When I visited Latvia in March/April of this year, I got to fulfill a life-long dream. I got to visit the Baltic Sea!
This is what I originally posted on Facebook about this portion of the trip:
Latvia day 6 – Liepāja and Karosta
Today was a big day – I touched the Baltic Sea! And it wasn’t that cold 🙂 We walked quite a ways on the beach. Does anybody know what these structures in the water are? There are no shells on this beach, but many beautiful smooth rocks.
I’m left with so many questions since we didn’t visit the touristy part of the Baltic Sea 🙂
We walked about 10 miles today, including through Karosta, which is a mostly deserted military town. It was so quiet and peaceful with huge deserted buildings.
We also saw the outside of St. Nichols’s Orthodox Cathedral, but didn’t go inside this time. 🙂
Then, dinner at Cili Pica and a little shopping in a big Rimi, where I found Mom her souvenir.
Truthfully, that didn’t really remind me what actually happened that day! But looking at the pictures did jog my memory – so here is the real story.
When we got up in the morning, M woke up on the wrong side of the bed. The thing is, even when he’s not feeling his best, he’s very sweet and can have a good time. So the weather forecast and I decided this should be beach day. Everyone loves the beach, right? Plus, after having spent a not insubstantial amount of time together, I knew he really likes exercise and thrives when he is active. After a few days of little walking, this seemed perfect.
We drove 2 hours to Karosta, which used to be Soviet barracks but is now mostly abandoned. It truly felt like a ghost town. M and I walked around 12 miles that day, most of it in Karosta. It’s an eerie place. I would stop every now and then to marvel at how quiet everything was even with these huge apartment buildings. There were a few little corner shops but basically no foot traffic and not many cars, either.
We passed St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral twice, but didn’t go in. It was very beautiful, an enormous church. I learned later that it reopened soon after Soviet occupation was over. Surrounding the cathedral were raised gardens that were probably gorgeous in summer, but at the time were just dirt and sticks.
M has an excellent natural sense of direction and is great with maps. At one point, he looked at Google maps, decided on a beach he had never been to before, and got us there without ever looking at the map again. I ask you. How is that possible?
“I can smell the sea,” he said. Okay then.
I read somewhere that the Baltic Sea has about 1/5 the salinity of an ocean. And it really didn’t have that briney, fishy smell that is so characteristic of the American beaches I’ve been to.
Anyway, M got us there. Then I got stuck in a Latvian porta potty which was obviously a great experience as well.
The beach at Liepaja has a bunch of smooth sea stones and sea glaas, but I didn’t see a single shell! I brought home a pocket full of rocks, including a large white stone that M gave me on the walk back to the car.
We walked along the beach, very slowly, climbed a few sand dunes, touched the water, collected stones and feathers. As we crested a sand dune, we saw big, dilapidated concrete structures in the water and right on the shoreline.
The section of beach M had chosen had zero signage, something also characteristic of Latvia. In this case, neither of us knew what these concrete buildings were. It turns out they are the Liepaja Northern Forts. Some had stairs, hallways, and multiple rooms, but they were also more or less uniform, except where the sea had worn them away. Some were literally falling into the sea.
Naturally, M viewed these enormous, slippery, crumbling pieces of architecture as a challenge, so he climbed them. He got some pretty great pictures, many of which are featured in this post. 🙂 Meanwhile, I realized that I had no idea how to call an ambulance in Latvia should the situation arise.
After a while, we took a different path back to Karosta, cutting through some woods in Liepaja (there was a dirt road) and saw some of the most beautifully rustic houses and yards. Wooden houses, wooden fences, beautiful gardens, cats. Absolutely lovely.
We also passed some huge, blank foundations; some trees had grown in the cracks and were pretty big, so who knows how long that property had been abandoned. That’s another thing about Latvia – a lot of things “pardod,” for sale. Or just left to rot.
When we finally made it back to our car, all the way back in front of Karosta prison (where I’d love to go next time!), M finally said it felt good to sit down. 🙂 And we were hungry. So we found a Cili Pica, which is a chain that sells pizza and wraps. We ordered 2 medium pizzas and M inhaled basically 75% of everything – he is, after all, a teen boy.
The Cili Pica was in a huge Rimi (kind of like Latvian Wal-Mart, except I called this one huge and it was smaller than your average Wal-Mart that doesn’t even sell groceries). It was a lot of fun to look around at what was available and to try to guess what was in various packages. Actually, the grocery store was a highlight of each day for me because I had such a great time looking at the different foods.
After dinner, we drove 2 hours back to Saldus and got there around 9pm, right when the “good films” come on TV. Remember how I said M woke up on the wrong side of the bed a little? Well, I asked him at one point if he had a good say, if he enjoyed the beach, and he lit up and said YES! This is something I still sometimes have to adjust to – he can be having a really great time and I’d never be able to tell by his expressions. 🙂
Next time – Kuldiga and Europe’s Widest Waterfall!