From Ventspils I continued south through Courland passing the towns of Kuldiga and Liepaja on my way to Klaipeda in Lithuania. The former is a rather unremarkable, little provincial town were it not for its rumba. No, it is not the Baltic capital of raunchy Latin dancing - rumba is the Latvian word for waterfall. With a maximum height of only 2m it may not be particularly high - even for a country as topographically challenged as Latvia, but what it lacks in height it makes up for in girth, claiming the title of Europe's widest waterfall at 250m (and I have it from several reliable sources that girth, apparently, is everything). Kuldiga was also home to Jakob Kettler, duke of Courland, who in the 17th century not only managed to maintain the region's autonomy between the rival forces of Sweden, Russia and Prussia, but also got in on the colonial boom of the time, acquiring the island of Tobago in the Caribbean and and island at the mouth of the Gambia, making Courland probably the smallest colonial state ever. Liepaja, on the other hand, was strategically important for the Russians (both Tsarist and Soviet) who built a huge naval base, called Karosta, there. In Soviet times particularly the town almost doubled in size and yet, paradoxically, became a closed town, with non-residents requiring permits to visit family there. Today the naval base and its residential areas are a virtual ghost town, with half the buildings abandoned, empty, stripped, and returning slowly to the earth. To get an idea of what the world would look like after the Apocalypse Karosta does a pretty good job.
|One of the many Tsarist barracks buildings left abandoned and boarded up in Karosta. Notice the trees growing through the roof.|