Skujas, Latvia: An Undiscovered Jewel small bytes


It’s a very weird feeling, indeed, to board a transatlantic flight to go back in time two centuries. I mean, what’s the rush?

But in a few days time, after a flurry of activity to tie up last minute details that may or may not get tied, Paul and I will be off to Skujas, Latvia.


Let me save you a trip to the Atlas. Skujas isn’t found on a modern map. Map-makers, after all, can’t go around making dots and filling in names for every speck on the globe, especially when the population totals nine full-time residents. It is about an hour by car from Daugavpils.

These nine, however, have managed to join the Twentieth Century with indoor plumbing, washing machines, contemporary showers, and satellite TV.

We, on the other hand, will go back in time to a 140-year-old log cabin, home to Paul’s mother before the retreating German Army grabbed her and her nursing skills to tend to the troops on the march back to the Heimland, where Paul was born.   

The cabin continued to be home to various members of his family until today when Paul is the last of the line.

We will go back to “indoor plumbing” behind the cabin,


“running water” from the well eighty meters from the house,


hot water     for the shower,

our special model of washer and dryer,

and let's not forget the extra fancy dishwasher.



However, the European Union brings Italy even to Skujas.     

Actually, most of these items came from Prelii or Jakopils further north, but I did find dynamite Parmesan in Aglona, ten minutes by car although bus, horse cart, bicycle, and feet are also used by locals.

So it could be said Skujas fits my rule for permanent residency requirements — a place must be within an hour drive from good Parmesan cheese.

Parmesan notwithstanding, last August I barely emerged from all the cleaning with sanity intact. Because of health issues, we hadn’t been to the cabin since 2006,

Mice had had a merry time in the interim, and we wallowed in stuff  that had to be either cleaned or thrown out, until we could find order in the two rooms.      

.      Unfortunately, this happened two days before we had to leave. But it was a welcome sight.

All this had to be done during the hottest summer in Latvia’s history where temps hovered around a hundred degrees for all but two days of our month stay. Of course, thinking of the history of other Latvian summers, we had packed a suitcase full of wool. This only goes to show the wisdom of Alice Steinbach in Without Reservations. She said something to the effect the savvy traveler would forget all advice and pack only a rain slicker, a parka, and the flimsiest of dresses.

This time around, I suspect our central heating will be put into service.       

The device serves as cook stove and oven as well as heat source.
The oven intrigues me. Not enough to investigate its inner depths during the hundred degree heat of last August, but if we have to turn up the thermostat anyway on this trip, I want to give it a shot.


Hopefully in only nine months, the mice won’t have had much time to wage a serious campaign, and I’ll have more of a chance to enjoy the countryside,       



the simple life,      


and learn a bit more Latvian.    

After all with a plate of spaghetti and a glass of wine, an Italian is up for just about anything.

After this tongue-in-cheek description of life in Skujas, it could be surprising to hear that I’m really looking forward to this trip. I’m not saying it’s a vacation in the Four Seasons but then country life in Latvia has always entailed hard work. Given the problems we face in Mexico and the world in the 21st Century, a journey back in time has its value.

In 2010, we left a few days after the last storks.

Tradition says that when the storks fly away, winter is around the corner. Sure enough, that’s when the temperatures dipped. We come back this year when, hopefully, they return.

Latvia is a land of poets. During my first trip to the country in 2002, I walked through the park near the Opera House and noticed a plaque flush to the grass. Paul translated the inscription and told me it was dedicated to a Latvian poet. A fresh red rose lay across the stone.

Thanks to Ilze Kļaviņa Mueller, here is an excerpt of a poem written by the Latvian poet Vizma Belševica followed by Ilze‘s translation.

Kamēr svēteļi pār Svēti
baltos spārnos slīd,
Kamēr balto spārnu blāzmas
zilās straumēs krīt,
Kamēr zilām straumēm
Zemgalē plūst pali,
Esi mierīgs.

As long as storks glide on white wings
over the Svēte River,
As long as the glow of their white wings
falls on blue streams,
As long as blue streams flood each spring
in Zemgale
Do not be troubled.


Oh, yes, I am so ready.