Wednesday saw the arrival of my new best friend, Anna. Long-time readers will know that Anna and I have been following each other’s blogs for a while now and have become friends through lengthy comment and email chains – mainly bonding over unreliable boys and always-reliable booze.
I met her at the airport and we taxied back to my place. I was afraid that if she got a taxi by herself, she might just turn it around again when she saw my beautiful street. But luckily, my Russian princess turned out to be not such a princess after all, and had packed enough clothes for her 6-day trip into a bag the size of my make-up bag.
First up, it was time for second breakfast at Double Coffee, overlooking the park, canal and opera house. Breakfast cocktails were also on the agenda. We Russian and Irish ladies don’t do things by halves – even at 10.30am.
Sufficiently fed and vodka-ed, we made our way to the meeting point for the 2.5 hour cultural walking tour of Riga, which I’d never done before. I highly recommend it if you’re only in town for a couple of days, as it hits all of Riga’s main sights, including the Art Nouveau district, Old Town and several parks. And, best of all, it’s free, though tips are appreciated. Even after living here for close to four years, there were still some tidbits about Riga that I didn’t know.
The weather was absolutely perfect and Anna took approximately a gazillion photos, totally charmed by Riga. She was not so charmed by the tour guide, however. The commentary went something like “Latvia is the best, Russia is evil, Latvia was the first to…, Russia is evil, Latvia is amazing, Russia is evil.” Whenever she said something unflattering about the German occupation, she apologised to the Germans on the tour. Anna got a “You have something to say me?” I was secretly hoping Anna would pulverise her but she was remarkably restrained, and limited herself to some growling and gripping of my shoulder.
After walking for almost 3 hours, we’d definitely earned a pint, so it was off to Rozengrals, Riga’s medieval bar/restaurant. I’d sent Anna a rough list of places we might go and things we might see, which she’d turned into a military-style checklist – complete with map. She then proceeded to circle each thing we managed to do. Rozengrals was on the list. Circle.
Now, as any Latvian knows, one of the things you have to do to any visitor, is torture them with the local paint-stripper, Rigas Balzams. Anna was no exception. We headed to the Black Magic café, where Balzams is almost three times more expensive than any other bar, but these things have to be done.
I could write a description of how absolutely vile the original Black Balzams is, but Anna’s reaction, in pictures, sums it up far more eloquently than I ever could…
From there, it was off to Moloney’s for a quick pint before soaking up the booze with probably the best burger I’ve had in four years’ living here – thank you, Street Burgers. After a quick trip to Ala to spy on Latvian folk dancers, Anna had had enough so we called it a night and went back to my place.
The next morning, we were up at the crack of dawn and off to Cadets de Gascogne in pretty Berga Bazars for a light breakfast of pastries, tea and Blackcurrant Balzams. When in Riga…
Then it was off to take in a couple of sights that the tour hadn’t covered, including central market. This would prove to be a mistake. It turns out that Russians love nature every bit as much as Latvians. If you ever want to see either nationality orgasm over a mushroom, take them to central market in September.
Once every goddamn mushroom, berry and flower ever picked had been photographed from every conceivable angle, we hopped on the tram to “big” Lido, so that Anna could eat her own body weight in traditional Latvian fare.
After gorging ourselves on food – and beer, it was back to THE LIST. Cocktail hour at the Skyline Bar was next on the agenda.
Unfortunately, this is where things took a bit of a nasty turn. Over the course of the two days, we got chatting to a lot of people of a lot of different nationalities. Everything would go swimmingly until Anna said that she was from Russia. Then the badgering and the abuse started. I can understand that Russia is top of most people’s minds right now and that people are curious about the Russian viewpoint; what I can’t understand is just how RUDE people can be, persisting in interrogations and accusations when it’s perfectly clear that it’s causing offence or upset. “I think Putin is worse than Hitler” is not a good way to open any sort of meaningful dialogue. Back off, people. In the end, Anna just said she was from New York. Then, she only got blamed for shooting John Lennon.
Anyway, we didn’t let it ruin the rest of her trip and after a quick bite at the ever-wonderful Flying Frog Café, we hit the bars of Old Town one last time.
Anna, thank you so much for visiting and I hope you enjoyed your time here as much as I did. Latvian Tourism Board, you’re welcome.