Lucies first impresions about Ventspils and Latvia

As I am watching the seagulls playing behind the windows, I think back to the plane that carried me here two weeks earlier. How fast it was to fly to Latvia, a country that I didn't know anything about!

Three hours of travel and here I am, in Riga, with the energetic Helēna and Unda, my tutors and colleagues from the Youth house of Ventspils located three hours west. On the road, I have time to imprint in my memory large landscapes of swamps and forests waiting for sunny days to change color. I’m about to live a second spring.

Ventspils seems to be waiting for something as well; its long streets, its vast squares and its endless docks welcome me with the tranquility that the cold (average of 5 °) and the Covid 19 pandemic impose.

The three young people who will guide us later through the city promise us a more lively atmosphere as soon as summer is here.

In the meantime, I enjoy the calm and motley charm of an architecture totally new to me: ageless houses in briquettes or colored wood sit alongside Soviet buildings and stand out against the gigantic and mobile background of container ships sailing on the Venta to reach the sea.

Add to this panorama the cows of Ventspils and other artistic installations. The city is designed for families (playgrounds, cycle paths, water park, etc.).

For Easter, I have been able to share a tradition dear to Latvian families: the decoration of eggs. These symbols of fertility and renewal are boiled with onion skins and other picked herbs.

At the game of the toughest egg I lost against my roommate Alessandra, and it's a custom for the winner to eat their loot. But speaking about cuisine, I have no complaints. I learned some secrets of Italian cooking, failed a French floating islands recipe on Facebook live, and discovered that Latvians and French share the same love for sour cream! An entire department is dedicated to it in supermarkets. Cottage cheese is also a must of Latvian cuisine and a kind of iconic and delicious sweet snack from the “Karums” brand.

I strongly recommend to taste all Karums, even if it doesn’t comply with zero waste principles.

By the way, living in a new place is a good way to change your habits. I try to reduce my waste out of conviction, but also because education for sustainable development is a priority for Ventspils youth house. The mission opens my eyes even more on the environmental and human crises that we are causing. This is what makes my volunteering project so meaningful and this is exactly what I was looking for when I joined the European Solidarity Corps.

Cover of the “Rise to the Earth Hour Challenge 2021!” Campaign

One of our first volunteer actions, for Alessandra and I, was a week-long Instagram campaign, in March, about more reasonable consumption habits, which preceded “Earth hour”, the initiative that invites everybody to turn off their artificial lights all over the world to warn about climate change and loss of biodiversity. Of course, I regret that the health situation prevents more direct exchanges with the population, but social networks remain a communication channel widely used by young people. We are working on other projects on this theme, such as the preparation of a summer camp and a human-sized awareness game.

At the same time, I run French language workshops every week and I receive Latvian lessons. The sentence that I’ve mastered the best so far in this beautiful language is “Es nerunāju latviski” (I do not speak Latvian), which doesn’t help a lot with communication! I have been told that Latvians are both reserved and direct. Indeed, or because of social distancing, I often feel very out of place, away from the small conversations on “this and that” to which I am used. It's unsettling, but still, I am feeling motivated to work on my linguistic skills.

This is how the story of these few weeks ends. Here is a photograph of the very nice lake of Ventspils, less windy than the magnificent nearby Baltic beaches.