Snowmen in the park
No thanks to Russian immigration officials, I've made it to Riga... after an anxioius wait in a small room while my passport and immigration card disappeared somewhere in St Petersburg airport with a scary looking uniformed man who was clearly unhappy about something. With no (English) explanation it was eventually returned to me along with a lot of Russian verbosity. From what I can work out, it wasn't a great idea to have registered with two hotels on the same night (Grand and Pushka) when my invitation letter and visa paperwork only mentionned one of them. Jeepers. Add to that the bed bugs itching me like crazy and an unpleasant bout of gastro from some dodgy meatballs in St Petersburg on New Year's Eve and I'm a bit of a grouch!
But, Riga is beautiful.
It's small, clean, and a blanket of fresh, soft, snow is covering everything including me... although St Petersburg was grand, it wasn't really very 'pretty'- but I'm in love with Riga. The city began in 1201 and a surprising number of buildings have survived the centuries despite heavy damage in the wars. The Lativian people have had a rough time with occupation by the Russians, the Germans, then the Russians again - but now they're a strong, thriving community and the city shows that. The city is a hot favourite for UK stag parties, but if you look past the drunken Brits it's perfect.
I spent most of the morning being a total clown in the park across the road from the hotel - having woken up to a curtain of snow outside my window I couldn't resist being about 3 years old and playing in the snow like a git.
St Peter's Church
I made snowballs and threw them at trees, pretended the park was a cross country ski field (and managed to fall over despite not actually wearing skis), wrote messages in the snow, and generally made a fool of myself. I was very excited to come across a bunch of equally ridiculous French tourists doing the same thing!
After a hot shower, a change of clothes, and some coffee I did the tourist thing and saw the old town, churches, markets, and shops and found a fantastic map shop where I bought a huge German map of the Baltic states. The most bizarre thing happened to me at the markets today - I was standing outside just looking at the massive ex-WW2 aircraft hangers that it's held in, when a middle-aged Latvian man came up to me and started jabbering away in Latvian.
Riga Old Town
He had a basket with him with two tiny, absolutely gorgeous puppies in it that couldn't have been more than a few days old. I got the feeling he was trying to sell them to me and I was trying my best to get a word in and explain why I couldn't take them when he suddenly pulled both of the puppies out of the basket and put them in my arms as I was gesticulating wildly trying to say 'no'! So there I was, standing in the middle of Riga with two puppies in my arms wondering what on earth to do with them. Just as I was contemplating the discussion I'd be having with Australian quarantine officials (let alone British Airways) an older woman who'd been watching the whole thing ran up to me, said something in Latvian, I did my best hapless 'I'm-just-a-dumb-tourist' look, and she ran off to grab the puppy-dumping man.
View from St Peter's Church tower
They both returned, he gave me the basket with the blanket and then tried to leave again! After much backwards and forwards discussion in Latvian between the man and woman (with me continuing my blank stare whilst trying to stop the pups from freezing in the snow), the woman took the puppies, put them in the basket, gave it back to the man, and they both walked off. I'm still completely clueless as to what just happened...
Tonight I've been out to the Riga Dome Cathedral for an organ concert on one of the world's biggest pipe organs - it's got 6718 pipes from 13mm to 10m and I think the Peer Gynt suite tonight probably used every single one by the sound of it.
Fortunately the itching has stopped- but the gastro has not, and I'm still pretty seedy... early to bed and hope for more snow tonight :-)