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Published: July 20th 2013
We never did get to see the view from the top as they denied me entry to the restaurant with my shorts on.
Arriving in Riga (population 706,000), after Moscow (population 10 million), is like taking off tight pants (or trousers for our British readers). You don't realize how much you are holding in until you don't need to anymore. Don't get me wrong. Moscow is interesting and worth visiting. Hearing what the people were told about the west wanting to take over the world is eye-opening. Gone are the old ladies queuing to buy bread or cabbages before they run out. The stores are modern and their shelves are full. The people like to dress up and go out and certain establishments have dress codes. Keith was denied access to the Radisson resturant wearing his below-the-knee shorts. Maybe it was the English-style shoes and socks ensemble.
It's a vibrant city with plenty to see even without viewing the endless churches and monasteries with their opulent iconostases. The attractive flower beds are not only in the city centre where tourists will see them. But it's a city with roads of ten or twelve lanes of traffic that can take a few minutes to figure out how to cross. There is a countdown on every crosswalk. With only five seconds left, the little green man breaks into a run. On major roads it's best to find the pedestrian underpasses if you don't have a death wish. Money can be a hassle. A lot of places still want cash and you don't want to carry thousands of rubles because it's not like being left with Euros, or American Dollars or even, for us, English pounds at the end of our trip that we know we will use next year (and it is thousands because 1,000 rubles are only about $32 Canadian), and there are the constant warnings about pickpockets and rightly so. One Australian on our river boat cruise was targeted twice in two days before she joined the boat with not so much as a passport or credit card left to her name.
But only after we had left Moscow, on a very comfortable overnight train, and arrived in the capital of Latvia, did we realize how much more relaxed we felt. Unfortunately we reached the Russian border about 4:30 a.m. and the Latvian border about 4:45 a.m. and the Latvian customs officer reached our carriage at about 4:55 a.m. so Keith got dressed and undressed several times during the early hours but our coach was spacious (as they go) and equipped with DVD's and CD's, and free cups of tea and coffee and we do enjoy travelling by train.
So here we are in Riga, with a population under one million, and Keith is relieved to find himself somewhere where a decent glass of wine is not astronomically expensive: no wonder the Russians stick to Vodka. In fact, in medieval Riga wine was used as a means of payment in business as well as a token of honour and benevolence. No wonder we feel more at home here.
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