Latvia Stories and Tips

Lielvarde

Lielvarde Photo, Latvia, Europe

It's half past twelve and the Lielvarde train sits idling on platform six. Hawkers stand by the door speaking quickly in Russian then moving down the carriage, selling nothing. The sun beats through the dirty window, passengers step languidly across the glinting metal tracks, over the tannoy the announcer draws her vowels out until each new station begins to sound like a list of complaints.

It's an hour later when we finally get to Lielvarde and the end of the line. The guidebook describes it as "the first town upstream from Riga worth spending some time in," which doesn't say much for the places I passed on the way. There were neither maps nor signposts at the station so I started walking in the general direction of the Daugava, Latvia's longest river, turning left along the street behind the station building until I hit the junction with Lāčplēsa iela, named after the mythical Latvian bear-slayer created by the 19th century poet Andrejs Pumpurs, who grew up in the town.

There are only two things to see in Lielvarde and both are on Lāčplēsa iela. Turn right at the crossroads and continue five minutes past the Elvi supermarket for Udevena pils, a reconstruction of a 12th century Liv wooden stockade which looks like an adventure playground situated in a scrapyard. Open Wednesday to Sunday from April to November it didn't look worth the two lats entrance fee so I contented myself with a walk round the walls and the views of the nearby river, evidently a popular backdrop for wedding photographers.

At the other end of town, twenty mintutes the other side of the Maxima supermarket, the Andrejs Pumpurs Museum fills what once was Rembate Manor. The museum itself is located in the old gardener's house but what's outside is much more interesting: a whitewashed Lutheran church built in the 1930s, wooden totem pole sculptures of characters from Pumpurs's epic poem, and the ruins of Lielvarde Castle, built on the site of a conquered wooden fort by the crusading Knights of the Sword in 1205 and destroyed in turn itself three hundred years later.

I'm not sure why anyone would ever end up in Lielvarde unless, like me, you've spent long enough living in Riga to want a break from the city. If you ever do though, there's enough here to keep you occupied for a couple of hours.

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