The next morning we caught a bus to Riga, Latvia. The buses here are really nice. They have coffee machines and “in-bus” entertainment. The whole trip was about four hours, so not too bad. One interesting thing was that the homes outside the city in Estonia are huge by European standards, and even by American standards. Makes you wonder about real estate prices.
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The Bus Ride To Riga
The drive was quite nice also. Lots of forest. Super tall, super slender trees. No undergrowth, but lots and lots of moss on the forest floors that made it look like you could just crawl up and take a comfy nap under the canopies. We also caught a periodic view of the coastline. The forest edge went almost right up to the water’s edge and there was just a short strip of fine sand; I always love this.
My dad, who was sitting on the aisle side with a perfect view of the road, pointed out to me that the driver was swerving all over the place. Jeff would know better than to mention this to me because all I could think about for the last half hour of the journey was how we were going to topple off the highway.
That I’d die in a fiery crash in the Latvian countryside with no access to immediate healthcare. But not before that street sign came plunging through the window, impaling my torso while I choked on the metallic taste of blood for God only knows how long. Thanks, Dad.
Another City, Another Cabbie Haggle
As we made our way into Riga, I noted that it didn’t seem this city was doing as economically well as Tallinn with their independence. The outskirts were dodgier. And the familiar Eastern Bloc housing, which is always run down, was even more run down and not yet covered in trite paint colors. I’d later learn this portion of town was Moscow Suburb, home to Riga’s Jewish ghetto.
Upon arrival, we didn’t have a pick-up scheduled, so we got to get ripped off by a cab driver. It wasn’t so bad, but I still despise the whole concept. I’d checked with the hotel ahead of time how much a cab cost and I negotiated a fare only three Euro more.
My dad said he just considers it part of the experience. I suppose that’s one way to look at it. And possibly a sunnier outlook than the one I always adopt.
Testing Out Some Local Latvian Booze
It was rainy and cold when we checked into the hotel, so we opted to hang out for the evening. The restaurant had uppity food and I really just wanted some comfort food. But it was okay nonetheless.
Saw some American soldiers at our hotel and my dad stopped to introduce himself. (For those that don’t know, I’m a career military brat. My dad served 22 years, and we moved all over all the time when I was growing up. Explains so much.)
They were Air Force from Michigan and this was the sixth time in a year they’d been out to Riga assisting the Latvian army. Later discovered one was staying right across the hall from us and wondered to myself if they just grouped all the Americans together in a single wing.
At some point this evening, I had a beer by myself when my dad was resting his back, though I can’t recall when. I just know that I didn’t like it as much as I liked the local Estonian beer. And the alcohol content must’ve been pretty high because, after just one, I was a little loopy. That might possibly bring my rating up a couple notches, but still not higher than the local Estonian beer. #GlobalDebauchery
Sightseeing In Old Town Riga
We toured Old Town Riga the next day. It was bitterly cold and rained for hours. Fortunately, Old Town was pretty small and there wasn’t all that much to see. So I didn’t feel so bad when it turned out to be a short day. (Of course, there are a lot of things to do outside of just Old Town.)
Lots of your typical stuff—churches, old buildings, armories, parliaments, town squares. We went to grab a traditional Latvian dinner that turned out to be kind of horrible. I got the beef stroganoff and the meat tasted a little off and was kind of fatty. Yuck.
Because I’m me and I do what I do, I spent the next several hours fighting off thoughts that I’d be ill and end up in a Latvian hospital with an IV. Later that night, I also noticed that my water bottle had an expiration date and would be expiring in one week… which was weird. Another detail to get my anxious, obsessive brain in overdrive.
A Sleepless Riga Night
All of that and a blazing hot hotel room, and I was entirely unable to sleep. I went outside for a late night smoke and some cold air and ran into one of our hotel’s drunk soldiers. Ended up chatting for a solid half hour. All the while, I was standing under a persistent drip from the building’s awning. Which ended up soaking the back of my sweatshirt.
Was an interesting enough conversation. He’d done three tours in Iraq and was a civilian police officer stateside. He said he wished his kids grew up in DODDs schools like me and Jeff, and that he hoped to be able to take them around Europe once they were old enough to travel longer distances.
He talked about the state of affairs in Latvia and the local relations with Russia. (Remember that the Baltics are very recently independent of the Soviet Union. And then consider current events and their proximity to Russia, not to mention the US and Russia’s relationship.)
I was finally able to gradually scoot my way inside, out from under the awning drip and back to my hotel room. Minutes later, I heard the guy’s door slam across the hallway, so I assume he got a refill and went out for another smoke. It’s off to Lithuania tomorrow. The motherland. Land of my people! (Or some of my people, anyway.) I’ll keep you posted.
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