It’s Friday night within the second metropolis of Latvia, Daugavpils. Our legs are numb and throats parched.
We’ve been on a practice for slightly below four hours from the capital, Riga. Protecting a distance of 193 kms and costing simply €7, this is likely to be the most affordable practice journey we have now ever taken in Europe.
We arrive within the coronary heart of city and discover it enveloped by an eerie silence.
The locals we do handle to identify, hunched round tables on the few bars we encounter, eye us with a silent suspicion. We attempt to smile again at strangers who go a cursory look however all of us we get is that this chilly, listless stare. Even a well mannered ‘thanks’ paldies on the bar when paying for our beers will get a reluctant, shy nod. It is likely to be have been our pathetic pigeon Latvian. It is likely to be additionally the truth that English and even the nationwide language Latvian is ineffective right here. Twenty years after independence and following many years of Russian emigration, younger folks transferring away searching for higher pastures and low beginning charges, Daugavpils seems like a forgotten metropolis. It is usually the one Latvian metropolis with a Russian majority. All over the place we walked, we noticed avenue indicators, adverts , restaurant names in Latvian however the voices we heard had been Russian.
It feels a world away from the capital metropolis Riga. All through our 24 hours there, we hardly ever got here throughout any vacationers. We felt like an entire novelty right here. It had been awhile since we each had felt this sensation of feeling fully alien and disorientated in a metropolis.
Daugavpils is the final EU frontier city earlier than you hit Russia.
It’s simply 120km from the Russian border – 33km from Belarus and 25km from Lithuania.70% of town’s estimated 85000 inhabitants is ethnic Russian and 20% are Latvian. The remaining 10% is a mixture of Polish, Belarussian and Lithuanians. There’s not been a lot written concerning the metropolis within the guidebooks and even on-line. That I assume, was weirdly a part of the attraction. Nowadays of the web and social media, there aren’t any extra mysteries, no component of shock and Daugavpils positively was shocking, a shock to the senses.
Again to our Friday night in Daugavpils.
The smart factor, given the relative solitude and lack of motion would have been to return house to our very distinctive lodging, extra of which I’ll reveal later. Nevertheless the reality was, we had been nonetheless buzzing from the after results of our go to to the Smakovka Museum. In case your time permits when visiting Daugavpils, you may study right here concerning the oldest Latgalian alcohol known as “moonshine”. It’s a pleasant museum with a number of attention-grabbing info and a useful information to take you thru the historical past of the drink. I’ll be straight with you, I’m all for info and historical past however in terms of any alcohol associated museum, all I’m is in tasting the stuff.
After the tour, a glass bottle is slapped onto a desk lined with purple chequered fabric. We’re served a really giant dram of the very potent native beverage. It’s fairly sturdy stuff. I choke a short while Sabrina then again necks it down with out batting an eyelid, true to her sturdy Germanic Viking roots. I stutter out of the museum and into the relative calm of town centre.
There’s not many bars open however the one really useful to us by two folks we met that day is Artilērijas Pagrabi, (Rīgas iela 22) We hear they’ve a stay band on at 9pm so we rock up on the bar and order a couple of native beers. An hour or so later and we’re form of nodding off. The vibe within the bar doesn’t appear to be fairly there. There’s two ladies on the bar taking part in playing cards and sipping on Coca Cola. The performing stay band who I might describe as heavy neo goth steel practiced a couple of of their songs once we got here in however then mysteriously disappearing outdoors for beers, by no means to return. I believe we had been simply out of fuel, or perhaps us simply getting too previous or perhaps the unlikely duo of smakovka and unpasteurised Latvian beer mixing in our stomach was knocking us out.
After ready for an eternity in a slight drizzle of sudden rain, a taxi picks up and agrees to drop us off at our lodging. Our bald headed driver sways to trashy Russian trance music whereas purple neon lights taunt us from the entrance seat dashboard. He drags us up a protracted snaking highway that takes us to the sting of town to our humble abode, a 19th century fortress the place we will likely be staying the night time.
Even within the gentle drizzle of rain and below the lights, the towering purple fortress appears to be like spectacular.
Positioned immediately on what was the freeway between St Petersburg and Warsaw, the fortress was constructed to guard towards Napolean Bonaparte.
Later, the fortress was the location of a Nazi Focus camp throughout World Warfare 2 earlier than serving as a Soviet army outpost earlier than being deserted. Solely in 2013, with the beneficiant assist of EU funds, the fortress underwent a serious rehabilitation and was transformed into an artwork centre devoted to one of many metropolis’s illustrious sons, Mark Rothko.
The important thing attraction of visiting the Mark Rothko Artwork Centre ( Entrance: Adults €8, Household Ticket ( 2 adults, 2 youngsters: €14 ) for me moreover seeing Rothko’s artworks was the truth that the left wing of the fortress has 10 rooms obtainable for in a single day stays. ‘An evening on the museum’ will be yours for as little as €40 through Reserving.com. The rooms, situated adjoining to the museum provide direct entry to Rothko’s assortment so very first thing within the morning you may step off the bed and immerse your self within the moody mysterious summary world of Rothko’s artwork. Excellent present for any lover of Rothko’s artwork. I’ve to confess I’m not a fab of his summary artwork however I did spend a while, staring straight at this work, making an attempt to let my consciousness information me as I weave via the numerous layers , many moody swirls of color on his canvas. It didn’t fairly work for me. It is likely to be the truth that I didn’t have the time. It may also have been the fixed motion of individuals round me, ruining my silent reverie. With Rothko’s works , you positively want to present it time and house to reap the advantages.
Born in USSR in what was then known as Dvinsk, Rothko lived in Daugavpils together with his household until the tender age of 10 earlier than emigrating to USA.
He by no means returned to his homeland. The opening of the museum , just some years in the past, represented one thing of a homecoming. Regardless of the tenuous hyperlink to town, the surviving son and daughter of Rothko made a beneficiant donation to the artwork centre by contributing 6 of the artists artworks to the centre. In addition to the everlasting exhibition of a number of authentic artworks of Rothko there are additionally short-term exhibitions of a few of Latvia’s best modern artists. There’s a cinema the place you may watch couple of attention-grabbing documentaries concerning the life and work of Rothko. The centre additionally has a daily programme of cultural occasions and visiting artists, curating and creating new artworks.
The centre actually is a shining gentle within the depressed environment. We went for a wee stroll across the the fortress and uncover tucked away behind a 1960’s period soviet model blocks of dilapidated condo buildings.
You typically really feel like caught in a few of time capsule when in Daugavpils and that feeling was strengthened the next morning when visiting one among Latvia’s and Europe’s most uncommon museums- the ammunition lead shot museum.
A working manufacturing unit , it has the excellence of being the oldest lead manufacturing unit in Northern Europe, relationship from 1886. We had been welcomed and proven across the museum by Pavels, a really knowledgable and entertaining host who will let you know all the pieces you’ve wished or didn’t learn about ammunition lead manufacturing. Pavel led us via the manufacturing unit and went via every step of the lead shot manufacturing course of. One of many highlights of the tour goes all the best way to the highest of the 37 meter excessive shot tower. The shot tower , taking inspiration from the primary tower that was in-built Bristol, was designed for the manufacturing of small diameter shot balls by freefall of molten lead, which is then caught in a water basin located a couple of meters under floor degree. It’s fairly fascinating stuff though I used to be apprehensive about our publicity to guide mud which Pavels reassures would trigger us no downside.
Our tour across the museum takes an attention-grabbing flip when within the basement of the museum, an space historically used for storing the lead, we all of a sudden uncover a stash of Soviet period rocket and artillery shells mendacity within the nook.
Seems that one among Pavel’s fundamental hobbies is gathering previous rocket shells. Simply whenever you suppose Daugavpils couldn’t be anymore eccentric and zanier. On the finish of Pavel’s tour we check our purpose by popping a couple of balloons and plastic objects at their capturing gallery. Weapons and bullets are usually not fairly my cup of tea however in step with the eccentric nature of town, I actually loved visiting this place and the distinctive historical past.
“To see the world, issues harmful to come back to, to see behind partitions, to attract nearer, to search out one another and to really feel. That’s the goal of life.”
The Secret Lifetime of Walter Mitty
Daugavpils won’t ever be a Riga, or Lisbon or London. It in all probability won’t ever function excessive on many vacationer itineraries or annual journey should see lists. Even many Latvians had been shocked by my alternative to come back right here. With its incongruous mishmash of chic imperial Russian buildings and decaying Soviet period socialist structure , town is certainly an acquired style. Like Walter Mitty, you’ll need to dig deep with this metropolis, go behind the suspicious mistrusting faces, the partitions and lose your self within the many layers of historical past of this metropolis. You’ll not get a lot out of this metropolis simply by strolling via it or spending a couple of hours. The town is advanced, identical to a Rothko portray. In the event you spend a wee little bit of time to immerse your self inside the metropolis, you could reap some type of reward.
We visited Daugavpils as a part of a month lengthy storytelling mission with Magnetic Latvia (LIAA) Whereas my journey was lined by LIAA, all of the opinions expressed listed here are completely my very own. Paldies to Daugavpils Tourism Board and Lelde Benke for bringing us to this very cool and distinctive a part of Latvia.
Extra tales to observe and if you happen to haven’t already, checkout our earlier account of going foraging for wild mushrooms