Having always wanted to go to the three Baltic states, I was able to see Estonia the previous year and now Latvia was next. Unfortunately it was another country without an embassy in South Africa. And as always, no direct flights. I decided to fly with AUSTRIAN AIRLINES via Vienna to Riga. As there was no daily flights to Vienna from Johannesburg as well as no daily flights from Vienna to Riga, it meant a 48 hour transit in Vienna on the way to Riga. I was not in the mood to spend that much time in an airport lounge and since I had a good penfriend in Vienna, I decided I will get off and stay with him. This meant a visa from Austria (Schengen). Well, what a nightmare. The day before I applied for the visa, a South African woman died on a plane between Johannesburg and Vienna and did not have enough insurance and this got the AUSTRIAN embassy to look at applications for visas in much more detail and require bigger health and medical insurance. But also due to the fact that I was staying with a friend, they wanted to see this person’s Meldesetter – never heard of that before. It took 6 weeks before my visa was issued and I got it the day before I had to depart. The Latvian government (who was not part of Schengen at that time) and the Latvia broadcaster came to my rescue and said I could enter Latvia visa free since I had the BALTIC VISA for 2002 through their embassy in the Netherlands. They would have officials waiting for me the Sunday at the airport and escort me into the country but there is a fee of 20 euro for this service. So arriving there, these people waited for me and I felt like a top VIP being escorted into the country and to my hotel by these people. From that moment, Latvia became my most loved country of Europe – never before a country did this for me, an ordinary SA citizen. Also the Latvian entry for that year, HELLO FROM MARS was so beautiful.
2003 proved to be quite a special year. Latvian TV, like Estonian TV the previous year, gave me also a ticket for the final but since I do not like attending the live shows, I swapped it with an ordinary Latvian citizen in exchange for a Latvian CD. This guy was so excited to be able to attend Eurovision in his home country.
I also had one scary incident. Morten was out for the evening to something (I can’t even remember) and I decided to walk to a shopping center to buy something nice to nibble on. I took a short cut through a tunnel underneath the big road and inside this tunnel was a drug addict who suddenly started shouting at me and began chasing me. I ran and luckily some other people came into the tunnel and shouted at this drug addict to leave me alone. I then discovered that you could be in danger no matter in what country you are.
In the hotel was a guy who carried my luggage up to my room. We got chatting and I discovered he was well educated but not able to find a job in Latvia. I recommended to him to try South Africa as his qualifications were in high demand in South Africa. A year or so later, I heard from him – he was in South Africa and employed at one of the universities in Pretoria.
Norway was back at Eurovision after not qualifying in 2002 and they had Jostein Hasselgard, a 24 year old singer. Originally they thought he had a limited possibility to win the national final but he took the country by storm with his laid-back yet genuine performance and during the tele-voting there was never any doubt that he would be the winner.
Ralph Siegel was again at Eurovision, this time with Lou and “Let’s get happy”.
Russia had t.A.T.u and one of my biggest hates. I refused to attend the press conference and missed out on the promo single. OGAE Norway, however, bought it for me on some auction.
I don’t think I need to write a lot about the United Kingdom entry “Cry baby” by the duo Jemini. The UK fans really did CRY after this, giving the UK its worth placement at that stage in Eurovision. Now I quite like the song although not a top favourite.
Belgium brought Urban Trad with “Sanomi” in some non existing language and this was another song I hated but did so well on the night.
Sweden brought even more FAME to themselves by sending Fame with “Give me your hart” which still is a classic to me. For some reason (which I cannot recall now) I did not really meet the duo personally.
And then there was Poland bringing Ich Troje and “Keine grenzen”, 100% the kind of song I like – many language in one. Ich Troje was a totally new name to me but I then discovered especially the lead singer Michal Wisniewski was extremely famous in Poland and I saw all the pictures of him on the covers of various magazines. We were also told at the press conference that they gave something like 300 concerts in crowded stadiums in the past 2 years.
Ukraine debuted this year and they brought Olexandry with “Hasta la vista”, which I like a lot. I also attended the party organized by Ukraine with the help of Martti Immonen from Finland. This song turned out to be the ONLY Ukraine enter ever to make my top 10.
A nice touch was that Latvia invited kids from orpanages and such institutions to attend the rehearsals.
Flying back home from Riga, my flight on Austrian airlines to Vienna departed the Monday and guess who sat on the plane next to me? It was Alf Poier, the Austrian singer. He was surprised about my knowledge of Austrian music but remarked that it seems I know only the Schlager side (which of course is true). He was happy with his position at Eurovision.
Musically 2003 was a fantastic year with no less than 3 songs getting 10 out of 10 from me
Sweden – Give me your love – Fame
Poland – Keine grenzen – Ich Troje
Latvia – Hello from Mars – F L Y
But Eurovision won’t be Eurovision without songs I hate as well and it also brought songs who got 0 out of 10 from me
Russia – He bepb he boncr – t.A.T.u.
Belgium – Sanomi – Urban trad
To read previous years go to esccovers