Sunday, April 18, 2010

WHY would you go to Latvia? Part 1

Why would I go to Latvia? That's a good question. Until my friend Madeline and I planned the trip, I had actually never even heard of the entire country. I had heard of Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south, but Latvia didn't ring any bells. When I arrived I honestly had no expectations nor idea what I was getting myself into, but as you will see, Latvia turned out to be a great destination, and in the end kind of felt like a secret spot since not many tourists go yet.

I got to the grand international airport of Latvia which only had two belts for luggage which made me chuckle. The bus ride kind of scared me a bit though - driving through the outskirts of Riga where decrepit buildings stand and you feel like you might actually see some of them collapse. Because it was turning nighttime, the whole town seemed grey, and with everyone barking Latvian (which sounds quite similar to Russian) I got a little nervous. It's good to get a little nervous though - means I have put myself in a completely different situation.

Although the bus announcements were in Latvian, the directions from the hostel were good enough that I managed to get off at the correct stop. After fumbling around with my suitcase and finding the hostel and hiking up the steepest two sets of stairs I had even seen, I was happy that the hostel offered a free beer upon arrival. It was like a godsend! Since I was spending the first night in Latvia alone (Madeline was to arrive the next morning) I sat down next to two Spanish girls, two Australian girls and an Italian guy. After enjoying our Zelta beer (actually a tasty Latvian beer) we decided to head out to dinner. Italians and Spanish people eat dinner around the same time - 10pm - and after a few days in Scandinavia, where they eat around 6pm, it was great to get back to my regular schedule! Because the hostel was right in the heart of the Old Town, we were able to quickly find a restaurant, and a cheap one at that. Latvia doesn't use the euro but instead has the Latvian Lat (creative eh?), but everything in the country is amazingly cheap. For dinner I ate an omelet and had a beer and the total was only about $3. Impossible!

After the day of travel and a few Zelta beers I was happy to go to sleep in yet another bed. Happily I had the bottom bunk this time! I woke up, excited of course, and even though when Madeline arrived it was only 11am, she received her welcome beer and I couldn't let her drink it alone, so I ordered one too. One pint = about $1. Latvia was beginning to make me feel rich!

After our breakfast beers we decided maybe a coffee would be appropriate and found a small cafe in the Old Part called Sweetday Café. For the first time since Starbucks, I had a carmel flavored coffee. We also made sure to dabble in the pastries! Because it was raining, we weren't too sure what we should do and made a pitstop at the Tourist Office. The girl was so helpful and spoke really good English and suggested we take a trip to an exhibition on the outskirts of town (only about a 15 minute walk). She said the exhibition was about what Riga will be like in the future, as it is constantly growing and changing. Excited, we headed out despite the sprinkles and very quickly got lost. In not the most 'beautiful' part of town, it kind of felt like the Iron Curtain was still hanging around. Drab and imposing buildings dominated the streets and it wasn't exactly the best getting lost trip I had ever had. The one gem of the detour was this church whose colored onion domes made you feel like you were more in Russia looking at the St. Petersburg Cathedral than in Riga. It's not so surprising, considering about 37% of Latvians also speak Russian, but for me, it was rather shocking to see something so 'east'.

Finally we found the exhibition...biggest disappointment imaginable. First, it was in a shopping mall. Second it was in an empty store in the mall and just some photos of what architects and city planners envision for Riga in the future. Third, it was all in Latvian. While most people would get mad that they just walked for 30 minutes in the rain, were soaked and ended up at a crappy exhibition, Madeline and I just dissolved into giggles about how silly this day was turning out to be. I have found that some people are good to travel with and others not. If something goes wrong on a trip, you can't get angry or let it ruin the day, you just smile about it and make the best with what you have. So, for a few minutes we pretended to be interested and then gave up and rested our wet feet for a few minutes before we headed back out into the rain and towards the hostel to change into clean clothes.

Forever in a Spanish mindset, we had a little siesta and then ventured out again to look for a restaurant we had read about before coming - Hospitalis. Basically it is a medical-themed restaurant where everything you eat/drink/do has to do with the hospital. Madeline just got accepted into medical school, so it was a perfect way to celebrate! After dinner we made a little photo session in the entrance and took advantage of the medical tools, chairs, etc. The entrance can be seen from the road through a large window, and since it was dark we couldn't see anyone outside but I'm sure we entertained some people for a few minutes.

To entertain ourselves after we headed to the bar next door for some karaoke. No singing happened for Madeline and me, but we did enjoy a lot of other good acts. The guy who ran the karaoke would occasionally get up and sing a nice Latvian song, which of course we didn't know but one of them was pretty catchy. It was called Aprilem, which means April in Latvian. Look how tri-lingual I am! We didn't understand a single other word in the song but since the words were on the TV we put in our best effort to be super Latvian singers. It didn't work, but the song stuck with us and we kept singing the chorus throughout the whole trip.

Happy to be reunited but tired from the day we called it an early night and walked the 20 seconds back to our hostel - which was called Fun Friendly Franks Hostel. Voted the best hostel in the WORLD two years ago, we were happy guests and slept like babies, which was good because the next day was rather busy! More on that next time!

Skūpstīties! (kisses in Latvian...impossible)

No comments: