What You Risk Reveals What You Value #5: Riga II – Riga, Latvia

5: In Riga, II
I had a great night’s sleep in my expensive bed and breakfast. I could feel the air coming in through the big whole in my pocket from paying for this.

I was to meet Karyn at 7:15am, this was too early for the breakfast that came with the room. Great. So, I went to the kitchen to make myself some coffee. Good, there’s hot water already. I see a coffee press and two bottles of coffee grains that say, “mocha press.” I have never used one of those coffee presses before. One bottle had smaller grounds and the other had bigger grounds. I assume the one that had bigger grounds was for the coffee press. So the smaller grounds must be for instant coffee. So, I poured some water in my cup, put some sugar and fished around the refrigerator for cream. Ah, cream. I sat in the kitchen and felt like I was home for a few minutes.

Off I go to meet Karyn. Unfortunately, I can’t leave my bags at the bed and breakfast for the day so, I will have to leave it in one of the lockers at the train station. No problem. I have Karyn with me. She’ll take care of me.

So, we wheel my backpack (yes, I purchased one with wheels and I’m so glad I did!) to the train station. Karyn has never used one of those luggage lockers before. It looks a bit complicated. So, she asked the man how it worked. All this time, I was thinking, “How in the world would I have managed in this situation without Karyn?” That question would not be answered in Latvia but maybe when I am in Poland or the Czech Republic. The man in charge of the lockers didn’t speak English. Anyway, I guess you dial your own combination using the dials on the back of the locker door, enter the token given to you (how the heck would I have known to ask for a token?) and then push the door closed.

Looks easy enough. So, we’re on our way.

We wait for the train and we are out in the open, just some benches and we sit there looking straight out into the rails. It reminded me of a movie of the Soviet era. I saw a big sign that said “Buffet” in Latvian, I think. I asked Karyn if they serve buffets in the train station and she said that sign was from the Soviet era and they chose to just leave it. The Riga train station is very nice, just like IYP says. Very modern with lots of shops and stands.

The train itself wasn’t new at all. It was bit slow. We got to Segulda in an hour and 30 minutes.

I was thankful that I knew Karyn because this would probably be the only part of the trip where I will be able to see the area from a local’s point of view. I picked Karyn’s brain a lot that day. Asking her about life in Latvia. Karyn is from an educated and affluent class. I don’t exactly know how wealthy her family is because she has paid her way since she left her house. She does not depend on her parents for money at all. But they live in a nice area and her parents are very successful. She is currently pursuing her Masters at the University in Riga. This is interesting because her views will be totally different from someone who is poor.

Karyn likes living in Latvia but doesn’t care for Riga too much. She lives in a city on the Baltic Sea called Ventspils. If I had time, I would have wanted to go and meet her family, but as it was, I was spending the most days in Latvia than any country in my trip!

I learned a lot of interesting things about their culture and traditions, things that guidebooks wouldn’t mention. If they did, guidebooks would be as thick as encyclopedias.

Some of the things I learned from Karyn: Latvians celebrate St. John’s Day. It’s as big as Christmas. People wear wreaths made from 14 herbs. Lots of food and festivities. Christmas to them is similar to Christmas in the Philippines. There is caroling at people’s houses. Carolers are given wine and cheese for their performance and it is not uncommon to wear costumes during Christmas.

We arrive in Segulda and immediately, I like the town. It’s a very small town of 100 people and seeing it relaxes me. We walk around to get some water and food for our picnic. Karyn has a cousin who works in the store. We see her and she talks to her for a while. We get our cheese and bread and off we go. Karyn raved about this black bread that she eats. She said it was very popular in Latvia. So, that’s what we bought.

From Segulda, we talked to Tureidas, another little town that housed a castle/fort and a museum. We toured the museum and learned about the early settlers of Latvia. Because there weren’t a lot of documents regarding early settlers, theories change all the time. Interesting. I guess people didn’t write much then and that makes it tougher to figure out things. We also walked around the parks and came upon Tureidas Rose gravesite 1601-1620. Karyn told me the story about Rose who fell in love with her gardener. However, a member of the royal family wanted her for himself. The Prince tricked Rose into meeting him in a cave in Tureidas where she normally would meet her gardener lover. When they met in the cave, the Prince told her that if she must be his or he would cut her head off. Rose was wearing a scarf around her neck that her gardener gave to her. She said that the scarf had wonderful powers and it would save her.

Well, the Prince cut her head off and the scarf didn’t help her. I didn’t think so, but I waited to listen to the end of the story anyway. At least the story ended up realistically. I can’t imagine her escaping the axe due to her scarf. But the reason for Tureidas Rose being famous was that she was willing to die than not be with her lover. The place is very popular for wedding pictures. It is a nice little site.

We went and visited some of the natural caves in Latvia. Apparently, there aren’t a lot left. These caves were very interesting in that everyone since the beginning of time that has been there has carved their name on the cave. If you look at the walls (I took a picture of it), you can see carved names from 1901 and in the 1800’s. Boy, these people 100 years ago thought like we did. So and so was here, the carving said. Very interesting.

Karyn talked to me about some ancient Latvian writings called Daenas. There was this man who devoted most of his life writing the Daenas that he gets from the locals. Daenas are short poem types that have four lines. The four lines may seem simple but they have a whole other meaning behind it. Daenas tell you how to eat, live, make love, etc. I was told that this is how Latvians kept information from the Soviets. The Soviets couldn’t figure them out because they are somewhat cryptic but they mean something to Latvians. I tried to copy one down but never got to it.

We stopped at a grassy area to have a little picnic. It was nice and warm and Karyn and I talked some more.

We hiked back up and I was beginning to feel the pain in my legs. I thought I was in good shape but apparently not. I was trying to calculate how long I had been walking and I want to say 10 miles because it sure felt that way but there’s no way to tell. We got back to Segulda, and took the train back to Riga.

We collected my backpack and we walked around the central market. We weren’t in the shopping mood so we basically just walked around. We did get some chocolate for me, since I had to try Latvian chocolate. Postcards too were a must.

Back in Old Town, we decided to have dinner. I told Karyn that it was my treat since she had paid for most of my way while I was in town. What a wonderful host, the whole time I was thinking. She really is an amazing girl. The sad thing is, back when I was 23, her age, I thought nothing like her. I just was in my own little world, not concerned at all about what was happening anywhere else.

Anyway, she chose the restaurant called The Garlic Restaurant (in Latvian). Had a nice dinner and nice conversation. It was such a delight to talk to Karyn, for one, because she can speak perfect English. After two days with her, I thought, I’m ready to not speak again. I thought that I was all talked out.

Dinner was excellent. I had angel hair pasta with salmon and a garlic cream sauce. I know it’s not Latvian, but Karyn chose it and she’s Latvian, so that’s Latvian enough for me! Karyn had a salmon filet dish that was good as well, according to her. I didn’t get to taste any Latvian beer so, I made a mental note to try it the next day.

After dinner, we took the bus back to her place. It was a nice 30 minute bus ride. In the bus, she sort of prepared me for how her place looked. She said that her room was small and the landlords keep a lot of crap around the house and they don’t clean up the place. That didn’t sound too bad to me since I can pretty much tolerate anything.

I was in for a very, very, big surprise. Where Karyn lives is in a not so glamorous part of town. The house is worn, lots of junk, including a car that does not work. It is dirty and I think part of the dirty look is because it is an old house too. We went up the narrow steep stairs to her bedroom and I walked in to a very cool little room. Yes it was small but she had painted her floor forest green and the trim bright yellow. She is very neat, and clean and her room was so welcoming. I immediately liked it. I could stay in her room forever, but the rest of the house, well…let’s just say, I spent the littlest amount of time possible.

The shower/sink – well, first of all, Karyn informs me they don’t heat the water in the summer, so my shower was very short, to say the least. But what’s funny about the shower area is it’s location. You go into what looks to be the main entrance to the house. In front of the front door is another door to a bedroom. To the right is another door to another room. To the left is sort of a makeshift bath. There is a claw foot tub and a sink and to cover the area, a curtain. The windows have two types of curtains, one that you can see-through and a thicker one that you can draw when you are going to take a shower. I thought I was playing house in a way but Karyn was right, it was very dirty and messy. I’m sure I could get used to it, but for now, I will enjoy the experience and move on. I needed to see this side of Latvia. There are people who live this way and this was exactly what I wanted to see.

After showering, Karyn and I exchanged some presents that we bought for each other. Again, I didn’t expect any more from her after everything she did which was so much already. But she gave me some Amber, some more Latvian chocolate and Latvian music on CD. I especially was excited about the CD because I love music and this is one way I like to remember a place by.

Before going to sleep, I told her about my two bug bites from the night before, hoping I did’t get anymore. I should keep a tally though, just in case. Baltic Bites = 2.

I was soooo beat from all that walking that I easily fell asleep. What a wonderful day today was.