travel back in time

Monday 10th January, Riga, Latvia


Remember Kevin, my Welsh mate who I travelled with into the Sahara Desert, and to the Essaouira African music festival? Well, I had an email from Kevin last night, and guess where he is at the moment? Would you believe...Riga! Our next destination. Maria and I decided to catch the first bus to Riga at 9:00 in the morning so we'd have time to catch up with Kevin during the day before our Riga hosts finished work. This made it a bit difficult to know what to do with the keys to Andrius and Aura's flat. They had said that we should either leave the keys with their mate Vladas, or with their neighbours. At seven-thirty in the morning, I wasn't sure either person would really want to be awoken. Maria and I had packed our backpacks and were just about to knock on the neighbours' door, when Andrius and Aura burst through the door, fresh from their European hitchhiking adventure. Talk about perfect timing! We just had a chance to introduce ourselves and thank them for the use of their place, before we had to race to catch the tram to the bus station. I felt bad just taking off like that, but consoled myself with the thought that Andrius and Aura would appreciate the time to themselves to get showered and settle back into their home.

There were only minutes to spare by the time we reached the bus station. With military precision, Maria ran to buy the tickets while I grabbed a few supplies from the supermarket. The range of fruit juices and yoghurts was too confusing for that hour of the morning, and I was panicking that I was taking too long. Maria would be waiting for me, and we'd miss the bus, and it would be all my fault. I grabbed a couple of tubs of yoghurt at random and turned to almost bump into Maria. Seems the nine o'clock bus that we'd been racing for had simply ceased to exist... overnight. Without trace. The good news was that we now had time to choose our snacks more wsiely, we had time to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee and a pancake, and we had time to look around for some Lithuanian condoms before we left the country.

Perhaps the driver of the ten o'clock bus was himself confused, since he made the scheduled five hour trip trip in exactly four hours, and pulled into the Riga bus station at two o'clock, the precise projected arrival time of the fabled nine o'clock bus. Kevin was waiting in the drizzle, and I reached into my pocket for my Rasta hat but it was nowhere to be found. I know I'd taken it from the bottom of my backpack this morning- planning to be wearing it when I exited the bus- but I must have left it behind at Andrius and Aura's place. That'll have them wondering!

We had time for a couple of cups of tea with Kevin before we had to meeet our host. It seems Kevin had been making his way to Asia- in fact I'd been half expecting to meet up with him in China next month- but had some complications with obtaining his Chinese visa before his Russian visa was due to expire. Forced to leave Russia, he's hanging out in Riga for a while till he decides just what he wants to do. To salvage a dwindling budget, he's been doing some painting at a local backpackers hostel in exchange for free accommodation, while he plans his next move.

At four o'clock, we met our host Sanita, and she whisked us back to her place in the suburbs. When we climed into her car, he first words were "I don't want to make you nervous, but..."
I was nervous instantly.
Sanita continued "I'm not a very good driver, and I'm not used to driving this car, and I don't like driving in the city, and especially when it's raining".
How could I have diarrhea so suddenly?
But she managed to get us home in one piece. I was tempted to kiss the ground the way the pope does when he arrives in a foreign land. Does he still do that? I wouldn't reckon so...

Sanita's boyfriend Janis (pronounced Yarn-is) turned up from work, but had to run straight back out again to a basketball game. Sanita drove Maria and me to a huge restaurant/entertainment complex just outside the town centre. It's part of a chain of bars and restaurants owned by Lido, but not all of their establishments were on such a scale as this place. There were three restaurants on three sprawling levels- each with a different buffet. Outside was a vast garden with playgrounds for the kids, and even an open air ice skating rink. We were tempted to throw on some skates, but with the rain, and considering how many times I was sure to fall over, it would have been a wet and messy affair.

Sanita, overlooking the ice skating rink.

Instead we took a walk around the old town, where we met up with Janis and one of their friends, and tried a couple of Latvian beers in a great little pub... again owned by Lido! Janis was telling me a bit about the city, and I was especially interested in his stories about the skyscraper across the river. Apparently, construction had reached thirteen floors before council alerted the developer that the correct paperwork had never been completed. The thirteen storey building was ordered torn down, but 'somehow' a solution was found between the developer and the council, and construction was allowed to continue. The now twenty-six storey building is actually two stories taller than initially proposed, which has threatened the continued inclusion of Riga's Old Town on the UNESCO World Heritage List. UNESCO argues that the skyscraper is visible from the Old Town and therefore detracts from its character.

Maria and I made friends with our hosts' kitten, Foofa. Happy to have two new humans to annoy, Foofa spent most of the night purring in my ear, pawing all over us, or chewing at our toes.