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 - www.jaunmokupils.lv - 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


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home