Europe | Latvia | Riga – Paris of the North…the faaaaaaaaaar north
Riga Paris of the the North (the faaaaaaaaaaaaaaar north)
So this time around, I got a break from teaching english at camp in Franceland and was pondering as too where I should go. In the end, my trip was more like a discount airline loto and the winning number (or whopping airfare) was 24.99 to the town of Riga, Latvia. Ok, so I’ve never heard of this place before, so I apologize in advance in case of any misinformation. Needless to say, this journal entry will be more photos.
Right below Finland and in between Estonia and Lithuania, above Poland. Uh,huh.
Quick Historical Timeline:
2500 B.C. First settlements of Latvian ancestry along the Baltic Coast
1600s A.D. Latvia occupied by Sweden
1700s Russia overcomes Swedes and takes over control
1918 The country of Latvia declares independence
1940 Latvia is occupied by Soviets (man that was short lived!)
1941 Nazis invade Latvia
1944 Soviets take over again
1991 The battle for independence won
2004 Latvia becomes a member of the E.U.
My ideas of Riga before going there were these:
Former Soviet Union, Russian spoken, really cold and drab landscape, lots of old people dressed in black and drinking vodka. Because it is summer, I’ve left out the 10 feet of snow and furry hats.(Okay, for those of you who know me really well, I was expecting to run into Ms. Privet Vodka look-a-likes from the pictures at Bella Italia! Or even the girls from this Russian Girls video would have been nice.)
Instead, I found a country that was once an involuntary Soviet republic, thus there is a lot of anti-Russian sentiment. The city center is very developed and there are a couple of skyscrapers amongst the remaining Art Nouveau adorned boulevards. It is very little though and then there is the medieval old town that is well preserved and several cathedrals and churches. Its very clean and there is a trashcan every 30 yards all the way upto to sketchy looking edge of town where the train station/marketplace are located. I did venture out and took a rickety city train with wooden seats to see the sea (hee hee) and saw a very bleak and demure looking countryside too. Oh! And they have
A LOT of daylight this time of year.
I happened to miss the longest day of the year festival LIGO by one day. (June 23, 2007) Nighttime only lasts about 3 hours. From 1am to 4am and even then, it is never completely dark.
Other nice things about Riga
I switched on the TV and found Friends subtitled in RUSSIAN, that was funny.
Amber is abundant, you can buy all kinds of jewelry, Riga ampanietis (=ch sound) a sparkling wine [because we all know that you can not call a wine champagne unless it comes from the region of Champagne in France] about as sweet as italian proseco, very nice and inexpensive as well as STOLI (Stolichnaya) ELIT the best Vodka. [Stolichnaya elit’s distillation and patented freeze filtration processes simulate a more rudimentary filtration process once used by the Russian Czars.] The cuisine is well, okay. Not really impressive and heavy. A lot of pork, cabbage and potatoes. I think its mostly an influence/mix of all the other countries that occupied Latvia before. LOTS of fish, mostly herring. I have to admit, I did explore the gastronomy a lot more but that would be a whole other blog. Let me just say VINCENTS.
There is a HUGE female:male ratio, nice looking blonds mostly in short skirts, dresses and high-heels stomping on cobblestone. Not a lot of men, the ones I did see were not so hot nor well groomed, fancied mullets and sandals with socks. Lots of german sports cars, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche even when the average salary is 300 per month. Oh yes, and there is a mafia a female mafia. Ha! *If you are wondering how I got my information, it is through observation and buying the very young bartender a shot or 2…
The official language is Latvian and indo-european, non-slavic and non-germanic language.
Sveiki! Ka tev iet? = Hello! How are you? Uh, huh.
I bought a Russian dictionary hoping not to painfully misprounounce every basic phrase in the book just to find out that they dont really like to speak Russian. But guess what. They speak English. Saved! Aside the fact that tourism is not very developed: Not a lot of smiles, warm greetings or prompt service, a lot of trembling and nervous servers most of whose name badge read trainee. One can communicate if you speak clearly and not too fast or a lot of slang. It helps if you smile first I think. Maybe that is the ESL teacher in me. Dunno.
Overall, it was quite an interesting experience and I know that there is lots more to discover. I have to admit that I was really surprised when everyone on the plane started clapping each time we landed…safely. One thing is for sure is that Riga is an up and coming new destination especially with the heavy presence of American culture (Coca-cola, McDonalds, happy hour, TGI Fridays, Friends just to name a few). Even Julio Iglesias cant keep away he was there in concert in May. Seriously!
I thoroughly enjoyed my random voyage out to the east but I dont know who or how the heck anyone can compare this place with Paris, France. Perhaps it was a vodka induced suggestion, maybe I missed something or I just forgot to packed my vie-en-rose colored glasses.