Private guide in Latvia

This item appears on page 28 of the June 2013 issue.

My husband, David, and I wanted to see more of Latvia than just its capital. About six months before our June 27-July 1, 2012, visit, we contacted the guide Ieva Sala (email through Tours-by-Locals (Vancouver, BC, Canada; 866/844-6783).

Ieva provided us with a 5-day tour of her country by private car for 800 (near $1,054), which included lodging, her services for seven to eight hours per day and entrance fees. We could have chosen more expensive places to stay but were happy with her suggestions.

We first stayed two nights in Riga in the basement apartment of an old building that was being remodeled. We purchased food for simple breakfasts and dinners from a grocery store about two blocks away. There were restaurants nearby also. 

While in Riga, we toured the city and visited a very large open-air museum with many buildings from earlier times. On another day, we drove to Ju¯rmala on the coast. The town still has many homes with lacy wood cutouts around their windows and sometimes along the edges of the roofs. Once summer homes for the wealthy, some of these houses are in good condition and others are derelict.

Latvians enjoy the sandy beach in Ju¯rmala and so do the Russians who visit. There is a love/hate relationship between the Russians (who think they still have the right to be there) and the Latvians (who, of course, don’t agree). In any case, the Russian contribution to the economy is helpful.

The Ru¯ndale Palace and its formal gardens were very impressive. The summer palace of the Duke of Courland, it is the second-largest palace in the Baltics. The largest one is his winter residence, Jelgava Palace, now a university. 

Then we moved to Ieva’s village. This was not a quaint, medieval-type village but one built by the Soviets. I never could decide where the village center was. 

The inn where we stayed was actually in the country, and you could go for little walks. It was quiet and peaceful. I suspect it could be different on weekends, as the inn looked as if it were a center for parties and weddings.

Our room was clean and neat. There was no Internet service and only Latvian TV. The people at the inn spoke little to no English, but Ieva helped order our breakfasts and dinners. The food was excellent and the portions were large, especially at breakfast. 

From the village we toured Gauja National Park, so large that one could easily spend a lot of time there. We saw a paper mill dating from 1815 that today recycles a lot of paper. There were caves carved out in the hills that the early workers used as “refrigerators” for crop storage.

We also bumped along on a little road to the Kempju Evangelistic Lutheran Church, still being used as a place of worship.

The day was full of so many things, including the A¯raiši Archaeological Museum Park, where a lakeside fortress dating from the ninth to eleventh centuries is being restored. The buildings are made of whole logs, and so is the walkway between them. Hard to walk on those!

We saw more castles, enjoyed the countryside and learned a lot about Latvia from Ieva, a fine, experienced guide who has a love for her country and enjoys sharing it with others. 


Redondo Beach, CA