If you read my previous post, you’ll know that today was my first ‘blouting’ with a guy called Jānis. And yes, that really is his name.
We’d arranged to meet at 6pm as we both had stuff to do in the afternoon, and also because at 6, it’s still bright. As my good buddy ever so comfortingly put it, ‘you can see concealed axes much better with the sun’s help’.
And so, in jeans and a red jacket (to camouflage any blood stains), I started to make my way to Old Town. At around 5.50, my phone started ringing. ‘Great, here we go…’, I thought. Any time I’ve ever arranged to meet a Latvian, they’ve been anywhere between 10 minutes and 2 hours late, so you’ll forgive me for thinking that history was repeating itself. To my amazement, he was already at the designated meeting point. Gold star for punctuality.
As I rounded the corner into Rātslaukums and headed for the House of the Blackheads, I was relieved to see that there was only one guy standing by himself. The thought of approaching 20 guys and asking each one ‘Are you Jānis?’, in a country where there are almost 58,000 men of that name was a little daunting.
I approached the tall, blond, broad-shouldered young man and thankfully, things went more like this:
Me: Hi. Are you Jānis?
Jānis: Yes. Linda?
Me: Vigorous nodding
Jānis: Nice to meet you!
Me: Nice to meet you, too!
Jānis: So, let’s get started?
It turns out that when a Latvian guy says ‘I’d like to offer you an excursion in Old Riga’, he really means it. It’s not a euphemism for something else.
Small talk out of the way, we embarked on our tour. He’d brought notes and everything. A second gold star for meticulousness.
It was actually really interesting and made a change from just going to Old Town for the bar scene. I realised how much I’d forgotten in the three years I’ve lived here. When I first arrived, naturally, I read up on the city, took a guided tour and walked the length and breadth of the place.
Now, I find I’m so focused on getting somewhere by a particular time, I forget to look up, down and all around me. Some of the sculptures, and even streets, he pointed out, I’d been walking past several times a week for the last couple of years and never even noticed. Embarrassing really.
He even threw in a few quiz questions he’d obviously prepared earlier. I failed miserably at almost all of them. The only question I was able to answer in the affirmative was ‘Have you been to that bar?’
So, what did I learn? Well, basically, everywhere you walk in Riga, you’re walking on dead bodies, as cemeteries used to surround all of the cathedrals. There are even some dead bodies in the walls. (Here, I also came across the word ‘immurement’ for the first time – thank you, Google Translate.)
There are two covered streets in Riga, one of which is called ‘Virgin Street’, and is where the prostitutes hung out in olden times. Riga used to have canals everywhere, which have long since been filled in. The stories behind the most impressive buildings in Riga, the reason Tornu Kalns exists, the story of the little mouse in Dom Cathedral, and overall, more about the history of Riga than most guidebooks could ever tell you.
All in all, it was a really interesting, very different (for me) way to spend an evening, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was, however, very glad that I’d chosen to wear relatively sensible footwear and not ‘gone Latvian’. An hour and a half walking around cobbled streets is not stiletto-friendly.
Luckily, Jānis was about to earn his third gold star of the evening. For lift-giving abilities. In a rather strange coincidence, it turns out that he lives just around the corner from me so he offered to drive me home. Convinced at this stage that he was not a crazed axe-murderer, but mainly just in need of the loo (OK, I admit it, I’d had a teeny glass of wine before leaving to calm my nerves), I accepted.
Conclusion: Three gold stars for my inaugural blouting with a Latvian was beyond all expectations. Liels paldies, Jānis!