Latvian middle classes – do they exist?

For better or for worse the UK is a very class conscious society. I’m not commenting on the degree of social mobility that exists or whether class consciousness is a good or bad thing. I’m merely stating that everyone appears to be aware of the existence of a class structure within the society. One of upsides to this class based society is that the supply chain is developed to the extent that products can be purchased which fit all budgets. Continue reading

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Celebrity – Moi, Non non non !!!

Sorry about the title being in French, but had to be ready for my French students tomorrow. Just trying to get in to the mood.

If any one needed convincing about the power of the internet to spread information then just talk to me. Apart from a huge spike in my viewings last May when I wrote blog post Six things you didn’t know about Latvians, I have been getting about 2000 views per month. Yesterday, thanks to a reporter on I received a little over 56000 views and as I write I have received nearly 30000 views today. I received more comments on Delfi than articles about Vladimir Putin or some pop/rock stars. I don’t get why an article about an old, well not very old, Englishman living in Latvia should provoke such a storm of interest. Subsequently news about me has appeared on a couple of other news websites including the local Limbazi24 website. Continue reading

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Hurry Up Spring

I leave for work, in Pinki, every morning about 6.30 am, the journey takes about 90 minutes. I arrive home between 5.30 and 6.00. I don’t particularly mind the travelling, I have a nice car, I listen to some classic rock on SWF Rock and then tune into BBC World Service when I get nearer to Riga. What gets me down is leaving home in the dark and arriving home in the dark. During the summer and early autumn months I so looked forward to getting home and then getting my hands dirty, it was so therapeutic. Continue reading

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Dinaaaaaamo, Dinaaaaaaamo

This was the chant that might have caused a sore throat, but thankfully it didn’t.


On Friday I attended my first ever ice hockey match, and I’m so glad I went. Apart from Dynamo Riga winning 3 – 1 it was just so much fun. Unlike feeling inhibited at football/soccer matches in case you upset someone’s sensitivities and cause a fight. At the Riga Arena I felt able to chant and heckle without feeling that security was going to evict me. I can’t comment on the skill levels on display but the match was fast, furious, frenetic, no prima donnas on display and definitely no arguments with the referee, a great spectacle for all to take the family. Another plus is that for fantastic seats the tickets are great value. Just a shame the arena was only half full. Come on you Rigans (Ridzinieks) get down to the Arena and support your team, they need you.

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Latvia knows how to party

We were recently lucky to be invited to the Independence Day celebrations at our local village school. For my non Latvian readers that is independence from Soviet occupation not aliens. A hugely important day, one in which Latvians celebrate their freedom, culture and what it means to be Latvian.

On a bitterly cold evening we arrived at what we thought was an early time, only to find all the seats taken. I suspect people were saving money on heating their homes and keeping warm at the school. The celebrations began with a concert of traditional music, song and dance. All age groups of the village were involved and it was a surprisingly professional production from a small community with an estimated population of less than 400. One thing Latvians do really well is celebrate and acknowledge individuals contributions to their communities. During an interval in the concert speeches were given by local dignitaries and certificates awarded to individuals who have made a significant contribution to the community. After each award members of the audience queued to give flowers to the recipients. A lovely gesture but I did feel slightly uncomfortable when a couple of award winners only received 3 or 4 bunches of flowers when most of others had long queues. These local heroes are often overlooked in the UK, perhaps one of my UK readers can instigate this back in my homeland.

Continue reading

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Ok Latvia, you win

I’ve decided to throw in the towel, ditch my west European values and attitudes in the bin and adopt Latvian values particularly when it comes to measuring time. The alternative was to have a nervous breakdown or go grey overnight or worse still both. I’m not complaining about the quality of Latvian workmanship, but trying to get an exact date when jobs will be completed is mission impossible. Take our plumber for example. Continue reading

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Finally, time for an update.

Thank god for some bad weather. Over the past two months all I seem to have done is move piles of something. It has either been spreading piles of cow crap around the fruit bushes and trees, moving a large pile of sand to create a level base for our extension, moving piles of logs into the barn to keep dry or more recently raking and moving piles of leaves off our one hectare garden. My whole body aches and I have resorted to having a twice weekly massage to sort out some muscular problems.

Continue reading

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Things you might see lots of in Latvia

This list is a comparison with the UK. So please don’t have a go at me if you have lots in your country of residence. The list is in no particular order, just as they enter my mind.

    1. STORKS – You see them everywhere, even at the fringes of Riga. Driving to work this morning I noticed all the storks had gone, and the countryside could have been anywhere. It’s the storks that define the Latvian countryside.
    2. VERY ATTRACTIVE WOMEN – For a small country Latvia has more than it’s fair share of beautiful women. The only problem is I keep getting in trouble when I look. I try to remind Inta of something my mum used to say, “I’ll start to worry when your dad steps looking.” The implication being that dad would have a mistress. I don’t think Inta buys this explanation.
    3. SAD BUILDINGS – Riga has lots of lovely interesting buildings that desperately need renovating. It’s not that they are unloved, it’s just down to the economics of a fledgling democracy.
    4. CAKES – It’s a bit like being in France. Every supermarket has a huge range of probably very fattening but delicious cakes. As Latvians start to lead a more westernised existence, perhaps health problems could be on the way.
    5. LAKES AND FORESTS – I don’t know the exact figure but I suspect half Latvia’s land mass must be Lakes or forests. So if you are travelling have your costume and towel on standby and a nice wicker basket so you can go foraging.
    6. CYCLISTS ON PAVEMENTS/SIDEWALKS – This is a pet hate of mine. Pavements are for pedestrians not for any other form of transport. Mixing cyclist and pedestrians is just a disaster waiting to happen.
    7. FLOWER SELLERS – I deliberately haven’t called them florists because they just sell flowers. In the centre of Riga there is a row of them who seen to be open from dawn to late night. Inta said they used to be open 24/7, don’t know if they still are. The giving of flowers is a major part of Latvian culture. I was privileged to be invited to a Latvian students graduation. I have never seen so many flowers at one time. Every student, male and female, had arms full of them.
    8. BAD DRIVING – Enough has been said on this issue
    9. LADAS – Yes you will still see quite a few around Riga, some renovated and some falling apart.
    10. COBBLED ROADS – They may look very pretty, but I hate to think what they are doing to my car suspension.
    11. BEACHES – The whole of the Latvia coastline is a beach.
    12. NON-ASPHALT ROADS – Lots of these in the countryside so be prepared to wash your car regularly.


I’d be interested to hear from Latvians about additions to the list.

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Winterizing under way at last

The house is like a building site.

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Do I care? No. At least we will be warm this winter, as I am assured it is going to be a cold one because Latvia never has two consecutive mild winters. So in true Latvian style I’m planning ahead. We found Andris via recommendation and so far so good. I have to say I was a little concerned when I first met him. An imposing man with a scar across his cheek. How did that happen I wondered. Continue reading

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A month of country living

I’ve been trying to write this blog for the last 6 days but country living combined with a job is putting a significant pressure on time. Should finish it tonight hopefully.

Despite being the new diet of Latvian flies, despite the 90 min commute to Riga every morning, despite the tap water smelling and tasting awful, despite the acres of weeding I have to do and despite the problems of trying to find reliable, sober tradesman, would I swap my life for anything else? Absolutely not!!!!

The pleasure of coming home in the evening, sitting outside (even in the rain), enjoying my evening meal with a glass of wine whilst listening to the sounds of the cranes and the storks in the background, what could beat that. Continue reading

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Latvian driving: the worst?

On Wednesday after work, I drove home as usual up the Tallinn motorway, as it is known. It was another lovely summer day and I was thinking about all the jobs I had to in the garden. The traffic hadn’t been too bad and I was a couple of hundred metres from my turn off at Stiene when the traffic stopped. It became apparent that there had been an accident as I could see a slightly damaged car transporter. At this point I couldn’t see any other vehicles, but because of the little damage to the transporter I wasn’t unduly concerned. After a delay of about 20 minutes we started to move. On passing a very badly damaged 4 wheel drive car I noticed 4 bodies at the side of the road. Two of the bodies were wrapped and two uncovered. Click here for more details.

It was an image I couldn’t get out of my head for a couple of days and has definitely changed the way I drive. It has also made me think about the quality of driving I experience on Latvian roads. Over the years, I’ve driven in Europe, Africa, India and America, and I have to say that the driving I experience in Latvia ranks as some of the most dangerous I have ever come across. The danger is caused in the main by 3 things; high speed, poor anticipation of what other drivers might do and impatience. Let me give you some examples what I mean, Recently parts of the Tallinn motorway are being resurfaced and the speed limit has been reduced to 70 km/hr. Does anyone take any notice? Of course they don’t and most cars are travelling at about 100km/hr. On Thursday morning I was driving in to Riga on Brivibas , just gone over Vefa bridge, traffic was moving slowly, but just about to accelerate and I was in the inside lane about 4 metres behind the car in front of me. All of a sudden a woman in a Mercedes decided she could fit in the gap and pulled in in front of me causing me to break. Idiot!!!!. Finally whilst we were queuing at the scene of the accident on Wednesday night, a car driver decides overtake all the queue and drove to the front. What was most annoying was that when the traffic started moving he was allowed to go first. Why didn’t the policewoman send him to the back?

I know this blog might upset a few people, but I honestly think that the quality of driving needs to improve.

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Now the hard work begins

Yes, I am still alive, but exhausted at trying to get our house sorted. No time to write a blog. A Latvian lady we met recently said now that you have bought a house in the country you won’t have any spare time, and by god was she right. I’ve lost so much weight that I’m at my lightest for 15 years. Hey, no need to join a gym and pay those expensive fees.

The move from our temporary base in Vivari to our house in Limbazi went amazingly smoothly. This was in no small part due to a fantastic Riga based removal company I found whilst still in London. Everything arrived at the house and so far nothing broken or missing. It was a relief seeing all our worldly possessions arrive safe. First priority once all the boxes were in the appropriate was getting the bed assembled, find the bedding and make sure we get a good nights sleep. However just prior to going to bed we sat down in our lounge to have a drink. Just at that moment an elderly gentleman, who had been visiting our neighbour, staggered a little worse for wear past our window and up our drive towards the main road. A few moments later after he had disappeared from view, I decided to re park my car and drove it up the drive in the direction of the said gentleman. I’m not sure who had the biggest shock, me watching somebody about to defecate on my drive or the old man about to be hit up the backside by a RAV4. Obviously not embarrassed in the slightest, he pulled up his trousers and continued slowly on his way. I was hoping this was not a sign of things to come.

So off to bed for a good nights sleep. I think someone up there knows of my wasp phobia, because just as I’m getting into bed I notice wasps coming in and out of a gap behind the wood cladding near our outside bedroom door. Guess what? Door stays closed and due to the heat and the fact we didn’t have any curtains, a good nights sleep went down the plug hole.

So what might day two in the countryside bring. Well I thought we had planned well. We ordered our new fridge and washing machine well in advance and arranged delivery for Tuesday; day 2. We had a phone call in the morning confirming the delivery and low and behold a very large truck duly arrived at about 3.00 pm. My initial excitement quickly evaporated as I realised the driver didn’t really know how to manoeuvre his vehicle in confined spaces and the tyres on his truck were virtually bald. Needless to say he got stuck in some soft ground. After asking us for help, which we couldn’t provide he disappeared on foot only to reappear about an hour later with a large tractor. After some huffing and puffing he was eventually extricated from his predicament and unloaded our new fridge and washing machine. Unfortunately, as he was an hour late and not in the best of moods, he wouldn’t/couldn’t help us get fridge in to the kitchen. So there we were with a very heavy fridge which in our lounge, which we were unable to move. No fridge, just as a heat wave started!!!! Thank goodness for the electric camping fridge.

One of the benefits of having a country house, with a lot of land is all the new gadgets you have to buy. First on the agenda was a strimmer. No not one of those electric, edge of lawn, thingys, but a full blown petrol mean machine. Boy do they make mincemeat out of weeds. Only problem is they don’t collect, good job the house came with some pitch forks. I hope my neighbour doesn’t mind smoke, as I’ve had a fire going non-stop for the last three days trying to burn all the piles of weeds. At least I’ve found our berry garden. At least 30 blackcurant bushes, plus some redcurrant and gooseberry bushes .The second item purchased was a petrol driven chain saw. What incredible but highly dangerous machines are these.

Main problem in the house at the moment is water. Now we get our water from two different sources. Drinking water we fetch from the well, tastes delicious, and all other water comes from a deep bore hole. Unfortunately it is high in iron and leaves brown stains wherever there is a leak, which just seems to be everywhere. We’ve had Inta’s nephew around today, what a savour he has been. Fixed everything except the toilet. We even found out that the 2 filter units were missing the filters and at the bottom of the units and toilet cistern there was a couple of centimetres of mud, presumable brought up from the bottom of the bore hole and making the water taste and smell pretty awful. I’m just concerned now that there will be sludge in the hot water tank. Oh well, I chose country living.

Had our first delivery of wood, 10 cubic meters. Very proud of the effort Inta and her cousin made in stacking it away. Work of art.
Having great difficulty finding reputable local tradesman. Everybody we’ve asked says wouldn’t recommend him, he drinks too much. Feel sorry for Inta as she has to do all the communicating and yet is unfamiliar the technical language they use. She can’t even translate for me to help her. Looking for a good plumber and/or heating engineer, roofer and someone to install a wood burning stove. If you know anyone in the Limbazi area please let me know.

Even having quite a few teething problems, I love living here and when I survey my little empire I feel quite humble that I have been given the opportunity of looking after it all. I find the lovely old trees in garden quite inspiring. Lots more today yet though before we are ready or winter. Things are going to slow down as I’m back at work tomorrow.

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The Worst Road in Latvia

Now I know much has been said about the poor condition of Latvian roads, but the road between Limbazi and Steine must be the worst. There is a section of it, approximately 7 kilometres, which ranks as the worst I have driven on any where in Latvia. This is not a really remote place. The roads in the rural areas around Dagda are like driving on glass compared to this. I have a six km drive on these roads every time I need to go to Limbazi and I have a headache by the time I get there. I can’t believe there are any worse than this, is there?

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My first Ligo/Jani Celebration

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After a days rest, we headed off in to the countryside in search of an authentic celebration. In response an earlier blog somebody recommended that we go to a farm called Gulbi which is about 2.5 hrs from Riga in the general direction of Daugavpils, in the Latgale region. Now I say 2.5hrs but if you have to stop to pick up flowers it takes 4hrs. Now 9 is a magic number and Inta was told we had to pick 27 different types of flowers: One bunch of 9 for yourself, one for your loved ones and one for your country. I daren’t look at the condition of my tyres after lots of sudden steps. To give you an idea how remote this farm is, the last 40 km were on gravel roads not asphalt.

We finally arrived at about 2.00 pm to be greeted by Rita the lady of the house, whose burning passion is to convince people to move back in to the countryside. We were informed that due to the bad weather numbers were going to be down on previous years; in fact there was just going to be Inta and I and her extended family. I didn’t realise the implications of this until later in the evening. One of our first steps was to visit the kitchen where Rita was eager for us to taste her version of balsam. Made with about 30 different types of herbs and flowers and surgical spirits, is was loti garsigs (very tasty) and very warming.

The first activity was to collect flowers from the flower meadows so the ladies could make crowns with them. Whilst this was happening we were followed around the fields being retailed by a accordionist and his singing partner. I had to collect some flowers of my own, didn’t know why. Just told to collect some and all would be revealed later. Now I’m not sure why any of this was happening so any help would be appreciated.

Over the next couple of hours we did some eating and drinking and it was now I realised the significance of being the only non family members at the event. Everytime a family member went round pouring shots of the homemade stuff, I was always offered a shot. Now not wanting to upset local sensitivities I obviously accepted. However I started to realise that unless I could figure out a way to say, I’d had enough, I wasn’t going to make it through the night. This is where Inta stepped in and explained I was a lightweight when it comes to spirit consumption and I wasn’t asked any more. I’m sure there were a few more sniggers behind my back though.

Well after dancing round a couple of bonfires, dancing with a witch,. Trying to recite some Latvian poetry and eating and drinking a little more we finally headed to bed about 2:30 am. Didn’t make it until sunrise unfortunately. No bed just happened to be the back of my Vauxhall Vectra Estate. It didn’t matter though because I was too exhausted to worry about comfort. I fell to sleep trying to forget that I was now a lightweight when it cam to alcohol consumption and all night partying.

Check out the pictures I took by clicking here.

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Riga 2014 Saulgriezi – Mezaparka

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Decided to spend mid summer solstice immersing my self in some Latvian cultural entertainment. Again, as at all Latvian events, lots and food, beer, singing and dancing. Now before anyone takes offence I’m actually paying some compliments here. Despite copious amounts of alcohol being consumed there was a wonderful atmosphere in Mezaparka on Saturday, This is in stark contrast to when a load  Englishmen get together and have a few drinks. I believe the Freedom Monument in Riga has been the  subject of visits by intoxicated Englishmen on stag party weekends, so I think my Latvian readers. Will know what I’m talking about. The main attraction didn’t start until 10.00pm yet people had been arriving from mid-day. Not sure what state they were in when the main entertainment started.

The Latvians organisers really do know how to put on a spectacle, and considering the performers came from all corners of Latvia what they managed to achieve was nothing short of miraculous. It was basically a night of song and dance telling the story of Jani and Liga with a few witches thrown in for good luck. I’m not sure if it was intended by the producers but there was a lot of sexual imagery taking place. Straight from the start your have a very attractive young girl dancing around the haystacks. After a minute or so a handsome young man appears riding a huge stallion. Now if there isn’t sexual innuendo there, then I’ll eat my hat. You only have to look at the photographs I took and you will see what I mean. Anyway it was a great spectacle and congratulations to everyone involved.

If you want to see the photos I took click here to see them. If you were a performer and you see one of yourself feel free to use it as long as it is not for commercial uses

Posted in Latvia, Latvian music, Riga | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments