From the moment you step down from the train, Daugavpils feels very much like the back end of nowhere, one of those dour, end-of-the-world places still endemic in the old Eastern Bloc. The last jumping-off point before the Belarusian border, the station building's stab at monumentalism is neutered by a departures board listing four trains a day, half of which were returning to the capital. It's Latvia's second city, though the lingua franca on the slush-bound streets was Russian (Latvian speakers make up just 17% of the population, only slightly ahead of Poles).
Straight across from the station, Rigas iela begins. The town's pedestrianized main street, it has lots of attractive early-20th century architecture like the inter-war House of Unity and, at the far end, a small History and Art Museum featuring reproductions of work by the locally born Mark Rothko. Other than that, there wasn't a great deal else to see beyond the 19th-century fortress, a grid of decaying Soviet Aviation barrack buildings inside red-brick walls built to repel Napoleon (they worked, for a while). Our 20 santimes were taken by a man in jeans and a leather jacket with a half-smoked cigarette wedged between his teeth. Over his shoulder, a rusted playground looked as forlorn as the city centre sign saying Work in UK. Hanging above a locked-up office, it wasn't apparent whether it was an advertisement or a cry for help.
Before leaving we ate at Gubernators, a posh cellar-pub on a corner opposite the city's university. Meat and chips cost under 3 lats; half-litres of beer were just 80 santimes. It's not as pretty as Riga, but Daugavpils is a whole lot cheaper.
Train rides from Riga take around four hours. Return tickets are just under 10 lats.