Latvia and Kaliningrad
Latvia as a country did not make much impression on me. It was
difficult to see where Estonia ended and Latvia began, or why
there was a difference. In a sense it was more of the same. The
land is flat, the forests spread out everywhere, and the fields
are green. The main difference was the capital city, Riga.
Tallin was clearly two cities, the medieval and the new, but
what impressed us was how clean, well kept, and prosperous the
city appeared to be. Riga, in contrast, looked as though it was
last tarted up fifty or more years ago, and now needed some
serious love and affection, plus a large dose of investment
The one thing that stood out for me was the vast market area
just south of the central bus station. It wasnít just large, it
was huge, most of it under cover in two massive warehouses, with
even more stalls in the surrounding streets.
Not only was it one of the largest markets I have ever seen in
Europe, the contents were for sale at bargain basement prices.
If you are on the bread line, you could certainly live well from
the produce available.
We stayed a couple of days, got bored, and moved on to
Lithuania. However, I received a bit of a shock while I was
I thought I was reasonably well up with my geography. After all,
I did pay attention at school, and I have visited over a hundred
countries around the world, so I was rather surprised to find a
country that I had not known existed in Europe. It also struck
me as a strange anomaly.
I noticed there was a coach going from Riga to Kaliningrad. I
knew of the place, which used to be called Konigsberg, but was a
bit hazy on the history. Wasnít it part of Prussia? Was it now
in Poland? I checked the place that evening in my hotel room,
and got quite a shock. It isnít just a city, but a country. On
the other hand, it isnít really an independent country but still
part of Russia. I had another look at the map. The area was
bounded to the west by the Baltic, to the south by Poland, and
to the east and north by Lithuania. It was an island of Russia
within the EU. I had no idea such a political curiosity existed.
However I look at this I am more and more convinced that the EU
has to start facing both east and west. I dont want to get too
political, but I have always considered NATO to be an
abomination. It is a threat. After all, Russia agreed to the
withdrawal of military might in Eastern Europe in return for a
similar withdrawal of NATO to the west. The Russians have
withdrawn, but NATO has not. There is a clear treaty breach,
which is in my opinion, very unfortunate.
Muddying the waters is the genuine dislike and distrust of
Russiaís political apparatus by the peoples of this part of the
world. Several centuries ago that dislike and distrust would
have been towards the Swedes. But the Baltic is calm these days,
and Iím sure it would be calmer if the east-west suspicions
could be consigned to the past instead of stoked up. Certainly
the ordinary Russian people appear to want to be friends, but
political tensions arenít being helped by constant mistrust and
a whole raft of sanctions.
In the long run those sanctions will hurt Europe. Already
between 40% and 50% of Germanyís various energy needs have to be
imported from Russia. Russia also keeps the lights burning in
Finland. There need to be some serious moves towards
I considered going to Kaliningrad to see at first hand how this
enclave functioned. I wanted to talk to the locals. However,
visas sounded difficult to obtain, which didnít surprise me.
I was also intending to travel to Belarus, but visa restrictions
there were even more onerous, and I wasnít in the mood for
bureaucratic hassles, which was a pity because my last
girlfriend came from the Belarus capital of Minsk, and Iím sure
she would have shown us round. All in all, I decided to take the
easy route and carry on due south to Vilnius, and re-think
things from there.
I'll have a look at Lithuania next week.
< < < St Petersberg