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Latvian Day 3 – Pils

It only seems right that a vacation that felt like a wish granted to me via my fairy godmother would include castles.  Let me tell you, Latvia has castles.  If you happen to watch the TV miniseries of War and Peace from 2016, you might recognize Rundālei Palace that is actually located in Latvia.

We did not visit Rundāle palace while we were in Latvia but the pils we visited were pretty amazing in their own right.

First thing on Friday morning, I picked up the  rental car I reserved months prior to give us the freedom to drive where ever we wanted in the countryside. As it turns out, my forethought to reserve a car was pretty darn smart. Other family members that rented cars that day, out of necessity due to missing the party bus to the wedding location (due to being out with the wedding party till the wee hours the previous night)  paid premium rental prices because of a music festival out in the country side.  Maybe it was the Positivus Festival

Anyway… Our target was was Cēsis, LV. Before heading out to Cēsis castle, we stopped at a hotel in town for a nature break. We had expected that once we got out away from Riga, we’d be more successful communicating in Latvian. Well, once again, tourism won out. English was more easily understood than Latvian.  Either way, we found the toilet and took care of business.  Fortunately, this hotel was just a pit stop, not our destination. A bit farther out is Cēsis Pils.  Before you are able to take in the wonder of the ruins of Cēsis Pils, you need to enjoy the new Cēsis Pils. 

Can I just say now that very few of my pictures do justice to the real beauty of Latvia?

Behind new Cēsis Pils is the old castle ruins.    There are enough walls and bricks remaining to aid your imagination into visualizing how the castle was laid out and what the delightful views one would have from the towers.  There are two other castles in the vicinity of Cēsis Pils.  One of which you can see in the distance of the picture below, however, Cēsis was the only pils we visited that day. One can hardly ignore hungry tummies, especially when the skies continue to darken and threaten rain.

 I’d be remiss not to admit how awed I was of the modern scenic ampitheather that was been created out of the ruins. It must be amazing to watch a performance in that atmosphere. 

A view of inside the castle grounds from the tower

By the time we returned to town for lunch, there was a torrential downpour going on. This made it quite difficult to discern if a cafe had suitable fare for lunch. After running from one cafe to the next, we slumped into the grocery store next to the sports bar that didn’t allow minors in the middle of the day.   Turns out that the grocery store had a cafeteria type restaurant and, honestly, it had some of the best Latvian food we had the whole trip.  We ordered carbonade ( pork chops),  kartupeļi (potatoes), and probably maize (bread, likely rye) or/and sula (juice). Should I mention that we were drenched from the rain, like leaving a trail of puddles through the cafeteria line? 

Once we were done eating and with time to kill, we hit the grocery store to do some shopping.  Afterall, no trip is complete until you pick up a box of Prozit for each person back home. You only need to hope you keep the chocolates in one piece while traveling home so that the liquor inside the chocolates doesn’t escape.  

Castles are not the only thing worth visiting in the Gauja River area.  As is often done in the US, we visited the boyhood home of a man of historical significance.  Well, he was significant to us and many that we know, that’s for sure.  Ivars met us along the roadside and guided us to the boyhood home of Andrejs Kengis, PK’s dad, which is called Sietiņi.  

Childhood home of Andrejs, Ginta (pictured on the right), Aija and Janis


The family still owns land in the area but we are not allowed to go up to the actual house and it’s not visible from the road. Luckily, the barn, built by PK’s grandfather, is still visible from the road. 

The Kengis family doesn’t talk much about the literal story of leaving Latvia.  Essentially, there came a point in the occupation when the Russians began to send farmers off to Siberia (or did other things to them).  The family had been visiting another household when they received word that if they went home they would be killed. So, the Kengis family fled for safety in the middle of the night.  I now realize why Sound of Music has a special place in my mother-in-law’s heart. 

We inquired about where the name Sietiņi comes from. Ivars then guided us to the nearby sandstone cliffs along the Gauja River.  Sietiņi translates to sieve or strainer. 

Ivars recommended that we make a stop at the local cemetery before moving on to the wedding location. I admit, I was reluctant.  What could be so interesting about a cemetery (besides ancestors).  In hindsight, I regret that I did not take more pictures. This cemetery was like a botonical garden on castle grounds.  It was quite amazing. 

Site of Piedkalns: Augusts, Milda and Marija


There was one more castle that we visited that day, but since it was also the location of Matiss’s wedding, I think it’s best to save those impressions for the next chapter, Kāzas (wedding). 

By the way, it rained most of the day.  But, who’s to let a little rain get into the way of fun? 

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Sisters, Sisters

As my Aunt Rachel said, “She does so many wonderful things for us but there is only so much complaining one can take.”

My mother was born and raised in a very close, large family of all girls.  They all like to let you know, “Daddy never once complained that we were all girls.”  There were six sisters.   

This is when the family starts singing

Sisters..Sisters… There were never such devoted sisters

It’s been a big deal to be born a girl or give birth to a girl but even a bigger deal to be a sister/ have a sister on that side of the family.  One aunt produced three sisters, who then produced a set of sisters and a single girl.  It took four generations before a boy came along in that line of the tree.  Another aunt produced a set of sisters.  My mother produced a set of sisters (and a brother…shhhh).  Her older sister produced a set of sisters…. well, you get the idea.  Every year since the 70’s, the sisters got together for a few days in the summer to shop, do crafts, eat and laugh, laugh, laugh at the Sisters’ Bash.  At one time, we had a wooden pig as our center piece for the bash.  A humorous outlook at our ability to eat for three days straight.

My mother died ten years ago of pancreatic cancer.  She was the baby of the family so she had a close relationship with each one of her sisters.  She’d be happy to know that the bash is still happening and that my sister and I haven’t missed a bash since she died.   She wouldn’t be very happy nor would she be surprised to find out that it took about 30 minutes of being together before the Sisters (as in, the remaining original sisters) started going after each other’s throats.  Of course, it’s all done in a passive aggressive way, so, it all works out in the end. 

One thing I like about my generation of the sisters is the focus on exercise and activity.  Or, maybe we do it just to get away from the others so we can freely talk about them.  One of our activities this year was to hike the ridge behind my cousin’s house.  It gave me an opportunity to actually use my Merrells on a trail instead of just urban walking.  My cousin K moved into the mountainous (well, mountainous to someone who lives in the prairie) area south of Louisville.  Hello, instant cardio workout!  The steep ridges had my heart popping right out of my chest before we’d made it half way to the ridge.  The fragile shale rock crumbled with every step keeping my core taut and ready.   My legs were challenged with steep ascending then descending not too quickly.   I might be biased but I’m fairly certain that my Merrells out performed any other shoe worn on the ridge that day.

K’s sister has lived in the city so long that she was excited just to see a cat out-of-doors.  She was constantly on the hunt to see and perhaps better able to flee from any type of critter.  We happened upon a very unusual ‘critter’ that none of had seen before and were quite interested to view. 

Red Velvet Ant Wasp

This thing was huge.  It looked to be about 1 inch long and so bright it looked like it was some type of stuffed animal or puppet.  Luckily, K’s sister may be a city girl but she’s also from Texas.  She warned us that red usually means poison.  This ant is really a wasp and is sometimes called a cow killer.  Their stings aren’t poisonous enough to actually kill a cow but those that  have been stung by them report them to be the most painful sting they have ever experienced. 

Hmmm, a wasp that looks like an ant that has the most painful sting ever?  Bold. Beautiful. Stings.  Sounds like we have a new mascot for our bash.

Truthfully, the laughs at the bash outnumber the stings.  Being with my mom’s family is the closest I’ll ever get to her again.  Some of my cousins have turned into my closest friends.  We laugh until deep into the night.  And, I always want more time with my sister.

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