A voyage is not complete without a degree of bizarreness. I knew this passage would be a little out of the ordinary and had put some effort into research. A former military prison where you can stay – they treat you as a prisoner; a restaurant resembling a hospital where you eat with surgical instruments, in straightjackets; the amiable collector of beach flotsam and jetsam; the Museum of Antlers in the hamlet of Valde; a Baltic wedding procession with a bra-less mother of the bride and a Jumbo Jet converted into a hotel.
We are in the Baltics and the former Russian republic of Latvia, a troubled whirlwind of fierce struggle and downright rebellion, they seemed to have turned into amusing lunatics – well worth the detour.
The first stop was to see Biruta Galgalas (and her gigantic wrestling nephew Ugis) who has been collecting items that have been washed up on the shores of Latvia, just down from her wooden shack. Sadly she is moving on and most of the collection has been removed, but there were still remnants left to look at, including an outhouse which Ugis must have just used. Luckily we didn’t stay for lunch as we heard an almighty belch from Ugis’ vast stomach crack the air above our heads as we left. He was obviously making more room for a vast Latvian feast.
Onto Liepeja, further north and to discover Karosta prison. We walked in tentatively, around the rusty gate and overgrown entrance into the yard of the former prison. A guard in prison uniform was forcing press-ups on a group of men and another guard was beating them with a whippy branch. We managed to evade the clutches of a guard and had to line up with a few other inmates for drill and dressing down with much Latvian phlegm hitting some rather bemused looking visitors faces, as they were given a berating, this time in English. All very amusing. In fact it was very well done and our guard, who also happened to be Head Warden, was particularly convincing as a soviet masochist. We were not convinced, however, a night inside was a good idea, especially without a glass of wine, so we moved on. As we left we were held up by a swing-bridge, while a boat passed through, and we gazed at a wedding party heading to the church. The mother of the bride, who was struggling to hold her breasts in, cut a memorable figure – so I had to record it.
We camped that night in a forest clearing by the sea, with a few other neighbours, next to the Museum of Antlers, and its rather creepy custodian. He is the son of a forest warden who has been collecting stag antlers and other bones and skulls of other forest dwellers, over many decades, and it is located in the attic of his house.
Sadly the eccentricity of Latvia was left behind, Hospitalis restaurant had closed through, it didn’t pass hygiene standards (Ugis would be most disappointed) and we moved onwards to Sweden by ferry. The last night of the European tour was spent in the well kitted out Jumbo motel, on a disused part of the runway at Stockholm Arlanda Airport. The honeymoon suite was in the cockpit, and we had chicken tikka al la aeroplane. All very pleasant, and a fine way to exit Northern Europe after a long road trip taking 13 countries in two months. Never long enough.