The view from my room, at the Park Hotel Latgola
I flew to Latvia from Gatwick airport on April 23rd. It was a smooth flight, and as we descended through the clouds, I marvelled again at the view that inspired my largest painting, 'Flying into Riga Airport,' made during my September residency. Dark blocks of skeletal trees circled colourful houses, a few industrial chimneys, and expanses of golden, tundra-like landscape. We landed under stormy skies, and my nerves for the long journey ahead began!
Having only hand luggage, I was out of the airport by 4pm. I queued for the airport Shuttle, and after 15 minutes it arrived, and I had a speedy journey into Riga, then a long tour around the city as people were dropped off at various hotels. Riga's narrow streets are wonderful, and crammed with colourful old buildings, cafes and shops. Finally, the Shuttle left me at the main Riga bus terminal. It looked huge - I could see at least 25 bus stands! I went into the ticket office and bought my ticket for Daugavpils. Everything was so efficient, and the ticket very cheap, at around 6 Lats. The only thing that let it down was the toilets, which were very dirty.
I went to queue at stand 7. The bus was due to leave at 6.05pm. My nerves were rattled when a beggar girl who was pestering people for money began to hit the old couple next to me, and wouldn't go away. With great relief, I boarded the double-decker, and climbed up on to the top floor. It was very comfortable, with tables, TV, and drinks for purchase. I was amazed how full the bus became, and we left exactly at 6.05pm. We meandered through the city under rather gloomy skies, and in heavy traffic. I envisaged my comfy hotel room with some longing, as a four hour bus journey loomed ahead. But it was really wonderful, and the landscape incredibly inspiring! For most of the journey, we were next to the very wide river Daugava, which was flanked by steely-purple blocks of trees, and lined with snow. Ice still floated on the formidably grey water. The landscape was predominantly ochre, brown-grey and gold, with slashes of almost black fields, and small, wooden houses scattered across it like dice. There were no fences, just a sense of land going on forever, and a huge sky. Here and there were patches of melting snow, and the river had overflowed in many places, flooding the land. At several points, our bus was only a few feet above the water. I listened to music, and ate my sandwiches.
We stopped twice in villlages, to go to a very basic toilet. Then by about the third hour, I began to search desperately for signs we were getting near to Daugavpils. I saw a huge red-lit mast, protruding high above a pine forest, and thought, 'This is it, that mast is in the city,' but it turned out not to be! Darkness set in at about 9pm, and an enormous, golden moon followed me on my side of the bus. Finally I recognised the thick pine forests, and a roundabout near the city. We passed the Mark Rothko Centre as we entered the city, and it was beautifully spot-lit. Then thankfully, the bus stopped just a few feet from my hotel, at around 9.50pm. I stepped into the hotel, and the girl behind the reception desk said, 'Oh hello Fiona!' Instantly, I relaxed.
My room was on the 7th floor, overlooking the main square. It was a much better room than the one I had during the residency. I took a shower, ate some more sandwiches, and put on the Euronews. My husband called me, very relieved I'd arrived safely. I went to bed around 1.am, feeling quite excited about seeing my artist friends and the new Centre. The Opening was the next day.