In the 1930s there was a campaign in Latvia for locals to be tourists in Latvia itself: "Apceļo Dzimto Zemi!". I have always thought that this was obviously the way to go - to know your own country as well as travelling around others - but until now, for one reason or another, we had not done very much travelling in Latvia itself. This year, mostly because the kids are bigger and no longer scream during long car trips (thanks for the Ninteno DS, Oma and Opa!), and partly because we are not travelling anywhere overseas this summer, it is the Summer of Local Tourism. I had also decided to begin to actively take people up on vague offers of visiting them at their country houses (people tend to put out "you must come and stay with us in the country this summer" invitations quite often), and so when the parents of Tiss' school friend invited us out, I purposefully set a date and this weekend, we packed up the car and headed out to their place in Latgale.
After an almost 5 hour trip (which was meant to take 3 hours but lengthened because Mikus began to vomit and wouldn't stop - and this was even BEFORE he started playing the DS), we turned up at their place, way in the middle of a wheat field, right by a slow-flowing river. The river was perfect for swimming, not very deep, with a sandy bottom, and the boys spent the next day in the water. This country property also had a melna pirts - or a black sauna - which we went in that evening. I won't go into the cultural description of saunas in Latvia - that is a post that has been brewing for a while - but in short, a black sauna is a traditional sauna which has no chimney, which means that the smoke from the fire fills the room and is let out before you go into the sauna to wash. The walls of the sauna and the stones on the stove are black with soot. This was our first time in a black sauna and it was very pleasant - the heat felt a bit different, kind of softer, I guess, and visually, people look so good against the black walls! We spent most of the two outside, eating by the river, swimming, the boys did a lot of running through the fields, all of the menfolk went on a boat ride, and that evening the boys slept in a tent, with their freshly home-made wooden swords for protection.
Next day we kept on driving, and apart from stopping at every lake we passed (the region Latgale is called the "land of blue lakes"), we also took part in the "unpacking" of a potter's kiln. This part of Latgale traditionally has many potters' workshops, and you can visit the artists at their homes. We were lucky enough to turn up during a kiln unpacking, and got to see the pots coming out gleaming and hot. We (and everyone else in the crowd of people who were there) helped carry the pots outdoors, where we chose the ones we wanted to buy. The boys were most interested to see the kiln and the wares emerging from it, and Jem and I scored some beautiful pieces at sensational prices, straight from the artist himself. Not only that, but it was great to hear the local dialect being spoken by people around us - singing in the Saucejas we have learned many songs from this area, in the Latgallian dialect, but to hear a conversation between Latgallians is an experience in itself. To my surprise and pleasure, I actually understood everything that was said today, and found myself wishing I could speak the dialect as well.