I think the warmer weather has made us all go a bit silly recently. After such a long, long, dark and cold winter, a bit of sun and the opportunity to go outside without your jacket is incredibly motivating. Most of Latvia at this time of the year is digging in the dirt, raking leaves from last autumn, cleaning windows and sowing seeds. We, on the other hand, decided that Mikus' birthday, combined with the weather, provided an excellent opportunity to invite friends and family to the country for a weekend birthday extravaganza.
Today, back in Riga, I am totally exhausted from the weekend but happy that it turned out such a success. We had friends with kids come down and stay, and on Sunday (after hanging out all day before and having a sleep over) we celebrated Mikus' birthday in the new cottage/sauna house. Mikus himself had requested a "spook party" - probably influenced by pictures and stories of American halloween traditions - and although we thought it was a kinda bizarre thing for a 4 year old's party, we went along with the ghost theme, complete with spooky decorations, games and food (4-year-old style). Jeremy helped all the kids out with face paint before the celebrations, which added to the excitement, although it meant that Mikus looks a little ghoulish in all of his birthday pics!!
The most interesting event was a mini "šķēršļu gājiens" we organised, kind of like a storytelling scavenger hunt, dunno what the equivalent concept is in English. As far as I know, in Latvian its come from the scouting tradition - whereby you make up an adventure which involves going from point to point outdoors, solving clues along the way. So our little ghosts ended up helping a witch find ingredients for her potion she was brewing, found a head for a headless man, and helped out a lonely giant with company and singing. The adventure ended with the kids finding "golden apples"- colourful little presents dangling from the branches in the orchard. Not only did the kids seem to believe everything that was happening (well, the youngest kids, anyway), we discovered some fabulous acting talent in our adult friends. To cut a long story short (and boy, were we tired when we finally got in the car to drive back to Riga last night), a good time was had by all. But one thing I know for sure - I'm seriously considering renting out a playcentre for the next kiddies birthday we have to organise!!

Face painting for young and old(er)....

Zelta and Mikus get into character

Knocking on the door of the "spook house".... is the witch at home?

Tiss the vampire bat with Jem's decorations in the background. Pacman also made an appearance

A game we played was "wrap the mummy". Lots and lots of toilet paper.

On the outdoor adventure - singing for the lonely giant

Kas dārzā, kas dārzā, dundurs rožu dārziņā...

We ordered a cake from the local baking ladies. They had never made a ghost cake before, but they did their best! Tasted good, too...

Finally, a smile from the birthday boy!

Vecmamina wrapping up her and Vectevs' present...

...which was a bike! Mikus got on the bike, started pedalling, and headed straight for the front door....

I'll bet you didn't think I'd update this blog so soon! But our wonderful weekend excursion has got me all fired up to post another photo report on life in Latvia. So here you have it - I had to sing in a concert in Cesis (a beautiful town about 100 km north of Riga), so we decided to make a weekend of it.
We booked a night in a manor house near Cesis called Ungurmuiza. Apart from its fabulously klumpety name, it is also the oldest wooden manor in the Baltic States. Built in 1720something, it has been restored in a restrained way - not the usual clean-it-within-an-inch-of-its-life way. Much of the original decor has been left the way it was, and areas of restoration can be easily identified as new additions or repairs. We were the only people staying at Ungurmuiza, so the local groundsman who let us in gave us the key to the original school house where we had our room, and told us to look after ourselves - which was fabulous! It felt like we were the only ones in the world to stumble on this remarkable place. In the morning a lady appeared out of nowhere to cook us a hot breakfast of fried eggs and sausages with klingeris on the side and locally-collected herbal tea, all served elegantly complete with linen placemats in the old school room, now the dining room. Afterwards we walked around the ancient oak trees in the park and checked out the "tea house", which apparently was made 2-storey, so that the baron could drive his carriage in underneath the tea house and climb upstairs to take his beverage in comfort. Nice.
Later, we were off with friends Juris and Daina and our new godson Mikelis on their annual springtime excursion to the Līču Langu cliffs near the Gauja river. And what an adventure it was! Juris had warned me that we needed old clothes that could get dirty - and we soon found out why. A barely-existent track ran from an old brick-making factory into the forest, along the river, down some ravines and through lots of muddy creek beds. The boys ran and slipped and stumbled through the track at top speed, and to my surprise, Tiss was the first one to crawl into the sandstone caves that we came across. Oooh, scarey stuff, I definitely didn't go in - there was ice-cold spring water streams pouring out of these caves, and Tiss and the other foolish blokes who went in came out with mud up to their knees and huge grins on their faces. After hours of bush-bashing we came to the last cliff-and-cave-complex, after which we cut cross-country back to the brick factory, climbing over huge piles of bricks to get to the cars. The excursion to end all excursions! Needless to say it, the boys passed out in the car on the way home...

Looking out over the Cesis skyline from the Cesis museum tower

Ungurmuiza - front door

Ungurmuiza school house(in the background), where we stayed. Apparently the baron was a benevolent chap who built the school so that the children of his servants could be schooled alongside his own blue-blooded darlings

Inside Ungurmuiza - the suite or rooms that are often rented our for weddings, parties, anything...

The staircase was complete with carved initials of the baron and his wife

The baroness' bedroom was "guarded" by two painted soldiers - those freaky eyes follow you as you come up the stairs

The tea house

"Kazu grava" ("The Goat's Gully) - probably because you had to hop up that waterfall like a goat on a mountainside

Jem carrying Mikus out of the first cave. No too much mud just yet...

"The tunnel we had to crawl through was THIS SMALL"!

Our godson Miķelis - spent the hours dodging and weaving along the forest track strapped to his mum and smiling nonstop!

The sandstone was very soft and along the way we saw a century of "I woz 'ere" carvings in the rock...

Juris climbs to a cave up high


....and I'm getting old. Oh, lordy lordy. I won't make a long story of it, but the last few weeks my body has suggested to me that things are slowly going downhill. I spent a week in Vienna in mid-March with the Saucejas, whereby we soaked in a great deal of art and Germanic order. I also (foolishly) assumed that it would already be springtime in Austria, and so I didn't even pack a hat or gloves. Of course, when we got there, it was just as cold as in Riga, but with a fierce and icy wind that blew through every woven hole in my crappy cotton scarf, and turned my poor un-gloved hands into numb icicles. And when I got home - literally a few hours after getting off the plane - I came down with an aching, exhausting, raging fever. A case of the dreaded late-winter "gripa" (flu), which I figured would knock me over for 3 days max and then I would be right as rain. So after sleeping and sweating and moaning my way through the next day, Monday, I got up on Tuesday and went to work.... for a few hours... by which time I crawled home and fell back into bed for the rest of the week. And that wasn't the end of it. Although I resumed my usual duties after a couple of days, I've been coughing and aching and having afternoon naps ever since - it's taken me weeks to recover fully. Daily chores have been a challenge, let alone some kind of creative thought or writings. So, dear reader (all two of you), let me assure you that the first thing to get struck off the "to do" list when I have a lack of time or energy is.... blogging. So there.
On a lighter note, our Easter long weekend was fabulous. The weather miraculously stayed great, and leapt up by about 15 degrees to give us a series of sunny spring days, so warm you could walk outside without coats on! We rediscovered the country and spent most of the weekend cleaning out the house, digging in the dirt, raking leaves, etc etc. A very exciting development at Kugures is that we now have a fully functioning sauna - which was crafted by local workmen over the winter. Its wood fired, and I can happily report after quite a few sauna visits over the long weekend that it works very well. Too well, in fact - the first night Jem and I went in without a thermometer and almost ended up passing out from the heat! The boys absolutely loved it, mucking around all sweaty and nude, tipping water everywhere and climbing all over and under the benches. They have never been cleaner!
The Easter Bunny made quite a late appearance on Sunday morning, planting chocolate eggs in painfully obvious places throughout the garden - and the boys walked past almost every one of them! But eventually we found them all, which was great fun. They haven't finished off their store of chocky yet... So without further ado here are a few pics, none of the sauna action for obvious reasons (count your lucky stars) - for that you'll just have to turn up and see it for yourselves!

Mikus dyes his prize-winning Easter egg the traditional Latvian way - Saturday evening

And the hunt is on! Eager kids chase after the tracks of the bunny while mum and I stroll behind. The house you can see contains the sauna...

I found one! (This one had an action superhero inside it - since when has Easter been about giving toys? Certainly not in my day! Back then it was all about chocolate, chocolate, chocolate)

"Rabbit Ears" found on the sauna steps

The big prizes at the end of the hunt - thanks Oma and Opa bunny for these ones!!

Mikus on his winning streak during the lunchtime "egg war" - grab one of the eggs you dyed the night before, and bash your neighbour's egg. The winner is the one without the cracked shell. The winner then goes on to challenge the next person...

And the next person...

And the next person.... !!

Lastly, a traditional Easter swing - so that you don't get bitten by mosquitoes during the summer.


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