Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Riga, day 1

(Been to Riga this weekend. Pictures are forthcoming.)

Gaah! Gaah! The plane is tiny and has two propellers! Scary!

Despite shaking all the time and being scary the plane arrives on time. The thought of being in a place where half of the population speaks Russian is terrifying.Eek.

The border guard is a friendly young man:
"You speak Russian?"
"First time in Latvia?"
"No. Probably the third. But the last time was about 20 years ago."
"And probably with another passport?"
"Yeah... No, actually, no passport at all."

The bus to the city has just left the stop but the driver notices me and stops. I hop in. There is a granny selling tickets on the bus. She sells me the tickets, all the time saying something in Latvian.

I look out of the window. Soviet Union looks back at me, with occasional pieces of the West here and there. These are the moments when you thank capitalism for chain stores.

We enter Riga. It's full of wooden apartment buildings that I vaguely remember from 25 years ago and which surely have not been painted since then, or most probably since 1940.

Leena and Ville meet me at the Stockmann bus stop and we go to Stockmann to get some food. Much to my joy the place has sour cherries and good ice cream. Stockmann is much like Helsinki Stockmann even though the food is different.

The apartment is huge and lovely. It has steel doors sufficient to keep out a small army, but the entrance is from the inner yard and it does not have any kind of a gate.

We try to go to dinner in Rosengrals, a medieval restaurant. There are two guys outside dressed like monks and lazily swearing at each other in Russian. Nobody pays us any attention. When Leena asks them for a table for three, non-smoking, they show us to a table and give us menus. Five minutes later someone shows up to say that kitchen is closed.

During our stay we have no problem at all finding non-smoking areas in restaurants. At some point I realize that this is because Latvia has banned smoking in restaurants.

We go to Alus Seta, which has perfectly decent self-service food. When we go to buy drinks the bartender keeps ignoring us on account of our standing in the wrong place. Naturally he does not bother to inform us of it. When e finally shift to the right plce he gives Leena a wrong beer. Not that there was a lot of difference between it and the right beer. The service is almost Soviet, but not quite, on account of no swearing.

On the way back I pick up an advertisement paper. Steel doors seem to be very popular.

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