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Amazing…Thailand? No, Latgale

Where would you go if you are looking for fresh vegetables, home made food, simple lifestyle, nature, hospitable and smiley people and, in short, a place where to rest your body and your soul?DSC_8555

The majority of Europeans, and I include myself in this sample, would think of a faraway paradise, an exotic country and people who look completely different from us. It seems that one has to fly hours and hours to be able to enjoy at least a few of these features.

Well, I must admit that I (and a few other people) might prove wrong and paradises are not as far as they seem. We gradually understood this during our stay in Balvi (the Latgale region in Latvia), a place I would not be able to locate on a map a week before. A little less than 4 hours from Riga, we were greeted with the largest smiles, hosted in an awesome place and fed by amazing people.DSC_8280

The school accommodation where we stayed has a football pitch where, if you want, you can go and play with local children. They are kind and hospitable and will let you play with them whatever language you speak or whatever you look like. They will not even ask where are you from. Just play with you. The school allowed us to use the swimming pool and sauna, neat and with amazing facilities. We had comfortable rooms, access to a kitchen and a common room to use at our leisure.

But the most amazing thing was interaction with the people. The kitchen staff baked, fried, boiled, steamed tasty things for us. They adjusted their cuising to a variety of diets (Hindu, vegetarian) always with a smile on their face. They were attentive to what people would eat more for breakfast so to increase the quantity of what was more popular and decrease the rest. Virtually everything was prepared in that magic kitchen with careful ladies making us feel comfortable all the time.DSC_8506

They took us through villages, traditions, songs, dances. Most of the local dance schools converged into a music hall to give us a demonstration of traditional dances. Smiley children so small that I could not believe they could coordinate so well, proud ladies singing traditional songs showing us that singing has no age (the oldest singer in the choir was 90! I’d love to be like her if I get there).

We visited eco-projects, farms, small factories, meeting people all so dedicated to what they do, making textiles, rugs, leather bracelets, knitting traditional motives. All with the best quality and enthusiasm, ready and happy to share a word, a game or a laugh with a group of people that they had never seen before. And, as seems to be a tradition in the region, they would farewell us with the magic words “you are welcome again”.

So, next time, before thinking of an exotic (often overcrowded) destination, think of what you have here next door. This could be Lagtale or any other place. You simply need to do one thing: open your eyes and look nearby you. Amazing things are not that far from us, after all.

Abel Polese.DSC_8581

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