Breezy air, colder temperatures and a lot of cows! Welcome to Ventspils, Latvia, where we first met the Baltic Sea on our journey. The town holds a special distinction - the first Eastern European city in which the international cow parade was held. This annual event was completely unknown to me before the trip, but some U.S. cities have hosted the event. What's so special about cows that an entire festival is organized in their honor every year? I don't consider them to be very cute, though certainly tasty. However, everything changes when an artist gets hold of a blank canvas in the shape of a cow. Suddenly bright colors, designs and even jewelry bring life to an otherwise dull animal. With the right guidance and government support, they can even transform an entire town.
1. Ventspils is primarily an industrial town, with transport and storage being the economic driving forces. In this area, an ice-free harbor. No frozen waterway! What a pity. I remember this was one of the must beautiful things to me when I visited Russia in February - the ability to walk freely in the middle of the Gulf of Finland and Neva River. Standing on pure ice and snow. Wondrous!
2. Ships and the nautical theme are woven into the entire infrastructure of the town. Tourists can view a docked fishing boat perched on the ledge of the waterway.
3. On an autumn weekday, there was almost no activity going on. Everything sitting still, including numerous passenger ferries like this. The Scottish Viking transports passengers from Sweden to Latvia. You can even take a sea journey here from St. Petersburg! I don't know how long the journey lasts, but I imagine more than a day. Ferries, and even trains, not popular long-term transportation options for Americans. We're completely tied to our cars, traveling from State to State via great road infrastructure almost everywhere. Easy to go long hauls if you have the energy to drive long hours.
4. The main focus of Ventspils is the cows. This one is known as the "Traveling Cow," displaying stickers from various international cities in which the annual cow parade has been held. It was here I learned that Raleigh, North Carolina and Chicago, Illinois have been prior hosts. The first cow parade was held in Ventspils in 2002 and residents enjoyed it so much they petitioned for another chance to host. It came in 2012, ten years later.
5.This one is known as the "Sailor Cow." Perfect time to express a very special thanks to macos, the navigator of our Chevrolet Captiva during the trip. He was behind the wheel the entire 7,000 kilometers. An arduous task! Thanks also to Chevrolet for the comfortable car in which we traveled. You can read all about the Captiva here in Alexander's report, and in Russian.
6. Another great feature of Ventspils is the overflowing flowers! Bouquets, flowers - the easiest way to my heart. They're hanging from many light fixtures in the town and plotted in a lot of gardens in various locations. Even flower molds made from cows when you first enter Ventspils!
7. Ventspils has done everything right with respect to tourism, even on par with U.S. tourist infrastructure. Sitting right in the center of town is a big tourist information center, all kinds of information available in a variety of languages. I picked up a brochure and map in English, highlighting the location of each cow and other tourist points in the city. I will never understand Russia's aversion to tourism. You may not like foreigners, but you must certainly like the money they could bring to Russian cities. Provide jobs for local residents, so many positive returns for a country and its citizens if tourism infrastructure is built.
8. They've even created local cow currency branded as "venti." How does it work? Tourists or locals can earn ventis by participating in local events or mentioning the town on social networks. The imaginary currency is accepted in all local hotels, restaurants and other tourist spots. Presumably local government gives the business owners some type of financial kickback for acceptance of the cow cash. Cooperation between citizens, business owners and local government - a magical thing! Everyone earning money and happy. I read online that the tourism industry employees over 20% of local residents, and each year the Ventspils City Council presents awards to the best hotels, restaurants, etc. and their employees. Here it's common sense. Residents have a vested interest in preserving and promoting the beauty of the town because there's personal gain, both financially and mentally. A feeling of community and contribution to its well being. Thus, there's little chance that this place will turn to shit in the future.
9. Outside the tourist center sits one of my favorite cows. I call her "Narcissistic Cow," in love with her own reflection. And you know such women? I do!
10. A big futbol stadium sits on the outskirts of the town and, yes, a cow there too! On the day we visited, a big match had just let out so a lot of people were walking around the stadium. I think it would be interesting to attend a sporting event next time I'm in Russia, to compare the crowd to an American football stadium. This, you know, my favorite sport but my home team the Washington Redskins are having a very bad season!
11. The overall feel of Ventspils is very European. Everything you'd expect from a quaint European town - cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, bells ringing from churches. It's all there.
13. It's all a bit romantic, charming and cozy!
14. A very long walkway on the waterway with a lovely barrier decorated in the form of wall art. I liked the aquatic goddess paintings the best, but there were many images - crabs, lobsters, sea shells all painted on the wall.
16. Ventspils has taken a lesson from the American tourism handbook. If you've traveled here, you know we like to put warning signs everywhere! In Ventspils, they do it also and even with English translation!
17. Maybe this town is some type of illusion, giving tourists a false impression of how life is in the area. It's my impression that the high development and economic boom in this area aren't typical of Latvia as a whole, but I'm no expert on the country. Local residents appear to live well. Few ugly, grey Soviet type buildings. In fact, most are very modern and aesthetically pleasing.
18. Cow - defender of the apartment complex! :)
This place is colorful, full of energy and creates a positive mood. Lots to do for both children and adults. In summer, music festivals, swimming on the sea and outdoor recreational activities. During autumn, all tourists have disappeared. The ice-cream and souvenir stands boarded up. If you're in the area, I recommend making a stop. You're sure to have fun and leave with a smile on your face!