Monday, July 1, 2013

The twelve days of Latvija: Day 3, Vanagi

After the family festivities we hitched a ride to our relatives’ country estate near the city of Cēsis. 55 miles east of Rīga, the city is one of the oldest in Latvija and is mentioned in accounts dating back to the 11th century. I vaguely remembered the castle ruins from my visit in 1995; I attended a concert with friends (Labvēlīgais Tips, if you were curious) in the shell of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword constructed castle ruins (1207). Cēsis is also well-known as the home to the oldest brewery in Latvia, Cēsu Alus, which was built in 1878 but whose origins date back to the period of the Livonian Order. Although I walked through town and peeked into the beautiful church in the city center, we spent the day in the country enjoying the splendor of a Latvian summer.

These wooden swings are a common sight in Latvia

The pirts; a focal point of the homestead, the saunas play a larger role in country life than just a bath house. We did partake in a sweat, followed by a plunge in the pond to wash away all that had been released from our pores, but traditionally we would have also cut fresh birch bundles, to gently slap the skin and further stimulate the pores and cells. By splashing water on the heated rocks steam vapor is created, increasing the temperature even more, and after a pirts experience one feels relaxed, rejuvenated and refreshed.

The smoke emerging from the chimney means the pirts is heating
Our relatives have situated their pirts on a hillside just next to the water, and so the porch was an ideal spot to enjoy a long lunch together. We feasted on a crisp aukstā zupa, followed by šašliki (shish kebobs) and all the makings for delicious maizītes (sandwiches), and then just enjoyed the peace and quiet, as well as the company of family we don’t see often. Our previous visit to Vanagi was seven years ago; I remember dancing with the patriarch of the family on the veranda to the accompaniment of accordion music, and Roberts enjoyed a bonding session with the cousins in the pirts, but neither of us could believe that seven years, a marriage and two children had occurred in the blink of an eye since our last trip.

In their gardens I found inspiration; a bountiful harvest of strawberries was just ending, only to be replaced in ripening by every vegetable I have ever grown and more. Rows after rows of berry bushes including raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, red and black currents! The orchard and the apple, pear and cherry trees were brimming with green fruit, while the greenhouses modeled rows of tomato plants, all heavy with the tomatoes. Our visit perfectly coincided with the blooming of the little-leaf linden, and I was rewarded for my assistance in picking the blossoms with a bag of my own to dry and take home to brew tea.

Basking in the warm sunshine with a fishing pole or picking strawberries roadside it is easy to imagine returning with Mikus and Lauris for an idyllic summer, one that forever would be the definitive childhood memory for the boys. Running barefoot, picking berries, deep slumber after days spent in fresh air… these are the dreams I have for the boys, endless summer in our mīļā, mazā Latvija. Mīļš paldies to our gracious hosts, may we not see the passage of another seven years before returning!




  1. Replies
    1. It was - somehow the backyard here in Greenville, with all the humidity, mosquitos and heat - it doesn't even compare. We're making the best of being back of course, but I'm dreaming of the days in the Latvian countryside...

  2. Hello Liene...sorry I have lost touch with you and your correspondence but my old email was hacked and I had to start over! My Mum came from Cesis! A lovely 'idyllic' post!

    1. Glad to see you again! We've family on both sides from Cēsis, it is a lovely city - I would love to return sooner than later!

  3. Hi Liene....just looking through your wonderful posts......I wonder if your family knew my family?

    1. I'm sure they did! It's really a small world, if not a small country :)


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