Monday, 6 February 2012

Oy vey it's cold

It was that cold that even the thermometer had to be
brought in so that we could read the minimum temperature
recorded overnight. 
It has been a distinctly difficult week. You may have seen on the news that sub -30C temperatures have been affecting large parts of Europe and we have been no exception here in Latvia. The record for us was  -32.4C on Sunday morning and I am grateful that it was nowhere near that this morning. In fact the temperature even got up above -20C before noon today which must be the first time in days and feels like weeks. People sometimes ask how do we cope in those kinds of temperatures - layers is the answer. Yesterday it was around -25C and we needed some shopping and our car wouldn't start for the second time this week and so we had to walk. To walk in those kinds of temperatures I had on two t-shirts, a polo neck jumper, a thin fleece top, a fleece jacket and then my ski coat which also has a fleece lining. I also had two pairs of socks and well insulated hiking boots, base layer leggings, my jeans and a pair of overtrousers. The trick then is to get out of the house before you start sweating and keep up a pace enough to stay warm and yet not get too hot. Sorry I didn't mention the headband, hat, thick scarf and warm gloves. It wasn't too bad at that temperature, but I kept having to dry the moisture away from my scarf encased chin before it froze. It is worse if there is a wind and today although it was a lot warmer the breeze occasionally blew and it was not pleasant at all.

Whoops forgot to clean the windowsill before taking the
photo. What you can see is a layer of ice on the inside
of our double glazed windows, despite the heating being on.
You know it is below -15C when ice starts appearing
on the inside of the double glazing.
I mentioned our car wouldn't start this week and it doesn't help that it is a diesel. We weren't the only ones though, most of our neighbours were also having problems at some point in the week. Our car not starting became a bit of a community event though as folks came to have a look and offer advice. Eventually one of our neighbours told us the trick was to heat up the engine compartment with a hairdryer or fan heater and we also heard many of our neighbours take their batteries in at night so they don't have to start from cold. You learn something new everyday. So we abandoned attempts to start the car one day, took the batteries in to warm up (we even wrapped them up in an electric blanket at one point) and be charged up. The next morning we ran a cable from our third floor (second floor for my English friends) apartment down to our car and connected up a fan heater pointed at the fuel filter and left it for an hour to heat up. I have to say that it is not a good idea to be feeding cable out of a window with freshly showered hair - it freezes. Eventually though our car did warm up, but it was distinctly poorly, but that is part of another story.

It might be cold but it looks beautiful 
Last week I said we were going to pick up a translator and that very nearly didn't happen. Last week on a trip to the big town our car seemed to lose power and I wondered if it was the type of fuel we got locally and so we filled up in town with some winter diesel that went down to -31C. It didn't seem as bad on the way home, but it was still acting up a bit, yet it was fine around the village. Tuesday we set off to pick up our translator and the car got worse and worse, which seemed odd as we thought it would improve as the car got warmer. At one stage we wondered if we would have to cancel the trip and stopped for a little while, when we got going it improved again and we made it. The trip was worth it as my translator has been doing a good job, just not necessarily to do with my course.

I love the pattern of these trees against the blue sky
The first task he had was to translate for a meeting with our local heating company director. It was a an eye-opener in how grievances are handled here in Latvia. Our next meeting was with the mayor and was also not an easy one for our translator to translate for. Out of that meeting though we have organised another meeting with the director of the heating company to find out exactly how the bills are calculated, as we suspect that we end up paying more for cold water being sent around our radiators than we pay for good hot water. We will also ask a lot more questions related to the supply of energy, which I am sure they are not used to. The rest of the day must have seemed like a piece of cake as he had to organise several interviews for me, which meant kind of cold calling people whose numbers we had been given or found for organisations and local farmers that I want to interview. To his credit though he organised several interviews and one for the Wednesday. Unfortunately though our car was not playing and sulked - don't blame it really as it was definitely -29C on the car thermometer and this was midday, that turned out to be the first of two interviews and a visit to make a new friend to be cancelled this last week.

These bushes provide hours of entertainment to our cats
as they sit glued to the window watching the birds flying
in and out. Very funny watching their intense gazes
and swishing tails.
Our car was booked into our normal Riga based dealer because we have a five year guarantee on it, but the problem with Riga is it is too far to go with a very sick car and so we needed a tow truck to take it. Organising a tow truck was interesting though, firstly the local guy was in a similar predicament and couldn't get his lorry started - maybe when it's warmer!!!! The Riga dealer should collect our car, but only if it is a warranty issue (not what they said two years ago when our wheel bearing went when we ended up paying for a tow truck to take it in) and since we suspect it could be a fuel problem and not a warranty issue if they came out to collect the car it could be 150 LVLs ($280, £175) and then a repair bill on top of that. We decided that we would stuff the guarantee on the car as it was actually costing us too much money to get it into Riga and not worth the effort for us. We found a company that sells and works on similar cars in a nearer town and decided to try that, at least a friend of ours could then follow Ian in as he drove the car in case it died completely and bring him home afterwards while the car was in the garage for repair, well that was after giving the guy a tow because his car wouldn't start in the cold either (how bizarre is that!). So for the present we are car-less, which is interesting. We are now also effectively warranty less as well, and means Ian will now service the car - I think he's missed messing about on the car really. It did mean though he needed a repair manual for the car and he hadn't seen one at all while in England which was a bit of a worry. We asked our daughter to search for one in Australia as the car is available there but under a different name and she found a manual on a CD, which will hopefully be shortly winging its way across the waters.

Swept clean
On top of all that our cat discovered she could get out of our living room where she is locked up at night and bounded onto our bed purring away at 6:30am, we mustn't have closed the door well enough. I most certainly do not want that kind of an alarm call every morning - good job I was already vaguely awake before she joined us. I also had one of those interesting conversations with God this week too, which added to the rather weird week. I was reading in the bible about the story where Jesus had just finished talking to the crowd from a boat and told his disciples to "Cast out into deep water." That phrase resonated with me when I read it (in other words something just felt right about what was being said), "but I'm already in deep water" I said to God as I was thinking back over the last week, "just because you can't touch the bottom of the lake doesn't mean you're in deep water!" came the reply Hmm good point! Especially at 5ft nothing. I somehow think it is going to be a challenging year ahead. At the beginning of starting my course I felt like it would certainly be the start of something and I wrote "And so it begins" because I could feel the changing season as I moved into a new phase of life. "And so it begins" and it certainly has done, it has been an amazing journey so far with me meeting people I never expected to get access too, but they have been generous with their time and listened if I had something to contribute. I have felt out of my depth at times, but I guess it wasn't that far out of my depth and so I wonder where my next step will take me as I begin to wind down on the course I'm doing.

Evidence of life
I know this has been a long and arduous week, not helped by those little annoying mishaps that happen on difficult weeks, like Ian's back is niggling him and I have to go on record and say my naming of jars has to improve. I opened a jar of tomato sauce today to go with some pasta but as we ate the meal I realised that the sauce was a type of ketchup sauce and not a pasta sauce as I had been expecting. I have jars labelled ketchup too, and I have other jars labelled as sauce, so how many jars labelled sauce are actually ketchup? Oh boy! They are labelled this year, which is better than usual but I guess there is still room for improvement. At least I got plenty of reading done for my research so not been a total waste and I have had plenty of time to talk to our translator about what my research is about, given him interviews to listen to so he knows what to expect and what words he will need to remember and also talked about faith a lot as well, so actually it's been quite a good week really in a weird sort of way. I also have to say that even the Swedish finance minister made an excellent comment this week too as he said that Swedish banks should regard the Baltics as their home and act like they do at home. Absolutely! Spot on! And why couldn't he have said that a few years ago? If the banks had acted like they did in Sweden, Latvia wouldn't be in quite the mess it is in now. Sweden learnt in the 90s that a speculative bubble in the housing market fuelled by banking loans was not good for the country or for banks and learnt some painful lessons, unfortunately they weren't ones they applied to Latvia.


  1. It puts our chilly spell into perspective!

  2. It always makes me laugh when I read the dramatic reports from the UK and the panic mode that sets in. I will say that snow at around 0C is far more difficult to drive in than snow at -5C but when it is only an inch or two, then with care it is not a major issue - well it shouldn't be.

  3. Can't imagine cold like this! Well done for staying upbeat!

  4. I have been thinking about you a lot this week and praying for you coping with the difficulties not only of the freezing winter conditions but also dealing with a different culture to solve those problems - as you commented so well here in your blog. Bless you and Ian muchly!

  5. Thank goodness it isn't this cold all winter Ju, mind you a friend in Mongolia commented it hadn't been as cold there this year as here last week - that's pause for thought.

    Thanks for the prayers and blessings Mavis, they are much appreciated. At least the intense cold is easing and although still cold it is liveable.

  6. what a hectic and cold week you have had.....sympathy in abundance. We had FREEZING RAIN yesterday....and I fell over in Asda's car park.. Is that suffering enough for you....I am sure I saw 3 ice skating judges jump up with those little score cards that had 5.9 on them!!

  7. Thanks for the sympathy Karen, much appreciated. As for freezing rain, that is far worse than our -12C bright winter days that we've had just lately, so sympathy heading your way


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