative action and apply firm language and nationality rules.

Trams are being changed from old Russian to new European.
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So, now in 2017 what else has changed?
Well, the old buildings are still there and they give the charm of the place. More hotels. More English.

In fact, it was very quiet in town - obviously not the touristic season. Smart comment ...
Seems that also English stag nights have reduced and soo much for the better. Few years ago Riga became a cheap weekend trip for the English stag nights. Cheap beer and many beautiful ladies... Lucky for Riga that this is not any more the main attraction, maybe the English go to ..... Slovakia or somewhere more south.... who knows.

Did a lot of walking, just enjoying the architecture.
Some impressions;

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Had some nice meals, including Russian (with wodka of course). At Uncle Iwan...
(Perhaps not new but the word vodka means - little water - in Russian. Water being voda. What I do not have to mention that it is the preferred drink in these Northern part, they even talk about the Wodka Belt).

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I like to visit the Main Tirgus, or market. It is here you see the people and local produce. Lots of pickled vegetables and dried fish. This was more or less the best you had in the early days I was there - not many international supermarkets then. It is still lively and interesting. You may smile but in the early days it was mostly either oranges or bananas in big quantities - now every tropical fruit is displayed and sold. On Belgian Telenet there is a channel that runs silent programs on European markets. Riga is in there for those who want to zap past.

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Actually, reading this and looking at pictures, it does not fully right to the place. For those who are at least a bit interested now, it is worth visiting in summer of course. Do like many people do, either take a short Baltic cruise or what is favourite for the Chinese now; fly into Vilnius (Lithuania) and hop over to Riga and Tallin. Each city on its own is perhaps too small and only takes two days. Combining all three gives you a different and interesting trip to see another corner of Europe. Do it and you will not regret!

Cheers

Posted by moustache17 09:22 Archived in Latvia Comments (0)

Day 8 (25 Jan)

Reaching the most Northern point of this trip

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So if ever anyone asks you if you have seen Mariajampole, here it is;

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You will have seen as much as I have seen, from my window at 8th floor. Did not get out of the hotel, straight in from the car. And next day back into the car and on the road again - heading for Latvia.

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It was an "easy" trip. The road was new - famous Baltic Highway that has been built over the last few years. With all the trucks on it they are now extending it to make it a 2x2 lane highway. So in another 5 years guess you can do the whole trip from Belgium to Estonia on a 4 lane highway with speeds of min 140. You will be able to do it easily in two days - same like Belgium/South Spain, same as many used to do before cheap charter flights came in.

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Quiet day. Only big difference was the weather. Bright sun out there today, and with open skies a nippy -5C!

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Only a couple of hours later another border. 6 Countries in 8 days. It is not Phileas Fogg but not bad.

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And finally, Riga. 2200Km on the counter. From here it will go South again in a few days. Looked at the signs on the road and Talinn (Estonia) is only another 300Km. But enough is enough.

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Latvia. My international career really started here. I lived/worked NW in Ventspils but visited Riga sooooooooo many times. So next days will be a lot more than city walking, expect quite some memories. Lost of things changed, starting with the hotel I used to stay frequently and am staying now. It looks old and dated from 17 years back - but hey, in everything old there is still a sparkle left somewhere. I will see if mine is enough to fight the cold outside and get through the day.

From here it may not be daily updates any more. I will get back to you in a day or two when I have stuff on Riga.

Uz redzēšanos!

Posted by moustache17 01:11 Archived in Latvia Comments (1)

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