Yesterday morning we left Gulbene by bus, bound for Valmiera. Only a hundred kilometres, but the bus schedule allows two hours for this distance. I wondered how it would take so long, but that was made clear when at the halfway-point at Smiltene, we had a twenty minute stop for coffee. This was actually most welcome as we hadn't really had time for breakfast before leaving.
It is interesting to me that many of the place names in Latvia have been long known to me, but again, I never really understood that these are actual towns. As a kid, with our local Latvian folk dance group I learned these names as names of various folk costumes. Smiltene in fact was the costume my mother made for me. Now, I get that it's actually a lovely little town where you can buy extremely good coffee and some of the best pirags we've tried yet. Last week, when someone mentioned they were driving a friend back to Lielvarde, I pictured them driving to a red and black plaid folk costume, with a hand-embroidered blouse underneath.
Valmiera is the town where my mother lived for a few years as a young girl, until the age of twelve. She studied piano at the Valmiera Music School, the same school (but in a different building as much of Valmiera was destroyed in the 1940's) that sponsored my concert here last night. Very neat to be performing here.
We were met at the bus by the director of the music school, and he was such a wonderful host and tour guide. He showed us around and made sure that everything was optimal for me, AND treated us to a wonderful lunch, mid-afternoon. I got a chance to practise in the hall in the afternoon and although it wasn't yet tuned, I really loved the Bechstein concert grand. After it was tuned, it was even more wonderful. I really look forward to returning to perform on it again.
The concert went quite well, and after the people in the front row were gently reminded (by me; how I hated to do it) to be quiet, I felt the audience to be quite responsive. Again, the applause included several people coming up to me with bouquets and kind words. One young girl approached me as I was walking offstage and thanked me in heavily accented Latvian, saying she has never been so moved. I too was very moved by her deeply felt words.
After the concert, it was off to an outdoor cafe with some relatives, some of whom I had never met before. Interestingly, there were relatives from both my grandfather's side of the family and my grandmother's side. So great to be the reason for their meeting one another.
I really like this city of Valmiera. It's very beautiful, situated on the Gauja river, and seems like a cultural centre of some importance in this part of the country. There's an interesting blend of very old buildings (the St. Simon Church of 1280!), restored pre-war buildings, and modern post-Soviet buildings as well. Lots of trees and gardens. I do hope to return soon and stay longer.
Looking forward to one last look at Riga today before flying home.