Panguitch, Utah, USA.

Panguitch proved a gem of a destination. “Panguitch” is a first people word meaning “big fish”. White pioneers first settled in the surrounding attractive and fertile valley in March 1864. However, the first winter was exceptionally cold and challenging, the latter not least because the crops planted earlier in the year had failed. Seven men braved the elements to bring flour from Parowan, 40 miles away, along what is now roughly Highway 20. The snow was so deep that they had to abandon their oxen and wagon. They reached Parowan by placing a quilt on the deep drifts of snow, walking to the end of the quilt and then putting down a second quilt before retrieving the first one. This became known as the Panguitch Quilt Walk and is still celebrated in an annual festival in the town.

The village was abandoned during the Black Hawk War, but resettled in 1871. As the settlement grew, a brick factory was built. The people who made the bricks were not paid with money; instead, they were given bricks in exchange for their labour. This enabled the factory workers and other townspeople to build the large and sometimes elegant brick homes that still stand today. In 2006, all of Panguitch was listed as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. Although close to the border with neighbouring Iron, Panguitch is the administrative centre for enormous Garfield County and, fittingly, the county’s elegant courthouse is made overwhelmingly with brick.

Panguitch is larger and more prosperous than Tropic, but, like Tropic, is enclosed by land which lends itself well to arable farming. For about five blocks along Main Street almost every building is old and/or attractive, but more old and attractive buildings exist elsewhere in town. The motels are full of character and most have tall metal roadside signs designed to catch the eye with interesting names, sensuous curves and bright lights. Ghost signs and painted adverts cover many a wall, and among the businesses that seem to do quite well are some antique shops, a smokehouse, a diner, a drive-in, a supermarket, a state liquor store and a small cinema with a cafe in the front, which, among other things, serves very good ice cream. We found the local people, whether genuinely local or in-comers from other more crowded parts of the US, very friendly and happy to share with two UK citizens insights about the town and the surrounding area.

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If you have enjoyed “In Search of Unusual Destinations”, have a look at “The USA: Landscapes and Urban Spaces”, which has posts devoted to some of the things that have preoccupied this blog, but from the perspective of only one nation state. Have fun – and I also hope that what you have seen and read have proved informative.

Kalnciema, Riga, Latvia.

We caught a tram across the river, passed the Latvian National Library (the library is a very unusual glass and steel structure which at first I did not like, but its organic silhouette grows on you as you encounter it more often), beside what appears to be a railway museum, across a large park and into the area of Kalnciema. We had expected to find an area similar to Kalamaja in Tallinn, but, if Kalnciema is destined to be Riga’s Kalamaja, it has some way to go to compete with its rival in the Estonian capital. This said, Kalnciema is full of interest. Some middle class and hip young things live in the area, but not in the number you encounter in Kalamaja. This means that there are only a few facilities to meet the needs of upwardly mobile people and most housing is drab in appearance, no doubt just as housing had been in Kalamaja about five or ten years ago. While Kalamaja has about a dozen good places in which to eat and drink, to date Kalnciema has, as far as we could tell, only two, Maja, which can be very expensive by local standards unless you opt for the excellent lunchtime menu, or Vinoga (more later). However, every Saturday Kalnciema has a very good farmers’ market where people sell excellent food a little different to that available at Central Market, and craft items such as glazed pottery, knitted clothing, bells, wrought-iron candlesticks and carved wooden items for the home. But, as ever, it was the food that interested us the most. We tried some home-made fruit wine before buying sausage filled with ostrich meat, a local interpretation of camembert cheese and, for the following day’s journey home, three different types of cake baked in someone’s home. Other people sold bread, smoked fish, smoked meat, pork sausage, freshly cooked pancakes, apples of at least eight different varieties and many other tempting edible products.

Before making our purchases at the farmer’s market, we walked south-west along Kalnciema Iela until it turns into Lielirbes Iela and crosses the railway line just south of Zasulauka station. We walked around the streets north-east of the flyover where apartment blocks dating from the Soviet era have left few properties of greater age. This said, I had seen enough to know I would have to return later in the day, when Hilary was resting in the hotel.

We bought what we wanted from the market and walked south-west along the main road until arriving at Margrietas Iela, from where the number 2 tram took us to Central Market along a route even more interesting than the route earlier that morning.

After buying two tickets for the trams, I set off for Kalnciema, the district we had visited that morning. I got off the tram where Maza Nometnu Iela merges with three other roads. A large brick-built market overlooks the busy intersection. I walked around the market hall, a smaller version of Central Market in the city centre, and the stalls and shops in an outdoor section at the back. I also walked around the surrounding streets, which soon became residential with lots of wooden buildings. Among the wooden buildings is an enormous brick, stone and stucco structure with restrained art nouveau flourishes which looks as if it fulfils childcare and/or educational purposes.

I walked west along Maza Nomentu Iela, but turned to the south and the north as interesting views opened up. I then went north along Margrietas Iela and under the flyover that marks the point at which Kalnciema Iela becomes Lielirbes Iela. I followed the tram lines to Zasulauka station where yet more interesting views exist, on this occasion dominated by the railway and distant industrial installations. Taken as a whole, the area through which I walked is an endearing mixture of old wooden houses, some of which are built on a substantial scale, small parks, muddy open spaces, huts, sheds, garages, yards full of scrap metal, and apartment blocks dating from the Soviet era. Shops, bars and cafes are few in number, other than around the market on Maza Nomentu Iela, of course, and I saw only one restaurant, Vinoga on Maza Nomentu Iela itself. However, I examined the restaurant and its menu and liked the look of both. I decided to recommend Vinoga to Hilary as the destination for our last big meal of the trip. The meal would not be quite as foodie as some of our Tallinn experiences, but at least we would eat and drink in a restaurant frequented by local people.

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The Maskavas Iela area, Riga, Latvia.

I went for a walk south-east of the Hanza Hotel into the area which had once been home to a large Jewish community. Maskavas Iela is the road along which I walked the most, but the area is so interesting that I took many detours to the south and the north. Few obvious reminders of a Jewish presence exist other than the ruins of Choral Synagogue and the Holocaust Memorial, but the old wooden houses and the muddy courtyards behind the areas’ surviving buildings (there are many empty plots where buildings once stood) conjure up impressions of what daily life must have been like when the Jewish population was much larger than is currently the case.

I walked as far as the Dodo Hotel where a bar and a few shops meet the immediate needs of the local people. To the north of the hotel is an enormous brick-built church with two steeples over the west entrance (a second large church exists in another part of the area), but, in many respects, it is the houses, the apartment blocks, the cramped courtyards, the derelict patches of land, the rows of wooden huts and brick outhouses, the muddy areas behind the apartment blocks where residents park their cars, and the trees with black trunks and branches but no leaves which appeal most to the eye. A few modern or renovated houses belong to wealthy people, but most inhabitants of the area are not the beneficiaries of capitalist economics. I also suspect that most people who live and work in the area are ethnic Russians. Cobbles seal many of the roads, but puddles have to be avoided once you leave the pavements. Most people walk alone, there are very few cars, and small groups of men loiter in quiet side streets where they consume cheap spirits mixed with cola in plastic bottles. Dogs bark as you approach, but they are behind wire or wooden fences. Trams provide a quick and inexpensive means of accessing or escaping from the area.

A young Russian woman asked me for 3 euros when I walked near the Dodo, but when I encountered her a little later she reduced her request for financial assistance to 1 euro. Everyone I passed looked at me to register the presence of a stranger, but no one muttered even “Good morning.” However, I knew this was an area I would have to visit again because it reveals its treasure only very slowly. At first you see only the shabby Soviet-era buildings, the neglected pre-Soviet houses and commercial premises, the poorly stocked shops, the drab bars and cafes, and the muddy open spaces. Then you notice that almost every surviving building has at least one admirable quality (the buildings need nothing but some tender loving care) and that the majority of people live with fastidious dignity in difficult conditions and circumstances. These less fashionable areas of Eastern Europe’s largest cities have much to commend them. The only risk you run? That you may photograph someone doing something they do not want recorded. But, with a little care, anyone can have an enlightening experience in these destinations a little less ordinary.

I undertook a walk of two hours through the area south-east of the hotel (along and around Maskavas and Jersikas ielas, which had once been home to a large Jewish community). Rundown though a lot of the area is, I liked it even more than during my earlier visit, not least because I found yet more landmark buildings and interesting backstreet views. East of the Dodo Hotel is a small square with a playground surrounded by some attractive buildings. In a more prosperous part of Riga the square would have a restaurant and one or two bars or cafes, but, this being a relatively deprived area, there are no facilities to encourage you to linger. When I visited, even the playground was deserted.

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Art Nouveau in Riga, Latvia.

We ascended the small hill called Bastejkalns immediately to the east of the Old Town. The hill is just high enough to provide good views of the Old Town and, in the other direction, over an attractive park through which a canal, almost completely frozen in February (ducks and swans spend most of the time on the canal banks), meanders toward the railway station. We then walked to the area around Strelnieku and Alberta ielas to examine the many art nouveau buildings, most of which are large apartment blocks. We visited the Art Nouveau Museum itself, which we enjoyed so much I shall quote at length from its website:

“Riga Art Nouveau Museum was opened on 23rd April 2009. It is located in the apartment where the outstanding Latvian architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns (1859-1928) lived until 1907.

“The building was constructed in 1903 as Pēkšēns’ private house. It is the work of Pēkšēns himself and Eižens Laube, then a student of architecture. The building is notable for its extremely powerful dimensions and expressive silhouette. The ornamental reliefs, craftily incorporated in the architectonic shape, feature stylized motifs from the local flora and fauna: fir needles, cones and squirrels. The building has a spiral staircase with ornamental ceiling paintings, quite possibly sketched by the prominent Latvian artist Janis Rozentāls. This art nouveau staircase is among the most impressive not only in Riga but also the whole of Europe.

“The authentic interior of 1903 has been renovated within the museum. Investigation of the premises started in 2007 when the original interior decoration was revealed and registered. Renovation work was carried out from 2008 to 2009 under the guidance of master renovator Gunita Čakare.

“The current display of the museum shows the characteristic furnishings of an apartment of a Riga inhabitant at the beginning of the 20th century. The author of the interior project is the architect Liesma Markova.”

We returned to the hotel by walking along Elizabetes and Dzirnavu ielas almost as far as the Holocaust Memorial beside the ruins of Choral Synagogue on Gogola Iela. Along the way we encountered more art nouveau buildings, but few are as eye-catching as the ones around the Art Nouveau Museum itself.

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Around the Academy of Science, Riga, Latvia.

We got off the bus among the large-scale but ugly glass and steel boxes which now enclose the main railway station to detrimental effect, then skirted the edge of the massive Central Market and the warehouses of up and coming Spikeri before arriving at the Hanza Hotel close to the Latvian Academy of Science (the academy is housed in a Stalinist wedding cake structure similar to other buildings imposed on East European nation states absorbed into the Soviet Union or the Soviet bloc following world war two).

The Hanza appears to occupy what was once an apartment block pre-dating the second world war and, if so, the conversion has been highly successful. We were given a room overlooking a monumental Lutheran church. The area immediately enclosing the hotel is rundown in parts (there are some empty plots where buildings once stood and fenced off muddy courtyards full of debris awaiting disposal), but, in its own way, attractive and definitely on the way up. Some old brick and wood buildings look as if they may soon be demolished, but, if demolished, I for one will regret their loss. The five magnificent halls of Central Market are less than ten minutes’ walk away, as is the main railway station, the long distance bus station and tram stops with routes radiating across the city. Sources of food and drink are nearby, as is a very attractive Russian Orthodox church constructed overwhelmingly with wood. The next day or so, and our return to Riga at the end of the trip, confirmed that the Hanza stands at the edge of an area more Russian than Latvian, although, in the era running up to the second world war and the holocaust, it had been home to a large Jewish community.

For my first walk I looked more closely at the brick warehouses of Spikeri where bars, cafes, restaurants, art galleries, a small holocaust museum and some up-market shops, one of which sells very good wine, confirm that this is an area which should appeal to local people as well as to tourists, especially once all the premises are occupied. I went next to the largely unrestored warehouses of similar design to the south-east of Central Market, then walked through two of the five large halls which constitute the covered part of the market itself. Around the halls are many outdoor stalls selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, clothes, shoes and small household items. On display were some of the largest pomegranates I have ever seen. Not all the outdoor stalls were occupied, no doubt because, in late February, there are fewer customers than in summer and fewer local food products to sell, but, because prices in the market are so competitive, lots of people were shopping, probably because it was Thursday evening and the weekend lay ahead. Riga’s Central Market is one of the most remarkable markets I have ever seen, partly for its size and partly for the vast range of goods that it sells. There are hundreds of places to buy interesting ready-to-consume food and drink (fish, meat, pancakes, cheese, bread, cakes, pastries, coffee, tea, beer, spirits, etc.) at prices ridiculously low by UK standards, so much so that, if I return to Riga, I will spend the whole day at the market grazing as I do so.

I walked to Turgeneva and Pushkina ielas, the beautiful wooden Russian Orthodox church on the corner of Turgeneva and Gogola ielas (inside the church dozens of people venerated the icons, lit candles or bought religious items from the shop immediately inside the east door) and the wooden buildings which litter the area closest to the river. I crossed Krasta Iela to walk beside the river, which was frozen all the way to Zacusala, the long, slim island which lies a little closer to the west than to the east bank of the river. Seagulls stood in large numbers on the ice. It was not long before darkness would fall and a very cold wind blew off the river. To the north, the curved steel sections of a bridge carry the railway across the river in a westerly direction. In its length and shape, the bridge resembles those wonderful girder bridges you encounter where the railroads cross wide rivers in the United States. At night, Riga’s bridge is picked out in blue lights.

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The tram to Kopli, Tallinn, Estonia.

In my estimation, an urban destination is significantly enhanced if it has trams, and Tallinn is lucky because it has four lengthy tram routes which carry passengers to some very interesting parts of the city. For my last post about Tallinn, I want to reveal what you can see if you take the tram from Telliskivi in Kalamaja to the terminus in Kopli. But first, some notes which provide context for the photos.

We returned to the tram stop at the north end of Telliskivi and took the number 2 to the end of the line in Kopli. The tram went through areas where housing mixes with industry, harbour facilities and a ship repair yard. Most housing is contained within Soviet-era apartment blocks about four storeys high. Although houses dominate the streets of Kalamaja and some old wooden houses exist in Kopli, the further we got from Kalamaja the poorer most people seemed to be. When we arrived at the point where the trams turn through a half circle to return to the city centre, a massive stone building called the Estonian Maritime Academy blocks the view to the west. The academy is a vocational university.

We got off the tram in Kopli and walked to a small Russian Orthodox church built overwhelmingly with wood. Nearby, just across the railway leading into a harbour with restricted access, is a terrace of wooden houses overlooking the sea.

Kopli stands at the end of a peninsula overlooking the Gulf of Kopli to the south. To the north is a desolate sandy beach which, that day in late February, was bordered by frozen sea water.

We walked along the main road to the tram stop before the Kopli terminus, noting that a kiosk and a small shop meet the basic needs of the local people, a majority of whom now live in Soviet-era apartment blocks half hidden among trees to the south of the main road. A few old wooden houses also lurk among the trees and they looked interesting enough to justify a return visit. But I knew I would have to be careful with my camera because some of the local young and middle-aged males seemed to be unemployed and were not always engaged in lawful activities.

While Hilary rested at the hotel I caught a tram to Kopli, but got off at Sitsi where there are excellent views over the ship repair yard mentioned earlier. The area around Sitsi has an interesting mix of Soviet-era apartment blocks, wooden houses of different ages, breeze block and plaster houses of recent pedigree built by a few families that have benefited from capitalist economics, patches of mud and grass enclosed by the apartment blocks, fenced-off yards full of wood and metal items, rows of wooden huts and brick outhouses, and a few drab shops, bars and cafes. Stucco walls once brightly painted have been discoloured with damp, and large wheelie bins litter the open spaces behind the apartment blocks. Most inhabitants of the area are poor and some feel compelled to look for recyclable items in the wheelie bins. Small groups of men loiter near the tram stops hoping to sell drugs to passersby. In the distance is a vast industrial complex, most of which is built with brick. The industrial complex looks abandoned, but it is possible that some parts are used for storage purposes. Lots of muddy paths lead among the trees and the buildings, thereby providing people with the most direct routes from one place to the next, and many people use the paths to exercise their dogs (sadly, not all the pet owners pick up their dogs’ excrement).

I got onto the tram and broke the journey twice to briefly examine the immediate areas (I found environments similar to the one around the Sitsi tram stop, so the camera remained quite busy).

Keen to re-connect with Tallinn’s more gritty and edgy side, I caught a tram to Sitsi for another lengthy walk around the streets where, simply by turning a corner not previously noted, new but interesting views open up. Areas of this nature, with their wooden housing, their ill-kept communal areas, their washing hung on lines between rusting metal poles, their garages, huts and outhouses constructed with wood and brick, and their large but abandoned brick-built factories (the factory near Sitsi gleamed in the late afternoon sunshine. Shadow emphasized the detailing on the external walls), are fascinating places to visit. True, you have to be careful where you point the camera, and you run the risk of encounters with dogs’ poop, barking dogs behind wire or wooden fences and men suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, but how else can you connect with a city’s more marginal delights?

I walked Hilary back to the hotel but was out almost immediately, one last visit to Kopli my intention. I tried to get into the harbour behind the Maritime Academy, but only people with passes or goods for transportation could proceed beyond a barrier across the road. Instead, I looked at trams parked in a shed beside the Maritime Academy, then walked in a south-easterly direction through some trees and over very damp ground ineffectively drained by ditches and shallow pools of stagnant water. Some very large wooden houses stood among the trees, as did a few Soviet-era apartment blocks a little further away.

As I took a few photos of the wooden houses, a woman approached me with a wary look on her face. She was walking four of her dogs with her daughter aged about fifteen. Once the woman was reassured that I was not up to mischief, we had a chat about Kopli in the past. She said that Kopli had once been a small village detached from Tallinn a few kilometres to the east. Between the two world wars, the building which is now the Maritime Academy had been built as Tallinn University’s science faculty and, following its inauguration as a teaching and learning facility, academic staff built themselves wooden houses among the surrounding trees so that they would be close to their place of work (my informant insisted that some of Kopli’s surviving wooden houses once belonged to the academics, but most of the houses had been in much better condition in the past). The woman could remember that Kopli remained a village until “Krushchev built his houses in those blocks over there,” and she pointed through the trees toward some of the apartment blocks with their discoloured stucco peeling from the brick below.

“Krushchev’s houses. His houses ruined the village and brought in many Russians from far away to work in the harbour and the local factories. The growth in the number of people, and the changing nature of the population, led to a lot of heavy drinking, domestic violence and other crime. But, for the last two years in July, people in Kopli have organized events, a sort of festival, to celebrate the history of the area and to encourage people to take greater pride in their community. With a little effort, Kopli can be beautiful and peaceful again.”

I agreed with the woman about Kopli’s future prospects. In fact, Kopli is fascinating, which is why I had come back. I continued walking around for another half hour, on this occasion concentrating on the south side of Kopli overlooking the gulf with the same name.

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Kalamaja, Tallinn, Estonia.

Kalamaja is a trendy and increasingly desirable area of Tallinn which lies north and west of the Old Town, roughly from Linnahall in the east to Volta in the west, but also stretches as far south as the south end of Telliskivi. The notes below convey something of its seductive appeal.

We walked along Soo because Soo leads into the up and coming area of Kalamaja. We had in mind a bar for a drink, but the bar no longer seems to exist. Moreover, because Soo leads into an overwhelmingly residential part of Kalamaja, for a while we thought we would draw a complete blank. However, at a crossroads is a bar called Tops, which, that Saturday night, had attracted a lot of customers, most of whom were either young professionals or older middle class couples. We ordered two beers and found somewhere to sit. Being very much a bar for middle class people, prices were a little higher than we were used to in Riga, but they were on a par with many similar but less interesting places in the United Kingdom. The bar has the atmosphere of a cafe rather than that of a pub, and the decoration evokes that of a house rather than somewhere for public use. With its light and airy appearance, Tops is essentially Scandinavian in character. Most of the furniture derives from the 1970s and 1980s, which, as we found during the days ahead, is all the rage among the hip young things of Tallinn (unless the hip young things prefer furniture dating from the 1950s and 1960s, that is). The bar is a female-friendly venue, so much so that as many women as men were drinking and eating (tea was almost as popular as beer!). Our introduction to Tallinn in general, and Kalamaja more specifically, was most encouraging.

We walked the short distance to Balti Jaam (Tallinn’s main railway station), then continued south-west to Telliskivi, a street on the edge of Kalamaja which has some restaurants we were keen to try before returning to Riga. We found an interesting mixture of residential, commercial and industrial buildings with railway tracks leading to and from a large marshalling yard. We were reminded of small cities in the United States where landmark buildings often exist in areas with a little bit of edge. Some of the local shops occupy one-time industrial buildings and stock unusual clothes, furniture and other household items. Telliskivi seems to be a magnet for some of Tallinn’s most hip and artistic young professionals. And the restaurants looked very good.

We caught a tram as far as Volta, which seems to mark the western edge of Kalamaja. We walked along Volta and began a meandering stroll to the hotel via streets which became less industrial and more residential the closer we got to our destination. Between the Volta tram stop and the seaplane harbour to the north, Kalamaja has very few shops, bars, cafes or restaurants, but there is a fascinating mixture of housing. Some Soviet-era apartment blocks exist along or near Volta, as do shabby or abandoned factories, but houses, both old and new, and enviably designed modern apartment blocks, dominate the streets both sides of Soo. We were warming to Kalamaja with every encounter, no matter how brief the encounter was. Once an area in which a considerable number of poor or troubled people used to live, the latter with drug, alcohol or mental health problems, such people are now being edged out as land values increase; as people in other parts of Tallinn recognize the appeal of living so close to Toompea and the Old Town, but in an area very different in character and socio-economic structure (Kalamaja is the hip place to be in Tallinn, without question); and as the beneficiaries of capitalist economics are attracted by the restoration of old properties and the construction of new ones, the latter blending successfully with the old because of their similar scale and appearance. It is always sad when long-standing local people are edged out of neighbourhoods as cities slowly develop and transform, but such dislocation has been a harsh fact of life since people started to live together in large numbers. It would not surprise me if some of Kalamaja’s poorest people find their way into the less attractive housing located further west along the tram route to Kopli.

My thanks to Külli in Tallinn who not only told me about the delights of Kalamaja, but also revealed that some of the city’s best restaurants are in the same area. Külli: we followed your advice and had very good meals at F-hoone and Kolm Sibulat, but also enjoyed Klaus (which is near Moon) and Bistroo Kukeke. We also went to Diip, which you could not tell me about eight months ago because it has existed for only a few weeks (correct in March 2014). Diip is, we think, very special. Moreover, we ate there on the eve of Independence Day. We had a wonderful time, not least because Estonian fruit wines are irresistible.

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