Thursday, August 17, 2006

Is life not strange ?

As some of you already know the home at Zvanni has of late been experiencing a few challengies, what with the Latvian/Canadian owner suffering from senile dementia to the local press who at every opportunity castigate all at the home.

Well as is the way of the world, all of this publicity has brought about about a potential change in their fortunes.

A local businessman, based in Sigulda, on learning of the homes plight, approached the home with a proposal which would enable them to move into a new home, and more importantly provide for a secure future.

But if any of you are in a position to make a financial contribution to help fit out the new house, then either send funds to the Smiley account or direct to the Zvannieki Majas bank account

The house itself is very impressive, having been previously used as a Farm style boarding house - it is fully furnished, and requires a minimal amount of work to get it into a condition where they can move in.

The next few weeks should prove to be interesting.

On the news front not a great deal to report, S..... (that bar type person who apparently loves Liverpool football club) has now leaped up to number 862 in the world in the Table Ice Hockey league, and apparently without playing a game !! - Strange is it not.

This weekend sees the 205th anniversary of Riga, and I understand that there are a number of celebrations going on, quite what I do not know - but if the weather holds I will check out.

Watched the Russia v Latvia football match the other evening, and would you believe it with 2 seconds to go in extra time - Russia scored - result 1-0.

So there we go, another week has passed us by, S.....(Welsh & dabbles in plastic) and his good lady A...... are off back to Sunny Wales - and still no sign of the missing Aussies, F....., V.... and J..... - and next week sees the start of the Premier League football season !!!!!!!! - which will guarantee the invasion of the cretins into de Lacy's to get there weekly fix of 22 men kicking a ball, and being paid unreal sums of money for doing so - Strange is it not ?

However I do have to confess a modicom of interest, as this season for the first time Reading Football Club will feature in the Premier League. Can you imagine Reading v Manchester United - now that will be strange !!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Road to Nowhere

Finally made it our to Zvannieki yesterday. The purpose being twofold, one to deliver toys collected by J.... (Irish person of growing stature) and secondly to meet with the actual owner of the property - a Mr Janis Ezergailis - to try and convince him to permit us to build the extension.

Well the first bit went well, toys safely delivered, but as to the second - a dismal failure, despite my best diplomatic efforts (truth be told I lost my temper with him) he refused to even consider an extension. The man is in his mid 80's and clearly set in his ways, and the fact that there are now Somalians living there has not helped the situation one bit.

He has if I understand correctly also indicated that he wants to remove all of the children from Zvannieki - but I do not think he will be able to do this at least in the short term. There has been quite a bit of publicity last week, where he has given interviews to both TV and Local press, and been forthright as to his views on the Somalians.

So the best that we can do is to complete the interior/exterior work and take it from there.

There is no doubt that the Somalian situation has and will continue to cause problems for all at Zvannieki. Not sure what we can do to resolve this, as clearly the older ones cannot stay there for any length of time - but where do they go ? If they could get a job with accommodation this would be the way forward, but who is going to employ them, when notwithstanding the local prejudice against people of African background, that they cannot speak with any fluency Latvian.

On a more positive note the road works are now in full swing, and should be finished during this week. So well done to J... (Irish builder of dubious repute) and his team.

and of course to J... for his generosity with toys, although as you can see he seems a bit bemused by it all !!

Just a small mention of visitation to the Status Quo concert last Friday - It was all right ! but not great. Two thirds of the audience sat there absolutely motionless the whole night- why did they go ? It was an experience and certainly for the 90 minutes they played they gave it their all -but somehow it lacked conviction, almost as if they were just going through the motions.

Apologies re quality of pictures, still not sure how to use digital camera in dark surroundings

So there we go, another week in progress, Manhattan Transfer and Simply Red lie ahead, the sun is still shining, and if anyone can assist or offer guidance as to what we could or might be able to do re Somalians or getting additional accommodation at Zvannieki - let me know.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Milk, Ice and Rock n Roll

For those of us who have lived in Latvia for a number of years, it has always been of passing interest to watch the progression of Prime Ministers over the last ten or so years. Since regaining its independence in the 90's there have been 12 Prime Ministers, up to and including the current minister - Mr Aigars Kalvitis. So on average each prime Minister has spent some 15 months in office - with the longest stay by Ivars Godmanis, who was in fact the first Prime Minister in 1990.

Now the reason that this has come to my notice is through the blog site of Mr Juris Kaza ( - in which he keeps a watchful eye on all thing to do with Telecommunications.

It appears that the Latvian government, funded by EU regional funds, has created a web site site in order to provide access, by both Latvians and anyone else, to information in regards to Latvia, both social and economic.

It was whilst browsing through the website that I came across the statistics in regards to the Prime Ministers.

It was encouraging to note the career of the current incumbent, who started his working life as a milkman and tractor driver ( this at a time when he was studying for his bachelors degree in Agricultural Economics).

From beginnings ever so humble !

But with elections coming up in September, it will be interesting to see if he hangs onto the position. Given recent history probably not.

Now some possible sad news, again for those of us who have been here a while, one of the original, arguably the first, bars in Riga which we availed ourselves in the early days, was Sam's.

Well the car park in front of it is now being developed, and as a result access to it is now limited to a nearby passageway, so the possibility exists that it may close. Now whilst I cannot claim to have used it a great deal in recent times, it was I know a much used haunt for many of the village people, and also provided a cretin free zone.

The second sad bit of news concerns one of the longest ex-pats in Riga Mr M..... B..... ( loves banks and Irish pubs). M...... has been here since the early 90's, and has been President of Rietumu bank for the last few years. He will be keeping a watchful eye on the bank from his new base in Ireland, and will be visiting on regular basis in his new position as a board member.

M...... will be missed by many, but he leaves his mark in Riga, not only as a banker, but as one of the founders of our village hall - de Lacy's (see I can spell it right !!). For my part I will always be grateful for the assistance he gave to our Smiley Fund, both at a personal level and through his influence, Rietumu Bank.

So as ever the changes in Riga go on, and our village people continues to change - but I have one question where are our Australian duo ?? - V..... (Australian/Latvian - builds thingies) and J..... (Australian/Latvian - builds gates) - have they emigrated ?, been abducted by Aliens ? - Anyone who has knowledge as to there whereabouts should contact this blog with info.

Finally a word of congratulations to S....... ( Ukrainian bar person with seriously bad taste in music) - S..... has just, after much arduous training, hours of selfless dedication and practise, has joined the ranks of the leading top 1000 players of TABLE ICE HOCKEY, in fact he is 943 in the world !!!!.
Now for those of you not acquainted with this fast growing sport, then visit http://www.ithf

In closing let me update you all re Zvannieki, J.... (Irish building magnate) has advised me that the road work has started and should be finished this weekend. This going to make a serious difference this winter, and will hopefully mean that access will no longer be hazardous exercise. Many thanks to J.... and his team.

I plan to visit the home on Monday along with J.... (Irish toy gatherer) in order to deliver the toys that J.... and his friends have collected, but also to meet with the Canadian/Latvian gentleman who own the property. He is proving to a be a little difficult in regards to giving his approval to extend the property. Hopefully I can make him see reason, we will but see !

Without his approval we cannot go ahead with the extension.

For tonight I am "Rockin all over the World" courtesy of Status Quo, who on TV last night indicated that their fan base was from 10 - 65 years old, so I just make it in !!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I see no wine

Having just returned from the UK on Tuesday, five hours late courtesy of British Airways, I took it upon myself this weekend to go and explore a little of the interior of Latvia, to be precise Kuldiga. Thereby escaping from the weekend invasion of cretins.

Now Kuldiga is not exactly the biggest town in the world, but it does boast the of largest (widest) waterfall in Europe - 240 meters - and Europe's largest brick built bridge, capable of carrying traffic - not bad for a wee town.

The old brick bridge across the Venta built in 1874 is one of the longest its type of bridges in Europe. The bridge was built according to the road standards of the 19th century (500 feet long and 26 feet wide) so that two carriages could pass each other on it.

The decision to visit Kuldiga was in part inspired by the visitation of the Guinness Marathon man A... (English does things with broadband). A... worked in Latvia during my days at Lattelecom, and has visited every year since he left. His visits are eagerly awaited by any bar that sells Guinness, as he likes to consume a moderate amount each day. A... version of moderation is not quite the same as mine, but suffice to say it can measured in double figures.

Anyway in his time in Latvia, he stayed at Jana Nams Hotel in Kuldiga. So without any other options I booked a room.

Now on the road out to Kuldiga, which I travelled at a leisurely pace, I came across another stunning hotel called Jaunmoko pils near to Tukums - - really interesting place, complete with a museum and art gallery. The grounds were stunning. A lovely place to stay if you were with company.

Continuing my sojurn I passed through a small town called Sabile - where of all things a wine festival was being held. And the reason for a wine festival ? - what may be the most northerly productive grape vines in the world. It is wine from these vines that is the theme of the town’s annual wine festival

Set in the beautiful Abava River Valley, this quirky place is home to a restored Synagogue, the innovative Pedvale Open Air Art Museum, and .

There is some evidence that the ancient tribes of Latvia, who are thought to have originated near the Black Sea, knew the secrets of wine making. But the first vineyard of which there are records was planted at Sabile by Duke Jacob of Courland in the 16th century, using white grapes imported from the Rhineland. The vintages were enjoyed at his court and small amounts were exported, but the industry withered after the Duke died in 1681.

It was revived in 1936 during Latvia’s first period of independence, various experiments were tried in the Soviet era, and since the early 1990s local enthusiasts have been getting things going again. There are currently around 650 plants nurturing 15 different types of grapes, but most of the wine is a red made from "zilbe", a fruit specially selected for Latvia’s cool climate.

My arrival coincided with a parade, led by a cow ( never found out why) - and behind men and women in national (local ?) costume. Regretfully the wine tasting did not take place until that evening, and to indulge one had to climb up Vinu kalns (Wine Hill), which by Latvian standards is quite high ( 34 meters), so I decided to give it a miss.

Finally arrived in Kuldiga, and much searching found the hotel (beware of one way streets) and I was delighted with hotel. Old and basic - but as I was to find out - good food and good beer.

I did the touristy thing walked across Europe's widest waterfall ( it may be wide but is is only 1.5 meters deep) and then back across the bridge, where there was at least five wedding processions on the go.

So after a good and cheap meal, a few beers I retired to bed and a book - the UK's number one best seller " A short history of tractors in the Ukraine" by Marina Lewycka. Suffice to say the title is somewhat misleading as to the actual story, but a great read !

Sunday saw me meandering back to Riga, in order to have a farewell drink with A..., as he was departing Riga on the Monday. As ever he had been out early practising his Guinness consumption -but as you can see from the pictures below - it seems to do him no harm. He swears that he only drinks Guinness in Latvia, as cannot stand the local beers.

So what of the week ahead, well we seem to be suffering from a musical bus syndrome, you wait forever and then two comes along. This week sees the arrival of Status Quo in Jurmula, followed by Manhattan Transfer - all of my generation - wonderful.

So there we are another week has but passed us by, and I hope to confirm when J... ( Irish builder of things) gets back from his travels, if the road at Zvannieki was repaired last weekend