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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 56.9682, 23.7705
We started off the day today with a trip to the resort city, Jurmala, on the Baltic Sea. Jurmala is a summer resort city for "poor Russian millionaires" (the rich ones go to Nice, France). After a stroll down the sandy beach, we took a few moments to dip our feet in the cool waters of the Baltic. None of us would have ever imagined when we left home that we would find ourselves on a sandy beach in Latvia listening to Bob Marley's “One Love.” Latvia is a land of many pleasant surprises.
Latvia has been particularly hard hit by the world financial crisis that began in 2008. Here, like elsewhere, part of the problem was overspeculation. We were not pleased to encounter several GE Money Banks advertising mortgages. Instead of paying taxes in the U.S., GE must have sent profits to places like Latvia to further please investors.
Another highlight of our day was a nice sit-down conversation with our knowledgeable guide, Sergei. He expounded on the many cultural differences between Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians. Many of his observations are not just his opinions, but based on sociological research done at Indiana University (Bloomington) during his time as
a Fulbright scholar. He portrayed Estonians as very pragmatic, adaptable people, who approach the boss with “Boss, I have an idea.” He said Latvians are more bogged down with rules and bureaucratic structures and are more likely to approach the boss with, “Boss, I have a problem.” We discussed social policy for a good hour, much to our enjoyment. What a perfect day, sunny, breezy, in the seventies, and sitting in an outdoor café in a summer resort town.
After Jurmala, we returned to our hotel and then headed into Old Town Riga. On the way, we tried to visit the Lutheran church outside our hotel, but it was closed. Next, we visited the seventeenth floor observatory of the Stalin-constructed “wedding cake” skyscraper and got to enjoy panoramic views of the entire Riga region. The building houses the Latvian Academy of Science. From there it was off to the central market, housed in Zeppelin hangars dating from WWI. It was an excellent re-use of these buildings and a good taste of local Riga. We saw everything from fruit, to meat, to fancy shoes. Our only purchase was dill seed. (Gotta bring home the universal Russian seasoning.)
From the market, we walked through
Old Town to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, 1940-1991. In 1940, the country was occupied by the Soviets, then from 1941-1945 came the Nazis, and from 1945-1991 it was the Soviets again. Needless to say, the native Latvians did not fare well under the occupation of any outsiders. Artifacts in the museum really made the horrible experience of being deported to Siberia and other areas come alive for us. Collectivization of farming tore rural Latvia apart and pit people against one another. One item on display was a listening device that was installed in the Hotel Riga by the KGB that was uncovered during a late 1990s renovation. Though many of the people who were deported in the 1940s were able to return after Stalin's death in 1953, they were not able to reclaim their former property or live within 100km of a city. Little was done to rectify this injustice until the 1980s, after many survivors had passed away.
Finally, we were off to find a restaurant for our last supper in Riga. We chose Filings (www.filings.lv). Our kind waiter, Anatoly, was featured on the menus, signs, and paper silverware envelopes. Barb and Jeannette got his autographs. The
menu's English translations were funny. Owen-backed potatoes probably came from and oven and were likely baked there. We sat outdoors again, and the weather was cool enough to warrant blankets for Barb and Jeannette. It sure was better than the heat we endured in Moscow. Throughout dinner, we enjoyed tunes that were popular in the U.S. during the 1950s described by the DJ as “the perfect oldies mix.” We wondered if Latvians got to hear these tunes when they were popular as Radio Free Europe ignored the Baltic states. This region was brushed under the rug after the Atlantic Charter. The one year of occupation prior to WWII (here, not dubbed the “great patriotic war”😉 somehow exempted the region from “self determination.” What a shame.
On our final trip through Old Town, Jeannette stocked her medicine cabinet with Black Balzam. (Note: Lady Gaga is playing right now at the hotel. In Latvia. On another note, last night we saw a brass street band (2 trumpets, a tuba, and a drummer) playing Rihanna's Umbrella. As if that wasn't strange enough, they were guys dressed as babushkas. Check Jake's facebook later for a video clip.)
Tomorrow we will be heading to Lithuania to celebrate
Jeannette's birthday and to have a great reunion with Barb's relatives on Thursday.
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