I signed up long ago to receive travel tips and discounts through Travel Zoo. It wasn’t until recently that I actually took them up on an offer and decided to visit Riga, Latvia…because why the hell not?
Booked well in advance, it didn’t occur to me until I’d landed in Latvia that I’d be there during both the Trump inauguration and the Women’s March. As a result, this blog will contain many of my emotions/thought processes in addition to the standard fare of pictures containing my experiences in my very first Baltic country.
If that’s not your cup of tea, feel free to see yourself out and return for my next blog: Berlin! Any political commentary on either side of the equation in the comments will be deleted. Consider yourself warned. 🙂
I landed in Riga at “night”(damn, it gets dark early!) and saw real live snow on the ground. As a Texas girl who has spent considerable time in Jerusalem, Israel and Miami, Florida this was a real treat for me. So what do I do?
I asked a handy nearby fellow for directions to the bus and went to wait at the stop where I witnessed a grown-ass man rolling around in the snow, making snow balls behind the bus stop. See? I’m not the only one excited about seeing snow!
After an hour long bus ride and a twenty minute walk to my hotel, I settled a bit and went out to find dinner at about 8:30.
Whilst traveling, I tend to splurge a bit on food. I like to taste cuisine like the locals do. Often times, I’ve found, that doesn’t actually mean eating the local cuisine (as you’ll see from my large variety of meals in Latvia.)
For my first meal, I wound up at KID*, an extremely cozy Italian restaurant that had the strangest and best music selection of any restaurant I’ve ever been to…full stop. I was serenaded by a Nicki Minaj/Sir Mix Alot Anaconda/Baby Got Back crossover on banjo and a four-string jazz version of Eleanor Rigby. Also, the food wasn’t bad either. 😉
I headed back to my hotel afterwards because while I don’t mind traveling by myself, I do have some manor of common sense about walking around alone in the dark at night in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language.
Upon returning to my room, I decided to do a bit of research regarding the Latvian impression of Trump, considering the time of my visit coincided with his taking office. I’ll admit, I was slightly concerned that I’d be a lone blue swimming in a sea of red. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly, when you actually take more than a second to think about it,) Latvia (and Latvians) are most definitely not fans of Donald Trump.
In fact, upon doing some research, I discovered that Latvians fear what Trumps presidency means for Europe and are preparing for the worst.
“Unlike any other president before him, Trump has declared he would not necessarily challenge Russian aggression – particularly in the Baltic states. […]
Many feel that just as the situation in Ukraine became something that the world could wilfully ignore, without the threat of US interference, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania could face a similar future.” Source
So I guess I wasn’t alone in my displeasure of the upcoming day. But beyond that, in my irrational mind with a constant mantra of “You’re a lone American female in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language,” I was a little fearful to be in such close proximity to Russia on January 20th. (Did I say irrational? Hindsight shows that thought process to be stupid. He wasn’t going to do anything on Day 1. Obviously.)
I turned on the television to try and calm my mind a bit only to discover that my channel options were rather intriguing. Between English, Latvian, and Russian, my channel options were limited to National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and poorly dubbed Disney Channel. Jade Fever it is!
The first day out and about in Latvia’s capital city of Riga was layered in a dense fog. Not to be deterred, I set out to do all the things!
I took the tour bus in a wide loop around the city, almost doubling back near to my hotel. It was nice to warm up a bit, but my toes got cold while I was just sitting there, so I got off at the third stop and walked for the rest of the day.
This passing stranger turned out to be a tour guide! She invited me to join her for hot chocolate at Vilhelms Ķuze, a coffee shop known for having the best chocolate in the city. We sat and traded stories while warming up a bit. Based on my interests (and cultural background,) she recommended I cross the big river (Daugava River) and visit the Zanis Lipke Memorial. We went our separate ways, her towards work, and me towards the river.
So on the recommendation of said tour-guide, I made the trek to the Zanis Lipke Memorial. Now, if you (like me) have never heard of Zanis, let me briefly educate you.
Zanis was born in 1900. He received three years of elementary education but had a good grasp of Russian, German, and Latvian languages. After fighting in the Latvian War of Liberation, he married his wife Johanna (she was 17) in 1920. He worked at the Riga port as a dockworker and in 1938, he acquired the right to rent a small house and a plot of land slightly inland from the river.
At the outbreak of World War II, he retrained in order to become a contractor for the Luftwaffe, and then used his position to smuggle Jewish workers out of the Riga ghetto and camps in and around Riga, whom he concealed with the aid of his wife until the arrival of the Red Army in October 1944.
At first he found shelter for them in various parts of Riga, but when the circumstances became too dangerous, he took them across the river to his house and hid them in a special bunker that he dug in his back yard. When the numbers became too great for even that, he transported the runaways to a parish roughly 80 km away from Riga.
The Lipkes and their various helpers saved forty people in this way, one fifth of the approximately 200 Jews who survived the war in Latvia.
Information taken from the Memorial guidebook at Wikipedia.
At the end of the tour, I discovered that Zanis and Johanna have a tree dedicated to them at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem). Not only have I been there (several times) but I’ve seen and taken pictures in front of their tree and had absolutely no idea who they were!
At this point, I decided to cross back over the river and hit some more monuments/museums before heading home.
The Museum of Occupation of Latvia was truly fascinating and if you ever have the opportunity to visit, I highly recommend it.
By the time I finished, it was dark out. (Not that that means much. It was about 5:00pm. I told you it gets dark early there, right?)
I wandered back to the hotel at this point, determined to scope out a possible venue for dinner. By the time I made it back, researched restaurants, and left again, it was about 7:30pm. I went to the restaurant I found and lo and behold, it was closed for reconstruction. Bereft, I wandered back down the street towards my hotel wherein I found salvation in the form of the UniCon Cafe. Honestly, all it took was the TARDIS in the window for me to poke my head in.
Unfortunately, they didn’t serve food, but I asked the bartender where I could find good food in the general area and was told to go check out WokiToki for their Chinese take-away food.
After grabbing my Chinese food, I went back to UniCon and ate dinner there. I fell in love with the concept. An espresso and alcoholic beverage bar with two TV’s; one displaying anime, the other being used to play Mortal Combat. They also had a huge wall of board games.
I would have been in nerd heaven if not for two things; most patrons were speaking a foreign language. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue striking up conversations with groups of strangers…but it’s hard to strike up a conversation if you don’t know if they speak your own language. Also, by that time it was about 8:30pm. For those of you who can’t play the time-difference game…8:30pm in Latvia was exactly 1:30pm in Washington D.C. on January 20th, 2017.
I wasn’t feeling very chipper from that point on. I left and headed back to my hotel. I spent the next two hours scrolling through my facebook news feed, twitter, and CNN before calling it a night and turning on the TV to distract myself.
The following day, I was determined to take it easy and treat this trip more like a vacation and less like…well…a trip. I slept in a bit later, I ate breakfast a bit slower. I really only had a few things left on my tourism list that I wanted to check out.
I walked back over to the Riga Central Station (and got a better picture! The sun came out!)
Rather than continue south towards the river (as I’d done the day prior) I hung a left and meandered over to the Riga Central Market on the recommendation of my tour-guide friend from the day before.
From there, I meandered my way back West and happened upon the Freedom Monument again…but this time, featuring BLUE SKIES!
I had a late lunch, my traditional McDonald’s excursion, and decided to walk in the general direction of my hotel for lack of anything better to do.
This was about the time the Women’s March was starting, so while I walked, I scoured Twitter to read the fun political signs. I even saw someone walking down the street in Riga wearing a Hufflepuff scarf and a pussy hat. As she walked by, I told her I liked her hat. Thank goodness she spoke English…cause that would have been awkward. xD
In my wandering, I ended up back at UniCon where I sat for about three hours and just read a book and drank some coffee. So relaxing.
Called it a night early and went back to the hotel.
On my final day in the city, I woke up and didn’t really have much of a plan. I packed my stuff and checked out of the hotel, slowly making my way back to the airport.
On the way, I finally spotted some of the weather vanes I’d been looking for. Riga is known for its eclectic weather vanes. The rooster and the cat were my faves. Here are two roosters. (It was too foggy to take a picture of the cat.)
I caught the bus to the airport and left Latvia behind me.
All in all, I felt very alone on this trip. Not because I was traveling alone but more due to the fact that I felt isolated in my corner of the world playing tourist while so much was going on both in the States and in the UK (with the inauguration and the Marches).
Between Rome and Latvia, I’m kinda sick and tired of Donald Trump ruining my vacations. I’m going to need him to work on that……among other things.
ANYWAYS! Next stop: Germany for the Berlinale International Film Festival.