On one of the maps given to me by the tourist information at the airport, Liepala town was shown as not too far below Ventspils. Thinking I had plenty of time, I was relaxedly driving down the road from Slitere National Park; it was only when I reached Ventspils that I saw an indication. Thinking I was over half way, it turned out I had more than 110k to drive. I now suddenly was in a rush: I knew the last guided tour of Karosta Military Prison would start at 5pm. The roads were virtually empty, and in a good condition, which allowed me to arrive in the outskirts of Liepala with 15 minutes to go before the beginning of the tour. However, it turned out to be difficult to find the place: people did not speak any of the languages I speak, and when I finally found someone, he did not know. But he did call a friend, who actually appeared after a few minutes, and explained the direction. But eventually, it were two young guys on bikes who guided me all the way to the entrance. It had started to rain; I walked through the gate with only a tiny sparkle of hope that someone would excuse my being 15 minutes late.
A young woman dressed in a military uniform behind the ticket desk told me what I knew: that I was late, and that the last tour had started 15 minutes before. But, I was lucky: a Russian group had not had the money, and someone was gone to get it from an ATM. I was given a plastic card with an explanation in English, and the woman told me with a strict voice that I should bring a map on my next visit. We were ordered to stand behind a white line, where our guide told us about the prison. I did not even try to understand, and was enjoying the sound of the beautiful language as I was reading the card. Originally built as a hospital, the building had been converted to a prison in 1904-5. We went inside, where Lenin was looking down on us. We came across the English speaking group, which I was able to join. The lady in uniform talked to us in a military way, and explained the sufferings of those unfortunate enough to end up in this prison which, she also said, was much better than other prisons at the time of occupation by the Russians and Germans. She showed us the cells, and when we were in the isolation cell, stepped out and locked us up in the pitch dark room. We could hear her walk away, and had only the muffy smell of the prison that was familiar to us now.
She showed us more of the prison, telling us about the punishments, and the reality on our way, until we reached the end of the tour. As she said goodbye to the others, she ordered me in her stern voice that I had to follow her. I obeyed like any good prisoner would do, and followed her. It turned out she was going to give me a private tour of the first quarter of an hour I had missed: mostly the small museum with artefacts of the Nazi, Russian, Soviet, and Latvian armies who had used this military prison. The lady had now abandoned her role as a guard of the prison, smiled, and turned out to be quite friendly (and no, I was not starting to suffer Stockholm syndrome). Even though the prison was officially closed, I was allowed to watch the video about the history of the prison and Karosta in general - once an important, strategic place for the Soviet navy. I realized again I had been very lucky, and was happy I had come all the way to Karosta.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Karosta Military Prison (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Karosta Military Prison.
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