Pope-Dodging

It possibly won’t have escaped your notice that our progress through the Baltic States has been conducted in the shadow of His Holiness the Pope’s impending visits to their capitals. We arrived in Tallinn; HHTP was due to arrive three days later. Riga, once we turned up, was plastered in posters advertising his visit in two days’ time. At that rate he was bound to catch up with us in Vilnius – so we side-stepped the pursuing Popemobile and headed west to the Baltic coast.

This turned out to be a master-stroke. We picked a place to stay at random and found a time-warp of a place that still kept to the old Soviet ways, but with modern infrastructure. We could see that a wedding reception was in full swing in the central restaurant building, thanks to its floor to ceiling wrap around smoked glass windows. The guests’ cars were a selection of 4×4’s, each one festooned with balloons and ribbons, but not one of them sported the menacing black paint job favoured by the ‘New Russians’ that we’d come to recognise while we lived in Moscow. Relief all round.

We booked in, and the receptionist (who was also barmaid and one of the two over-worked waitresses in the restaurant) took the chance to practice her English on us. “You have come from where?”, she demanded, before expressing delight at our description of our itinerary. “You must place your camping machine there, by that cabin” and she waved grandly to a small wooden hut affair. We handed over the modest sum of 14 euros for the next 24 hours’ stay, electricity and internet included, and parked up next to the indicated hut.

One of the wedding guest families was staying in it, and since they were all out whooping it up at the reception we had a quick peek through the window. These cabins were rough. They were just about big enough to fit three single beds and a small table in the corner, which supported a kettle and a few mugs. The walls were made of that wooden board stuff that has lots of flecks of bits of offset timber in it, the floor was similar – all in all, it was the sort of decor that put you in mind of a builders’ rest room on a construction site. All very Soviet, in a nice kind of way.

We plugged the camping machine into a nearby electricity machine’s socket and very soon the on-board cup of tea machine was up and running. To our delight the wedding reception folded up before it got dark and our neighbours didn’t seem to be inclined to continue noisy celebrations by themselves, so a quiet night was had by all. The next morning we noticed them next door packing up and by 9 am they were gone. Excellent! This meant that we had the entire site to ourselves so, in view of the almost half-price camping fee, we decided to stay for another night and at once awarded ourselves a day off in celebration. After all, the rest of Latvia was also taking the day off in honour of the Pope’s visit so there would be little or nothing open. We settled back to do absolutely nothing with a clear conscience and cracked open the merlot.