Sunday, December 30, 2018

Utena, Lithuania

Everywhere you go in Latvia and Lithuania, you are surrounded by the dead. Cemeteries are everywhere and people go the cemetery every week to clean the grave of their ancestors, place fresh flowers, light a candle and sit for a while. Flower sellers have booths beside the cemeteries and so do the makers of grave markers. At Christmas, the flower sellers sell many boughs of greenery to place on the graves. The war dead are also everywhere, Chris and I often finding graveyards of German soldiers from WWI as well as monuments to the Soviets in empty stretches of countryside or small towns. And so are memorials to the Holocaust-everywhere. Literally. 
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Rumbala Massacre Memorial. One of the murder sites.
Just outside of Riga are the two memorials to the Rumbala Massacre- where over 25000 Jews were slaughtered in the space of a few days, the second largest mass killing after Babi-Yar in the Ukraine- until the death camps came online. The Latvians are slowly coming to terms with the fact that a portion of their population was complicit with the Germans in eradicating the Jews from Latvia. It is still an issue, and their official history says, "They made us do it! and we were not bad people." Gotta love revisionist history. But at least they are trying to talk it out. Hopefully, eventually, they'll admit that yes, members of our population were just fine with the Final Solution, without being coerced.

The Latvians are ahead of the Lithuanians. While in Latvia, they are coming to grips with what happened from 1941-1944 by setting up multiple museums and memorials, Lithuania is still trying to figure it out, as these articles shows. Written in 2017, 76 years after the majority of the massacres took place in Lithuania, the idea that people are still trying to acknowledge the fact that, yes, you and your countrymen were complicit in the murder of  tens of thousands of people should not be that hard. But it is. 

People forget that, percentage wise, Lithuania was the most successful country at killing their own Jews in WWII. That Lithuanians did indeed help Germans round up and kill Jews. That they held the guns shooting the Jews.
Catholic Church in Utena
The perfect example of that is Utena, Lithuania. Chris and I visited it this past week, just after Christmas. We first were drawn to the town by this magnificent Catholic Church. There was a picture of Pope Francis on the side of it. He, at least, gets it. The irony of this magnificent Catholic Church being built in 1880-1884 in a Jewish town where 75% of the population was Jewish in 1897 was not lost on me after I started my research. 

Chris managed to find the Jewish Memorial site. There are three but we were only able to find this one. This is the physical location of the massacre of the Jewish population of Utena and surrounding area. Thousands of people. Over 1/3 of the town and almost all of the Jews in the Utena District were executed. Men, women and children. There is documented evidence that the Lithuanian community voluntarily marked the home of the Jews for the Germans and then looted their homes. The Germans were in Lithuania less than three months before the Utena Jews were dead.

The Central Memorial 

The site of the killing.

The site of the killing.
Pope Francis said it best. Until Lithuanians and Latvians confront their brutal past of xenophobia, murder and collaboration these countries will continue to wrestle with the ghosts of WWII and the Occupation. Let's hope for their own sake that they acknowledge the blood on their hands and can move forward productively.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Estonia, December 2018

We had the pleasure of visiting Estonia this past week and it was wonderful. It is colder than Latvia, and they speak a different language than Latvian. I really loved that we got to see the sun and blue sky! Not for very long because it is winter, but the difference it makes on your mental outlook to see the sun is amazing after seeing grey for weeks.
We rented a lovely house out in the forest that was an hour from Tallinn and an hour and half from Narva in the Lahemaa National Park. Well worth it and such a nice place. It is called the Ooandu Watermill. Margus, the owner was great. 
Small one bedroom cabin for the summer. This is on a little island that you get to by a foot bridge. We saw mallards swimming in the creek.

The main house where we stayed. It has a wood fired sauna! It had three bedrooms and one and half baths.

The sawmill across the creek. It is also has a one bedroom place available to rent in the summer.
There are two footbridges to the island.

The creek from the footbridge.

Laheema National Park is beautiful, right on the Baltic Sea and with old growth forests. The roads are snow covered at this time of year, but there are lots of communities within the park, including Vosu where you can buy groceries and walk on the public beach. Hard to find a cup of coffee though. There are three amazing manor houses within walking/driving distance.
Driving through the Laheema National Park at night through the old growth forest. There is a hint of the moon in the photo. This was a big deal for me since it was the first time I had seen the moon in weeks.
Chris was kind enough to drive me to Tallinn to see the medieval section, which is amazing. Much more intact than Riga's old town, Tallinn's old city has less "Russian built palaces" as Margus told us. Margus is probably referring to the number of Art Nouveau buildings in Riga. Given that it was quite cold and I had forgot to bring my down mittens, I don't have a lot of Tallinn photos as my husband took the majority of them, which I will post later.

Outer medieval walls.

Tallinn has a ferry to Sweden across the Baltic Sea which we might try next summer. We then went up the coast. We found this abandoned church on the way up. The ruins of Pirita Convent.

We then found drove up the coast and I got to take this photo of the Baltic Sea. And the sun!

The sun on the Baltic Sea.

Estonia is beautiful and well worth the visit!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Ventspils Castle

Chris, Pumpkin and I visited Ventspils Castle in November. It was great and we will be back to visit again in the spring
Unlike a lot of Canadian historic sites that shut down in the winter, Latvian historic sites remain open. They charge admission, a few euros, but I think their philosophy is, "You're here, we're here, we're awesome even if it is not as good as it would normally be in the summer, so come on in." And they are right. We need an attitude adjustment in Canada. We're always so sorry that it's not perfect that we shut down. Instead we should be open not only for winter special events, but just open. Rant over.
The courtyard as you enter.
The castle. The tower is part of the original build.
Ventspils Castle was built by the Livonian Order in the mid to late thirteenth century. There was no activity in the grounds at the time of our visit, but the gardens were still lovely to walk through.
Pumpkin taking a walk through the grounds.
 Ventspils Castle does allow your dog to come into the castle/museum itself which was a first for me. The greeters to the museum were dressed in Latvian costume, spoke English, let us know that Pumpkin was okay to wander around in the building and that the Latvian 100th Anniversary display was an extra fee and also written entirely in Latvian. We decided not to see the Latvian 100th display. The inner courtyard is still intact and they have roofed the courtyard which allows them to heat the building.
The interior courtyard of the castle.

The interior courtyard of the castle. You can clearly see the later additions to the building.
There are several rooms with standard exhibits. Someone had some serious money to put into these exhibits. The cases are high quality and climate controlled. The labels are all in Latvian but they have some bronze age relics as well as medieval accoutrements on display. They do have plastic binder sheets with English descriptions available to support your understanding of some of the exhibits but they need to be updated as they don't match the cases very well and there is only one copy. They are also showing signs of wear. Some of the cases, particularly the ones that allowed for interactivity, have been damaged. (Isn't that always the way? If you are building it for the public to touch it needs to be made of titanium!)
One of the galleries with their very nice cases!
 The chapel and other great rooms were amazing. In every room there is an English label or explanation which was so helpful. You also sometimes forget that in the past for people to move from section to section of the castle you would have had to go outside in the ice and snow. And it gets cold here.
The great room fire place.
The chapel. The end of the Great Room leads to the chapel.
One of the seals marking the chapel wall which was uncovered during the archaeological excavations. 
My very favourite room in the entire castle was an awesome exhibit of how people modify their buildings over time. The room had been pulled apart in layers, so you went backwards in time until you reached the original medieval walls, but leaving many of the changes intact. A projector played on each wall in Latvian and English with arrows to all of the relevant additions and modifications to the construction. Additions of a 19th century stove beside a closed entrance from the 14th century were side by side. Don't like the 13th century medieval arch? Fill it in and change the window shape. Want to change the purpose of the room? Add a wall here and take a wall down there.  Awesome! The text was easy to understand and the arrows totally worked. The only thing I would change would be to add the history of the building as a primer before you entered the room so you would understand that the building had been everything from a fortification to a church to a prison.
Part of the room showing all the different stages of the castle in terms of use. The excavation found everything from medieval designs to the 20th century markings.
Since there are several floors it was wonderful to go through and explore. In some places some of their videos need adjustment so you can read the English but this was a minor distraction.
The warmest room in the castle.
Ventspils Castle was wonderful and well worth the visit!!!!

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Riga Central Market

Riga, Latvia has an amazing downtown market. It was purpose built in the twenties using Zeppelin hangers from World War 1 and it is in Old Town. It is a 10 minute walk from my apartment.

This was my second time in the market. The first was during our house hunting trip in July - you know, the five days you  get to find a place to live for the next three years of your life. The second was with Martine, who has already been here a year and knows all the best places to shop for food in the market. She also took me to Stockmann's grocery section to show me beef, cheeses, spices as well as show me what I should or should not buy there. Thank goodness for the kindness of military spouses sharing their knowledge!

From there we went to the market. First Martine taught me how to ask for something in Latvian which is "Man ludzu schwa," (that's how it sounds not how it is spelled.) I bought a chicken for 3 Euros in the meat market, as well as an onion, lettuce and herbs. Outside, I found someone selling enormous pomegranates for 2 Euros. The garlic was .60 Euros.
My 3 Euro chicken. Very tasty!
Then it was onto the cheese, butter, yogurt section. And Latvians love their cheese! This is the homemade butter I bought for 7.50 Euros. It doesn't look like a huge amount until you realise it made two batches of pastry and the filling for four batches of butter tarts and I have some left over. It needs to be frozen as it won't keep, probably because it of the amount of water in it. It made great pastry but I am not sure if it was the butter or the egg or even the sugar for my butter tarts that didn't work, but they didn't taste the way they tasted in Canada. As Chris said, they were still good, they just didn't taste like Canadian butter tarts.
My chunk of butter.
Butter tart made with Tate and Lyle dark brown sugar I bought at Gemoss. Very molassesy! Had to switch to light brown sugar.
Eggs from the store. 
Light brown sugar butter tarts. My oven is very small so you can only use small tins.
I bought my eggs at the grocery store and boy did I get a surprise. Eggs do not come as a dozen here but in 10! They have a very hard shell and a strong orange coloured yolk. I've been told to wash them before use or crack them into another bowl rather than over your baking.

Spices at the |Market

Vegetables inside the market.
From the cheese section it was on to the next portion of the market. Fish! The fish section and selection is huge. Fish are so fresh that they are gasping for air on the counters. They come smoked, boned, not deboned, there are bits and pieces for making soup, octopus, shrimp, oysters, everything. I bought this piece of butter fish. It is very smoky and you slice it thin and put it on crackers. I wonder if it would be good in soup?
Butter Fish
 I will definitely go again! But I also know I'll need to go again with a guide!  The walk back home was lovely. I took a different route home and the sun was shining! Riga is beautiful!
Walked over the canal on the way home and attempted a panorama shot. Still haven't mastered my new phone. Look at the beautiful architecture.

The canal.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Cocoa and Tomatoes

Hmm you're thinking. How do these two things go together?

First, yes I am talking about shopping for food again. I have devolved to a hunter-gather state in my quest for food. It is time consuming and really at the top of my list of things to do and get used to as I settle into living in Riga. Part of the issue is I am completely reliant on help to find supplies. Either it has to be in English, recognizable, a brand I know or there is someone with me who knows where to buy it or what it is. Or the clerk at the store speaks English. Or I am sniffing packages. I am sure there are Latvians wondering what the crazy Canadian is doing sniffing everything. I now get emails from helpful friends that contain sentences like, "Rimi has icing sugar!" with a picture of it with the Latvian word on it so I recognize it when I see it. Yes, while I am appreciating the gorgeous architecture, great coffee culture and plethora of museums, I can't enjoy it as much as I would like while I try and find all purpose flour and whole wheat flour (rye flour is everywhere.)

So cocoa and tomatoes.

First, I did not ship myself very much in the way of baking supplies. Chris was less than helpful as he just said, "What do you need?" And I would say, "Well what type of baking soda do they have?" And it went downhill from there. Very difficult to explain to a non-baker. So at Gemoss, with the help of Jenn Richards, I found this. Cocoa. This will be going into my Latvian/English baking list.
Now I am a person who loves Fry's cocoa. It makes excellent cocoa, brownies, fudge pudding, tortes and cakes. I buy a lot of Fry's cocoa. But I did not ship any. Because I thought, in my ethnocentric Canadian way, that if it is good enough for the Queen, it would be everywhere. Sadly, this is not so. 

However, I opened up this cocoa and had a sniff and it smelled right. And I made my first cup of cocoa since I have been in Latvia. The large crystals their regular sugar has doesn't matter when you are making cocoa since they melt during heating. The cocoa was rich, smooth, chocolaty with a nice nutty after taste that I can really see enhancing anything with nuts in it. It was delicious. Cocoa in Latvia is good to go!

Sadly, tomatoes in Latvia are not. In the summer, when we were here finding our place to live (more about that another time) tomatoes were succulent, perfectly ripe and flavourful. Not in November. And yes, I am spoiled. I know this. In Canada, during the cold winter months, we have hothouse English cucumbers and tomatoes, grown in either Canada or Mexico. On the vine tomatoes can be left on the counter to ripen, which is what I do in Canada. Thinking the same trick would work here, I have now bought tomatoes on the vine twice, to let them ripen on the counter.

An epic fail. This is after two days. And they were as hard as rocks. Canned tomatoes during the winter from now on. Lesson learned.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Grocery Shopping Part II

Honestly until you've lived in another country you don't realise how much you take things for granted. I know in a few months everything will just flow- I'll know all the little tips and tricks for navigating in the grocery store, where to go and when for specialty items etc., etc. But right now if it wasn't for the kindness of the community I'd still be scratching my head, muddling my way through not even knowing where the stores are let alone how to shop there.My haul of soft light and brown sugar from Gemoss though I am going to try using Demerara sugar I got from Rimi (which I think is an Estonian grocery chain store. I've been told Tops is the Latvian grocery chain store) in the butter tarts. White sugar here has much larger crystals than I am used to as well. More mixing perhaps might take care of it? 
Promo was awesome with a lot of items for making Asian and Mexican food many if them labelled in English or easily identifiable. They had huge boxes of spices. And when I say huge I mean this:
So I succumbed and bought a few. We'll be eating a lot of curry and having ginger cookies for many years to come.

In the meantime, went to a store called Avokado and got the spices above. They will be bringing in cornstarch and corn syrup in the next few weeks so I may actually be able to make gingerbread cookies and cheesecake. In the meantime I need to create an English Latvian list so I know what to look for since Google translate is not working!
Document, document, document!

Utena, Lithuania

Everywhere you go in Latvia and Lithuania, you are surrounded by the dead. Cemeteries are everywhere and people go the cemetery every week t...