A Wonderful Midsummer Celebration
Trip Start Jun 03, 2010
154Trip End May 28, 2011
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Where I stayed
Balta Maja Guest House
Longish drive from Trakai into Latvia. We were trying small roads, and ended up getting onto dirt roads… somewhat muddy due to wet conditions still. At one point we got on the wrong track, and it petered out into a single lane trail before we discovered our mistake… but the true road was not much better! I guess we need to be cautious of secondary roads in the Baltics!
The earlier part of the drive was thru fascinating little Lithuanian villages with very characteristic wooden house… many colourfully painted, but obviously very old and built before there were levels and building inspectors…
Okay… then another wonderful serendipity experience….
As we were entering Latvia and trying to find a campground near Rundale castle, we began to notice garlands of oak limbs on peoples heads and even attached to car grills. It reminded me that Latvia celebrates the summer solstice with special events and with garlands… but I did not think much more of it.
Well, as we finally arrived at the castle parking lot we noticed a campsite sign attached to a guest house right at the parking lot, so we drove in. Turned out that it was not really a campsite, but they do take campers in their driveway. It also became apparent that a picnic and BBQ was being prepared, and that the participants were putting together garlands for their hair. The landlord greeted us and got us settled, and then one of his guests… a 30ish young man who could speak English well, explained that there were no paying guests that night, but rather, all who were present were family and friends of the landlords. They invited us to join them in the Midsummer festivities, otherwise known as "Ligo". It is a very important holiday in Latvia, with a tradition of having an evening picnic and a fire, and the fire is supposed to burn until dawn
Wow… what a fantastic evening we had… food and beer and whiskey (Jack Daniels), talking about Latvian culture and politics (the young man, Carlos, and his mother, Anita, both spoke pretty fluent English. They sang some traditional songs, and then Pat got out her Guitar and entertained them for a while. We also got a tour of the guest house. Check out the website
www.hotelbaltamaja.lv. The landlady, Solveigh, and her daughter are artists… painting, sketching and pottery (!), so some of their stuff was around, and the landlord takes great pride in his authentic woodworking inside the house… beautiful rooms… about 8 or 10 different rooms, with old style ceramic furnace, wood hewn beds, colourful bedding, and traditional knick kncaks. Most of the furniture was authentic or re-created 18th and 19 C.
OK…. So after the tour, and a little more libation, it was time for the sauna! The women went first…. 5 women altogether in their altogether in a sauna inside the house, with a shower and WC attached. It was a steam sauna, and they had special oils for scenting the steam, and another tradition of massage and gentle slapping with birch branches
Despite the supposed tradition, we did not stay up all night, but went to bed at around 12:30am.
Next day was the tour of Rundale Palace… a huge manor house built in the 18th C, and nicely restored. It was designed by the same architect as the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The attached pix will speak for themselves.
Two hour drive into Ryga in late afternoon, and after we settled in to the parking lot….er…campground, we rode our bikes into town for a quick foretaste of our 2 or 3 days here. Beautiful town… makes you wonder why Nicol Firkser ever left here…. I do hope to pursue that question at the Jewish Museum over the next day or two.