Monday, August 8, 2016

An Artist in the Making

After Riga, it was time to leave the city for the countryside. My husband, Chris, and I rented a car so that we could travel at our leisure, making our way slowly from Riga to Tallinn. We headed first to Gauja National Park in Northeast Latvia. This area is known as the Switzerland of Latvia, but the landscape is more like rolling hills than mountains. In a land where the highest elevation is Gaizinkalns at 312 meters (1,024 feet) above sea level, everything is relative. Switzerland or not, this is a beautiful area for sightseeing and hiking. The town of Sigulda is the gateway to Gauja National Park and we stopped briefly to explore. From Sigulda, there's a view across the Gauja river valley to Turaida Castle.

Our hike in the park included a stop at Gutman's Cave, a grotto containing carved inscriptions (also known as graffiti) from as early as 1668. Unfortunately, newer carvings have eradicated some of the earlier carvings. Now, it is no longer permitted to write on the cave walls.

We stayed at a lovely country hotel that I found on Trip Advisor - Kārlamuiža. The quiet country setting was relaxing and, in the fading evening light, we were able to watch storks in a nest just outside the window. The nearby town of Cēsis was our destination for dinner and we found an interesting restaurant in a converted fire house - Izsalkušais Jānis. Lettering on the glass doors of the restaurant read "rustic blend, hemp, forestfood, dill, goosebumps, no chef, seasons, nordic," as well as other words in Latvian. We had a delicious meal there.

On our way north to Viljandi in Estonia, we traveled through the border towns of Valka, Latvia and Valga, Estonia. Viljandi is a favorite stop for me especially because I'm able to visit friends that I've made on previous trips. This town houses the University of Tartu's Culture Academy and because of this, a very good selection of handknitted mittens and socks can be found at Viljandi Käsitöökoda, a local yarn shop at Lossi 14. I picked up a great pair of mittens that was knit at 13 stitches to the inch and I was told by the shop owner that the traditional design of these mittens is from the nearby town of Pilistvere.

One evening we were invited to dinner at a friend's new home in an old schoolhouse outside of Viljandi. On our way to dinner, we stopped at our hostess's pottery studio, Mulgi Savikoda, where classes are taught and distinctive pottery is sold.

I found that clay is not as forgiving as knitting. With one-on-one instruction from Külli, our hostess, I started throwing a pot on a wheel. It didn't take me too long to put my thumb through the side of my pot and "splat" it went! Then Chris sat down at the wheel and in spite of his Adrian Monk tendencies (see TV show starring Tony Shalhoub) and his aversion to having dirty hands, he got right into the wet clay and produced his first piece of pottery. An artist is born!

Then it was on to the old schoolhouse that's being converted into a home, a walk in the neighborhood, a fabulous dinner, and interesting conversation. Special thanks to Rauno and Getter who befriended me on my trip in 2013 and have since introduced me to their families (see prior blog posts here and here).

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