Monday, 15 August 2011

Vilnius to Riga

In which Poetic Roboticism is explained and some social flotsam washes up.
And starring Nicholaj whose name changed with independence and Rose an Olympic athlete who took part in the 1948 London Games.

My exploration of Riga was somewhat tempered by hideous weather – not namby pamby English drizzle but full on Baltic downpour for at least two of the days I was there, with cars sloshing through the flooded gutters and drenching the pedestrians. As a result I spent a lot of time sampling Latvian coffee (highly recommended) and reading and not going to castles by the sea or taking the train to the beach.

Luckily the whole of the old town is incredibly nice for strolling and staring – medieval streets and buildings and plenty of places serving excellent coffee.  At the northern end there’s an Art Nouveau district where pretty much every single building is decorated with icing sugar like embellishments.  While some of them have been renovated and repainted there are still quite a few that are vacant and crumbling. 

At lunch on the second day I shared my table with three Slovenian women who were over on a day trip from Sweden.  One of them had been an Olympic gymnast for the former Yugoslavia at the London Olympics in 1948 and told great tales of staying in a school (no post-war Olympic village) and having to drink a lot of Ovaltine. 

Zepplin Hangers

The warehouse area near the station is also interesting with a huge food market housed in three old Zepplin hangers. They were brought up the river on a barge and are now filled with cheese and fish and antique scales. 

Joined another bike tour (arriving too early this time and being sent away and told to come back) that went through the Moscow district rusting Soviet buildings and rotting timber houses. The tour included a brief stop at an exhibition in the old docks entitled Poetic Roboticism which was all about the beauty of machines.  One of the guys running the tour was an excellent example of that type of social flotsam that so often wash up on the shores of Eastern Europe.  So consistently unaware of other people and lacking the ability to hold two way conversations, they tend to take up positions of assumed authority and spend their days broadcasting their thoughts and feelings onto anyone who is unfortunate enough to be kept hostage.  I asked him what had kept him in Riga (originally from Brighton) but alas he couldn’t tell me because I’m a woman. The tour diverted to have a drink at HIS cafĂ©, down HIS favourite street, and finally culminated at HIS apartment block to see the view from HIS window.

The hostel I had booked into was called The House and it really, really was.  I was basically in the spare room of Austin and Linda’s flat.  As Linda was in Georgia for the weekend Austin was making the most of the situation by having his friends round for whiskey and red wine.  Every time I came back there was a new set of people in the living room.  On the first night we spent quite a lot of time making lists of names for Austin and Linda’s baby (due in March). Nicholaj, who has had two names, the first Russian and the second Latvian (issued at Independence) stressed the importance of the task.  On the second night I came back as late as possible and hid in my room.  On the third night I met a man whose grandfather was an officer in the Latvian army and fought against the Bolsheviks, fled from Trotsky and so forth.  He was trying to talk the owner of The House out of buying a house on the coast.

Town Hall

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