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Published: August 7th 2006
I think they got that idea from LAX
I have been living in Europe long enough now to expect the public transport to be on time. 35 minutes late the bus finally shows up. It's a good thing I didn't have to be in Riga at a certain time. The delays didn't stop there. I had to decipher if my seat number meant the one above the seat or below the seat, as they were totally different. After I just thought "stuff it" and sat down, an argument broke out between one of the passengers and the driver. It turned ugly with the passenger slamming his fist on seats and pointing his finger into the drivers chest. I stood up and moved back fearing it might turn violent. It all came to an abrupt end when he took a seat up front and that was the end of that. We were already late but there were even more hold ups when people had trouble organising them selves or something and there was a whole heap of talk but not much action.
Away we go 45 minutes late but it didn't stop there. We got to the border with Latvia. The customs officer boards the bus and the usual
The bustling market that freaked me out when I first arrived but I rather enjoy it now
procedures goes ahead. It turns out that someone wasn't very "desirable" and taken off the bus plus made to fetch thier belongings from the cargo hold. The bus left and I never saw them get back on board again. I thought that was a little strange.
We had only been on the road a little over an hour but it was all too much for some so we had to take a 10 minute break just after crossing the border, so that was another hold up.
By the time we got to Riga we were an hour late and unlike arriving in every other city so far, this place looked horrid. Big grey block buildings, run down roads and rubbish everywhere. People rave about this city, I had yet to see why. We arrived at the bus terminal, I gathered my bags and off I wandered into the general market area where sales seem to be in full swing. I was approached by a few people speaking Latvian or Russian, I couldn't tell which, so I waved them away. They looked very dodgy and like they were trying to sell me something or at least get something from
Old Town Square
Or one of them at least
me. I was then approached by a couple who looked like they too were travelling through, he tried to say something in english but I couldn't understand him. The woman warns "What he is trying to say is that you should keep your wallet and phone out of your pockets because they will get stolen. Robberies happen here all the time, especially to travellers"
Great! I put my wallet, phone and camera into my small black bag on my front and padlocked it. So I still had to find this hostel I had booked but it didn't seem to be anywhere in sight. I eventually found it after walking around in circles for 20 minutes clutching white knuckle tight to my possessions, eyeing every suspicious looking person around me. It was about this time that I thought "Yes, I'm officially in eastern europe." I was not too perturbed though as I was yet to give the place a chance.
I arrived at the hostel and the woman showed me around the hostel, kitchen, toilet and shower. The men were in the one marked with a picture of a woman... go figure. I was given a room to myself which
is a nice change.
The day was just about done so I took a quick walk around the old town. Although not as nice as Tallinn's old town, it has a certain charm that is unique. It's a cacophany of medieval, baroque architecture with neglected areas, art nouveau and brand new contemporary buildings. It's a place that just keeps getting added to which makes it nice in some areas and horrible in others.
That night I headed for the shower and while in there another guy walked in. The glass on the shower door was only just translucent so I couldn't see them clearly but they seem pretty short, I didn't take much notice. I then realised this guy had long hair and breasts. I was obviously explained wrongly as I was in the female showers. I tried very hard from laughing out loud at my predicament. I waited untill she was in the shower, grabbed my gear and scurried out of the room bearly dressed. I just hoped that if she saw me, she figured I was just a tall, short haired woman with manly body features.
The next day I hit the town and took
in all the sights. The Dome Cathedral, the baltics' largest cathedral and home to the worlds 4th largest organ which was unfortunately being renovated. The whole building is crumbling so there is extensive restoration going on. The lift to the top of St. Peter's church was slow but was worth it for the great views from the 72 metre viewing platform. I spent quite a bit of time at the Museum Of The Occupation Of Latvia which was an unsettling place but necessary. One of the most recognisable symbols of Riga and Latvia is the Freedom Monument. A simple column topped by a bronze statue of Liberty (locally known as Milda) holding 3 stars representing Latvias 3 historic regions. What I liked about it was the flowers people had placed at the base which, during soviet times, got you deported to Siberia.
I was passing some random pub and realised the Rugby match between Australia and South Africa was on so I sat and thoroughly enjoyed the 20 - 18 victory. There was a South African supporter next to me who I patted on the back and said "Sorry about the loss mate but I suppose you must be
Doing a bit of sightseeing
used to it by now" He didn't seem to happy with that comment hence I made a quick exit.
Being a sunday I saw about 8 weddings in progress around the city. The most were in the park just near the Freedom Monument where, on a small little bridge, placed a padlock with thier names engraved on it and threw the key into the canal below. I found out this is a Latvian tradition that is a sign of an unbreakable bond of thier marriage. Awww how romantic hehe.
After a full day of taking part in Riga's best activity, wandering, I think it's fair to say I like it. It really is a charming place to wander around and has a whole host of interesting things to see. It's funny how opinions change.
The next day I headed out to a small town called Sigulda. People rave about it as the Switzerland of Latvia however I can't see why. There is no soaring mountains and things definately don't run on time but the place is beautiful. It's a small town surrounded by bush and pine trees as far as the eye can see. I hiked from
the bus station to the new castle. It's pretty decent looking but the real charm is the old castle behind it. There's not much left these days but the ruins encircle an area that was being set up for a concert that was to happen that night. I was lucky enough to catch the orchestra practicing for that nights show. It was a great way to kick off the day, kicking back relaxing, surrounded by ruins of a medieval castle, smelling the pine trees as they fill the air and listening to a stellar performance even if it only was a warm up. Just past the stage was a look out where you see all the way to the other side of the valley.
I left the orchestra in progress and hiked through the bush to the cable car. I couldn't understand why but they had all these people waiting and just one cable bar going back and forth that could only carry around 15 people. It took me longer to make the 500m trip across the valley than it did to fly from England to Finland, but I got there. I walked north and after a short while
From St. Peter's Church
I came across another set of castle ruins, right there in the middle of the bush. I continued on and ended up at a cave. It had been used as shelter of some kind and had words engraved into the rock all over it.
I made the long hike back to the cable car and waited another hour and a half to get back across. With the day pretty much done, I caught the bus back to Riga.
When I was buying tickets for various things, I noticed a funny way the people line up. Instead of right behind the person at the front, they stand behind and to the right. The first time I saw it was when I was lining up as usual and a woman snuck in ahead of me. I was about to say something but I looked back and saw everyone lining up behind her. It was rather confusing however the cable car line was amusing. The locals lining up the way they do and tourists lining up the way we do, it was a bit of a mess.
The last day in Latvia saw me head to the beach resort west
of Riga. Jurmala is the biggest sea side beach resort in the baltics and it's pretty cool. It's a 32km stretch of beach so there are different parts to it, I got off the train at the central area, Majori. The beach itself wasn't too bad at all although there was no waves. I kicked back and soaked up some sun but the damn clouds put an end to that idea. The main street in Majori is stacked with bars, restaurants, hotels and cafes. It was a pretty cool area but not a lot to rave about.
So that's about it for me here, I'll catch the bus to Lithuania tomorrow. Latvia has been great, hopefully the trend continues down south.
Cheers for the comments, don't be shy in sending more now. I also put up some more pictures on the last blog. Just hit 'last journal' on the top left of this one.
P.S. I've been told by a Latvian that they don't like to be referred to as eastern european. For the purposes of this blog I am stating that they are geographically eastern europe although I'm sure a world apart in
I put this up because I asked a man to take a photo of me infront of the Monument and this was the result. It's so bad it's funny
culture and lifestyle.
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