The meat of the Baltic sandwich
Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
99Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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Riga is a large city with seemingly endless boulevards, filled with aging buildings and a bustling core. My host, Viktorija, met me at the bus station. Poor Viktorija had just lost her voice, she was whispering ever so quietly while I seemed to be talking louder to provide a balance. With noisy traffic, it made for a tough start, but it was great of her to meet me.
She made me a coffee at her place, we were able to have a better conversation and she willingly set us toward the city for a tour. The walk to her place was about twenty minutes, a similar time it took to reach the city centre. Before we began really exploring, we went to Pelmeni XL. A small pay for the weight of your food cafe, open 24 hours and serving Russian dumpling!! Beef, lamb, chicken, vegetable ones, some chunky chips, some sauce and it came to just over a Euro! My eyes lit up! The cafe had loud music, I find this difficult enough to hear a conversation, let alone with my little host with no voice. I start to wonder what she sounds like with a voice? The food was awesome! Delicious! Ahem, and didn't spend long in the bowl.
I wanted to use the bathroom, but it seemed every bathroom in Riga charges, this one had a door with a coin slot! At least the sink was free. Bellies full, we set about seeing Viktorija's Riga. I say this as my kind hosts always ask me before I arrive what I want to see? I simply respond, I want to see YOUR city through YOUR eyes.
We left the old city, crossed Akmens bridge over the Daugava River. On the other side, we turned right and found an embankment, Viktorija's pace slowed, she stopped and we looked across the river. The city of Riga was in darkness and the lights were beginning to turn on. What a wonderful spectacle. It's her favourite spot in the city. We are quiet while appreciating the picture infront of us. I think back to Hong Kong, about a year ago and a similar but more modern view from South Island. I ask about what she remembers from the USSR? She remembers little but talks about memories of her parents and the freedom Latvians now hold. In her parents time, under USSR, one would not be able to travel the world, you could not study abroad let alone think of changing your course. Different times, different worlds!
Viktorija led me away from the Old Riga so I could explore it myself the next day. On our way to her second viewpoint, we pass the Freedom monument. Erected in 1918, almost torn down by the Russians. It is very important to them though what she told me next was very embarrassing. Many stag parties head to Riga, most end up in strip or sex clubs and recently, some British guy urinated on the Freedom Monument. Shocking. I remember some student years ago did something similar in the UK and went to court for it. It's an England I feel so estranged from, but it iis a minority.
The next view was from the top of a new shopping centre. A great view and another time of silence and reflection. The night was old and we headed back. I was able to crash while Viktorija was busy with errands. She was able to turn her double bed into two singles. She lives in a hostel and the room is comfy and warm. She offers me a homemade liquer before lights out, I forget what it was but it tasted good!
The next day involved exploring Riga by myself. I enjoyed wandering around the city and lunched in the same place as we ate dinner.
I met Viktorija in the evening outside her work. She works in a bibliotech. She is a quiet girl but more in a way of when she speaks, you listen, there is no waffle or random chat to fill spaces. I have respect for this. I would say she is a little reserved if not shy, but her company was great and her generous nature greatly appreciated. We set off to a little theme park to grab some dinner and my beer for Latvia.
I wasn't sure whether to include the next bit but I feel it's important to include travel frustrations. We were to catch a tram to our destination. It was 0.70 in local currency, Viktorija said I must buy a ticket at the front. We were in a bad neighbourhood and before the next stop, ticket inspectors would board the tram. The tram arrives, I have money in hand but we are not standing near the front. As the tram comes to a stop, we are near the back. Viktorija jogs to the next carriage ands gets us on in the middle. The tram moves and I have no ticket!! Twenty seconds later the tram stops and the inspectors board. I have no ticket but Viktorija has a pass. I have to pay a fine! I'm livid! Why did we not get on at the front? Did she forget? We're hauled off the tram and I have to pay a fine. I try to explain I'm visiting, don't know the tram rules, but the Nazi inspector did not care. I lose my rag and the passive man turns to the aggressive man! I refuse to pay, and sarcastically thank them for welcoming me to their country. Some fat girl nearby in a shell suit understands English and trumps up, 'if I were in your country I would have to pay a fine!', 'no you wouldn't!!!!!'. I firmly believe we use our common sense, maybe explain how a system works and let them off, well, after taking the correct fee for the ride. My vicious tongue snapped at her! If I didn't pay, the police would come then I would have a summons to go to court. If I wasn't there with my host, I would have happily let the police arrive, taken a court date then leave for Estonia the next day. I was very aware of my host, she was quiet and I felt a little conscious of my rant and annoyance. To continue the night, I paid the fine. It was about six Euros but was the only cash on me and enough cash that would have lasted the rest of the evening.
They were so NICE, they let me back on the next tram. When we left the tram, Viktorija turns to me and asks, 'so you never been fined before?', I smile back and say,'no, I never have'. Dave boy will know my tricks back up north but never got fined, till Riga!
Our food was great, beer was good and the bar had T20 cricket on the TV. Somerset were playing Auckland I think. I briefly explained the rules of cricket to Viktorija.
Later we met her friend Rose, chatted over some hot alcohol and some cheese and bread. Rose was very lively, almost opposite to Viktorija, striking blond hair and some interesting stories. We met a couchsurfing group, but the scene wasn't great and when I was asked my opinion, I wasn't in the mood for having the same conversation 15 times to people I'll never meet again. I'd rather enjoy the company of the two I was with. We hit Cuba cafe in the centre and shared a jug of Sangria over dating conversation and debating whether the guy showing off his Latin dance moves, was gay or not.
A fun night, think I felt a little drunk from the earlier hot wine, who knows!
My bus next morning was at 10am, so I left Viktorija's pretty early, found a coffee and checked out the flee market.
The city was a box of treasures. History, culture, architecture, tasty food and fun people.
Next stop, Tallinn, Estonia