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Published: July 12th 2015
Saturday 11 July
Igor picked us up at 9:15 to take us to the bus station so that gave us plenty of time to get ourselves packed and organised.
We got to the bus station with time to spare and the bus was away close enough to on time. We had been pre-warned that there were extensive road-works on the main highway in Latvia so there would be about half an hour added to the journey.
The bus wasn’t very full and was pretty well equipped. We headed south through the Estonian countryside, stopping after just under two hours at Pärnu. The bus filled up here and a group sat in front of us and in the vacant seat next to Heather. Unfortunately they didn’t seem to be acquainted with deodorant.
We soon crossed the border into Latvia and promptly ground to a halt. We didn’t move too far over the course of the next 45 minutes or so as we negotiated the road works. It is only one lane each way so there was a lot of stopping and starting. There was good Wi-Fi on board so I
went onto BBO and it was great to play some hands with Linda and to catch up with Nigel too. Hope you guys are keeping warm!
We got a bit nearer the coast and just on 3pm, half an hour behind schedule, we arrived at Riga, Latvia
bus station. Initial impressions of Riga as we drove in is that it needs a LOT of work. There are many crappy old buildings around that were no doubt put up by Stalin and co. However, the old town looks quite nice as does the river area.
This time the instructions to get to the hotel were good although we managed to walk straight past it! The lobby was very inviting and the ladies on reception very friendly. They had made an error in assigning our room (not enough beds) so they gave us a better room and had another bed put in. We got a free glass of bubbly while we were waiting and checked out the maps / guides etc. Heather was VERY excited when she spotted a “Kiwi Bar” advertised in the heart of the Old Town so we resolved to go there and
check it out.
Up to the room which is very nice. A complimentary box of chocolates on the bed! Lots of space and a bathtub, so Zachary had one straight away while Heather went and booked herself a massage.
We then headed into the Old Town. Riga was extensively damaged in WW2 so a lot of the Old Town is reconstructed. However the main square and its surrounds are very nice. It is quite a compact area, much like Innsbruck. We found the Kiwi Bar and also checked out a few other places before deciding to go back to the Kiwi Bar for dinner. It is attached to an Indian restaurant so Heather and I were able to order curries while Zachary had a chicken sandwich with fries. There are only 2 NZ wines available which you have to buy by the bottle, and no NZ beers which was a bit sad. The place is owned by an Aussie. No NZ music on either, although quite a bit of Rolling Stones which I suppose have a tenuous NZ connection.
Dinner was fine though and I got to watch Serena Williams, surely
the greatest tennis player of all time, win another Wimbledon on one screen, and the Ashes on another. Heather took Zachary back to the hotel to get him to bed while I stayed on to watch the cricket. A group of four kiwis from the Kapiti Coast came in and I got to chatting with an Englishman who was retired at 50 and spent his time travelling. He is a regular in Riga and next week he will be at Lord’s to watch the second test. It was good to see the English go one up in the series with a comprehensive win. It will give that over-rated, under-talented, arrogant hypocritical f***wit Michael Clarke something to ponder. I think if I was given a gun with one bullet and asked to choose between Vlad Putin and Michael Clarke I’d have great difficulty in making a decision. I’d probably split the difference and use it on David Warner.
That about wrapped up the day. We’ll see what the weather is doing tomorrow and decide what to do. I’m keen to go to the former KGB headquarters but that obviously isn’t suitable for Zachary. There is also the Museum
of Occupation which looks good. We shall see tomorrow what we feel like doing. Sunday 12 July
A bit of a miserable morning in terms of weather. The hotel breakfast buffet was pretty good and we all filled up. Heather went for her massage while Zachary and me Skyped with Ma / Oma. I did a few jobs while Zachary watched a movie and we waited for the weather to clear.
About 10:30ish the rain looked like it was about done and we decided to head for Jūrmala
. This is a beach area about 20 km out of Riga. It looked to have a nice beach as well as a forest park with many playgrounds suitable for all ages.
We got to the Central Train Station (it took us a while to find the actual entrance) and then had to try and get tickets. We found the info for the train easily enough but no ticket machines were to be seen. Heather then found the ticket window so we headed there. Return tickets for all of us was the princely sum of €5.46 which may be the cheapest
public transport we have come across. As you can see from the photo, Riga’s trains aren’t the most modern in the world! They must be at least 50 years old. On the way there the interior was the real old-style bench seats. No information screens and the announcements were incomprehensible. To make it even trickier there were no visible signs at the train stations. I hadn’t counted the number of stops we were going like I usually do so we were relying on trying to decipher the announcements and a bit of luck. We were pretty confident we had it sussed and got out…one stop too early. As it was about half an hour to wait for another train we decided just to walk it. The walk was actually quite nice. After seeing the awful apartment buildings that dominate the city this area is clearly where the more affluent live.
We got to the Dzintari Forest Park ( the park with the playgrounds) and it was really excellent. Zachary had a great time and as a bonus there was a track set up where children could drive battery-powered cars around. We thought Zachary might be a bit
young / small but he was allowed on. €3 for 10 minutes was pretty good value. He thought he was just the bee’s knees! I kept close by but on the whole he managed very well. He just has to remember to look where he is going all the time – he got a bit focused on what was happening behind him at times. But we were very impressed with his focus and his control.
Then we headed for the beach. It was a bit cool and windy but the beach was extremely nice. One of the first things we saw was a game of beach rugby going on. Rugby is actually a very popular sport in Latvia and it was cool to see it going on. We spent a bit of time on the beach walking and playing but it wasn’t really beach weather. Having said that, there were a dozen or so people braving the water. (This was the Gulf of Riga which is part of the Baltic Sea).
After a quick ice-cream stop (there were a huge amount of ice-cream stands) Zachary had some more playtime and then we caught the
train back. The interior of this one was a bit more modern with slightly nicer (although bloody uncomfortable) seats and an electronic sign announcing which station we were coming up to. This would have been much more useful on the way to
Back in town and we headed to a place we had seen advertised called “Wok to Walk”. This was the same concept as “Wok On” in Copenhagen and we had a good meal for €9.20 for the three of us. Then it was back to the hotel for a bath for Zachary and some down time before bed.
I didn’t make it to either of the museums. There are KGB museums in all of the next three cities we are going to, so I might try and target Prague as the one to go to. Depending on how things pan out in the morning I might get a chance to pop into the Museum of Latvian Occupation for an hour when it opens at 11. We check out of the hotel at 1pm at which point we will taxi to the airport for our flight to Warsaw, Poland
. We are flying
LOT Polish Airlines which sounds dodgy but is actually supposed to be a fairly good airline. We will have to change some euros to zloty when we arrive – in fact we won’t be using euros again for a while, when we get to Athens! It looks like that situation is going to resolve itself but I’ll make sure we have a decent amount of cash on us when we arrive.
We are really just passing through Poland as our sole reason for going to that country is to visit Auschwitz
which Heather will do on Wednesday and I on Thursday. It is a bit odd / creepy / macabre maybe to say we are looking forward to going here as the experience will undoubtedly be sobering and highly emotional. However, for both of us it was probably the ONE place in Europe we felt we simply HAD to go.
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