Sunday 19 April 2020

2014 Riga

6.7.14 Riga

So, here again, a mere 17 years after the last entry in this notebook.  Of course, I've travelled widely thanks to work – to New Zealand, Brazil, much of Europe (Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Spain) but it's not the same: there the outside world is an image, incidental.  Travelling is about making that narrative the central one.

And so, old as I am, I rose at 3am today, taxi to Stansted (well, age has its privileges), 6.45am Ryanair flight to Riga – full, of Latvians judging by the applause when the plane landed safely…  The bus #22 from the airport, after buying a 24-hour ticket.  Struck by how much Russian was spoken – and how aggressive the customs were, asking if I were from Moscow, but uninterested when I said "London".

Lots of Russians in Riga – also lots of flash Lithuanian cars (as well as Russian and Ukrainian ones).  Today is Sunday, so the main people out are tourists – Germans, Russians.  Now in Black Cat restaurant – a lot of good Latvian food – soup, then farmer's porridge.  Weather hot, but sky covered, so no beating sun.  Very interesting food: potato soup, quite watery; porridge, with potatoes and bacon – very filling – and Latvian pudding – ice cream, jam, brown bread – rich but nice.  Still very quiet.

Spent this afternoon walking – Riga is very walkable, with the old town compact.  Inevitably reminds me a lot of Prague, plus bits of Copenhagen and Vilnius.  Very hot – the drains giving out their characteristic malodorous smell.  Went down to the river, which is very broad – it's close to the sea, but rather dull.  The main suspended bridge impressive – looks like a Sumerian harp.  Had a big cappuccino near the main church.  Unfortunately, the weather forecast for tomorrow and Tuesday not wonderful – strong downpours.  But seems very changeable, so we shall see…

7.7.14 Riga

Hot.  Very hot – they say 30ºC with thunderstorms to follow.  Earlier, cool morning, light sunshine – great walking weather.  To the cathedral, with its organ being restored, plain interior, and atmospheric cloisters.  To the station – always one of the my favourite places in a city.  Riga's cool and attractive – trains to Moscow and St. Petersburg…  Struck again by how much Russian there is, especially in newspapers and DVD shops.  Hoping to eat in a Georgian restaurant today.  It was a long way out.  And I walked past it the first time.  And it was closed on a Monday…

So, another long walk back to the centre.  I ended up in Lido Dzirnavas.  Confusing at first – it was a self-service buffet; it felt very authentic, full of Rigans dashing in and out rapidly.  No tourists here (well, apart from me).  Then along to the National Gallery, one of the few open on a Monday.  Even though 2014 is the year Riga is cultural capital of Europe, the museum is closed for restructuring – what bad planning.  So down to the canal running through the park.  Cool breeze here, but big fluffy clouds piling up – storms on their way.

Oddly, there is harpsichord music playing in this restaurant (Key to Riga), which clashes with the bass guitar from around the corner.  Spent the afternoon wandering.  Perhaps most interesting place was central market – huge, a throwback to Soviet times, I imagine.  Very atmospheric.  Russian TV on the screen in the restaurant, with Latvian subtitles… Baroque violin on the speakers.  Alas, restaurant a total rip-off.  Bread alone cost 4.80 euros, selection of cheeses limited and unappetising.  Do not recommend…

8.7.14 Riga

Finally made it to the Georgian restaurant, taking the #11 tram (much easier).  Spent most of this morning in bookshops.  Inevitably bought a Latvian language course – with a twist, since the main language of the text is Russian.  Shows nicely the cognates…  Have ordered at Aragats restaurant: pickled vegetables, pkhali (bean and walnut pate), aubergine with cheese (Armenian, actually), kharcho soup – beef, rice, sour plums, vegetables and puri – warm, thick bread.  Some puds look nice too…  Also thrown in a Masuro: "Armenian wild rose syrup, soda lime, mint leaves".  Sounds wild.  Weird feelings here: I couldn't remember where I was – felt like I was in the Caucasus – if only… next time, perhaps.  Pickled veg didn't come – just as well, already full.  Now trying Georgian sorbet, and coffee parvana – with ginger and sesame. Interesting…

Finally managed to find a gallery that was open.  In the old (?) Birzha – Stock Exchange.  A variety of exhibitions – Italian renaissance drawings, Asian art (amazing nobleman's coat from China), 18th, 19th century Western art, and to finish, Latvian art from 19th and 20th century.  Sitting in front of the Gauja Valley, by Julijs Feders.  Very atmospheric, real sense of vast landscape, of the possibility of travel.

At Riga airport, ridiculously early – I was the only one passing through security, and the only one in Costa (sic).  Now filled out, but nice relaxed end-of-day atmosphere – not least because sun is still high in the sky.  Classic rock on the speakers – rather nice chilled-out feel… Looking at my Latvian language book, really looks good – not least because I can practise Russian at the same time.

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