Archive for June, 2008

I’ve Been Quoted!

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

My father came across this live journal:ozgurturna

where my “controversial” list of things you can/shouldn’t do in Riga is quoted, then commented on at length by readers of ozgurturna’s journal. It’s always interesting to find out who your own stuff reaches!

This past weekend was a LONG one, thanks to Jani. Monday and Tuesday were holidays so, naturally, there was crazy weekend traffic already at 12 noon on Friday. On Monday, my mother and I ended up going along with my cousin and her family to Pinkas, south of Ogre, for a traditional Jani. There were games, there was singing, “witch” burning, wreath burning, and of course eating and drinking. We didn’t stay the night, but were brought back to Riga by 2 A.M. I promptly fell into bed and slept until noon the next day. Tuesday was spent lazing around my apartment, eating Jani leftovers and relaxing. Wednesday I took them to *finally* see the sea; we took a train to Sloka, then walked through Kauguri to Kaugurciems, where there’s this absolutely excellent restaurant right on the beach front called Kurins. The prices are decent, the portions are gigantic, and the atmosphere is plain beachy. (No, I didn’t play hookie – I had taken a day off to spend my mother and aunt’s last day in Latvia.) After lunch we toddled back to the train station, got off at Majori and checked out some shops they wanted to look at again, then went to the sea again. Twice in one day, MADNESS. If I wasn’t so weirded-out by tours I would make a great tour guide.

Mom and aunt made it safely back to the States this afternoon.

For those following, there are 5 (five) business days and 7 (seven) days total before I get to start calling the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs to find out if they’re letting me re-enter the country in July or not.

Monday I’m thinking of spending 5 LVL for a ticket to see the closing Kremerata Baltica Festival concert in Riga. I’ve got one CD… don’t remember too much of it, but enough to make me want to listen to G. Kremers rock out live. Oh, violinists.

Documents and More

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Since last week, a considerable amount of things have gone down on this side of the world, the top two being 1) I flew to and from Tallinn to turn in those wonderful documents I’ve been collecting since September 2007 and 2) my mother, aunt, cousin and her children flew into Latvia. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget this one, but 3) we went to see Raimonds Pauls in concert on Sunday. RP!!

Tallinn the second time around was about as fun as Tallinn the first time around, though I was able to decide that it would be nice to return to the city to just walk around and be a visitor. None of this “12-hour layover” or “just here to appease bureaucracy” business. But real, walking around and enjoying my surroundings.

Prior to making it to Tallinn this past Thursday, I almost didn’t make it to Tallinn. The lines were crazy long at the airport and by the time I got to the counter it was 20 minutes before my flight was to leave (10.20 was the scheduled departure).

Woman at the counter: “Uh, don’t you have a paper ticket?”
Me: “Uh, I bought them online.”
Woman: “Alright.” *picks up phone-thing, tries to call several times without success, finally reaches someone, gives them my info, etc., etc., then looks up at me* “Did you fly to Tallinn on Monday, too?”
Me: “…No, I called on Sunday and had the ticket switched to today.”
Woman: “Hmm. Well, it says here you flew out on Monday already.”
Me: “…”
Woman: “So go to the AirBaltic counter down there *points*, have them fix it then come back to the front of the line so you don’t have to wait again.”

So I power-walk it to the AirBaltic counter, where I then got to stand for 10 minutes, my passport shaking in my hands, as this older man had a row with one of the staff behind the counter. This older man had convinced a larger group of people to let him budge back at the ticket counter line, but that didn’t help him, as he ended up with troubles as well. Troubles, apparently, that couldn’t be fixed. I GET IT, YOU’RE MAD, THERE’S NOTHING THAT CAN BE DONE. But there are *ahem* other people waiting WHO MIGHT STILL HAVE TIME.

I finally ended up with a trainee helping me, who was very nice, but didn’t know any of the right buttons to push on the keyboard and had no clue what any of the right codes were that needed to be entered. She was then joined by an older woman who immediately looked at the screen and said, “Oooh, she’s not going to make that flight.” Once it was understood that there had been an error on AirBaltic’s part (I had called 24 hours in advance to change my flight, was told everything was in order and that I would just have to show up at the ticket counter, pay a 70 LVL fine, and go about my business. The catch is that they hadn’t completed the transaction on their end; thus, their records stated I had already flown out once on the 9th), we got to work trying to find the next flights, which we did. Then the two women called over the staff member who had been argued at by the angry older man.

Women staff: “Can we give her the ticket without the fine?”
Staff guy: “Why?” *looks at me in an annoyed manner*
Me: “….”
Trainee: “There was an issue with the flight registration and now she’s missed the flight.”
Staff guy: “And?” *to me* “What time did you get in line?”
Me: “…I…don’t know?”
Women staff: “The lines are ruthless today.”
Staff guy: “So, why waive the fine?”
Me: “I DON’T CARE! My flight was supposed to be on Monday, I called Sunday and changed it today and was told everything was taken care of, just that I’d have to pay the 70 LVL fine – I came here today prepared to pay a fine. I JUST REALLY NEED TO GET TO TALLINN.”
Staff guy: *mumbles something, shrugs, and wanders away to do something else*
Older woman staff: *also kind of wanders away*
Trainee: *prints out a receipt for a ticket and hands it to me* Have a good flight.
Me: “…”
Trainee: “You can go to the ticket counter, now.”

My new flight, fine definitely NOT applied (!!) left at 12.55, which meant I actually had the chance to run up and surprise my mom, aunt, cousin and kids as they got off their plane and right before I had to run to my gate.

Tallinn itself was fine, I guess. At least it wasn’t raining. I took a taxi to the embassy, turned in my documents, took probably one of each possible brochure laid out on the tables because I was so nervous I would still be missing documents, paid them my 300 EUR and left to find the bus stop I needed to board a bus back to get to the airport.

No time for lunch, though I did stop by the shopping centre for a few minutes to see if Wayne’s Coffee there had soy milk on the menu. After standing at the counter for a few minutes of having the servers stare at me staring at the menu boards, I left. No soy milk, no tasty beverage for me.

I bought my bus ticket from a kiosk, proudly (yet eventually…) found the right bus stop and lo! there was the bus at a red light, heading for the stop located on the street. I sprinted through the under-street tunnel and up the other side, just in time to jump on the bus, stamp my ticket and sit down. There were a couple of people on board with suitcases, so SCORE! I was golden.

Until the bus pulled up to the D Terminal for ferry boats.

Yeah, I got on the bus going in the wrong direction and ended up by the flipping sea. The bus driver told me he’d be heading back to the airport, so I bought another ticket from him and sat down to wait. The driver then shooed an annoyed and very much not sober bum off the bus, took a cigarette and coffee break, then sat to wait. 15 minutes later the bus was started up again, we pulled up to the first stop by the D Terminal (at which point the drunken bum got back on the bus…) and were on our way to the airport.

Once at the airport I got to the ticket counter and once again almost didn’t make my flight. The lady checked me in and all, but then said, “Oh, but you realise that the gates are closed, now.”

Me: “As in the plane is <i>gone</i> already?”
Woman: “No, but the flight closes 30 minutes before departure.”
Me: “…please…”
Woman: “…”
Me: “…I just need to get back to Riga…”
Woman: *sighs* “Do you have any luggage?”
Me: “No!”
Woman: *makes a phone call, prints my ticket* “Gate 4.”

I booked it to the gate and had 30 seconds to spare before they announced that they were going to start boarding. I ran for no reason, really. Back at the ticket counter I was ready to ask the woman “Do you have TIME to hear my story?! Do you WANT to know everything I’ve been through just to make it to this day?!” She was smart in sparing herself.

Then tah-dah, back in Riga, just in time for the downpour and me without an umbrella.

The Raimonds Pauls & Laima Vaikule concert on Sunday was great. RP is still his maniac self on the piano (which doesn’t say much because he doesn’t at all act manic, but the guy has X years of genius in his portfolio). Andris Erglis was also there, in a completely white suit. Good singer, no comment on the choice of evening wear.

This will be another busy week. Wednesday is a curry-cook-off/tasting event, Friday is my aunt’s birthday.

Things You Cannot/Should not Do in Riga

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Let me preface this by saying that in no way are these meant to be taken 100% seriously. There are some places where I’m obviously having a bit of fun. So if something seems overly ridiculous, chance are it’s because I was writing it to be ridiculous. I live here, too, y’know.

Somewhat more extensive than originally intended, here’s a list of cannot’s and should-not’s for Riga/Latvia. The list will be modified/added on to as items are remembered, brought to my attention, or their statuses change.

1. You cannot or should not drink the tap-water, unless you KNOW the place has a filter. Ask to see the filter, or a receipt for purchase/installation of the filter if said filter is not in a clearly visible location. Even if said filter truly exists, you may want to ask for boiled water instead.

2. You should not pay the bus attendant for a single ticket with anything bigger than a 1 lat coin, unless you really really want to get back a handful of copper and the cold shoulder.

3. You cannot get a full night’s rest, unless you live somewhere surrounded by NOTHING. The people in the apartment above mine have been hammering on something starting at 8 A.M. every weekday and Sunday, since last September.

4. You cannot sit on the grass in public places. Seriously, there are signs, and you probably have to pay a hefty fine if you are caught doing so. And tourists may wonder why the grass is so pretty. FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY it is permissible to sit, sleep, stand and roll on the grass in the city parks in Riga! This offer is only good for the month of June and is a test to see whether or not the people of Latvia can “handle” the responsibilities that come with being allowed to sit on grass. I don’t know…one stray grass stain and some crazy person might snap and try to burn the mother down.

5. You cannot find a decent cup of coffee at a cafe without an all-out search or at least with insider information. Latvia is not a coffee nation. I realise there are cafe’s called “Coffee Nation”, but other than a pleasing ambiance, free 15-minute WiFi cards and good pecan pie-cake, there really isn’t much to it. Insider information: All Capuccino (K. Barona, Centrs, and right next door to Lidojosa varde) has coffee that is, by leaps and bounds, more like coffee should be. Index Cafe not only has cheap and very decent sandwiches, but also serves up a fantastic espresso shot, or anything with espresso in it. They also have a drip-coffee machine, which is, apparently, VERY RARE in Riga. Rare as in, like, it’s the only one we’ve seen.

6. You cannot get from point A to anywhere within two blocks of point A in under 20 minutes if you’re (quite literally) trapped in a motor vehicle. Your best options are to walk or bike.

7. You cannot read a single restaurant menu without laughing, especially if you are fluent in the English language and/or have a degree in literature/English/writing.

8. If you listen to the “mainstream” radio stations, you cannot go a single day without hearing music from one of the following artists at least five times and preferably doubling up on at least one of the songs: Mika, Robbie Williams, The Sugababes, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, The Backstreet Boys, Rihanna, Madonna.

9. You cannot and should not start crossing the street without looking both ways several times (that goes for any country), or start crossing the street the moment the little man turns green. Although some cars stop, the general mentality seems to be “If there are 10 or less people on the crosswalk the road’s as good as clear”.

10. You cannot win with ATMs. If you want one 10 and one 5 to make 15, you will get three 5s. If you want two 10s to make 20, you will get a 20.

11. You cannot commute to work in the morning without smelling alcohol on at least 5 people around you. You cannot go a single week without seeing a person stumbling around completely inebriated at a seemingly abnormal time of the day.

12. You cannot get a bad serving of potatoes. Anywhere.

13. You cannot “finally” get rid of all of your small change (1s and 2s) with a clear conscience because, as Murphy’s law would have it, the next time you make a cash purchase you’re going to wish you had held on to something.

14. You cannot buy alcohol after 10 P.M.

15. You cannot get home using public transportation after 12 A.M. or before 5 A.M.

16. You should not assume that, even after living in Riga for 6 months, you know how to get to your apartment by car. Because you totally don’t. You know how the BUS or the TRAM or the TROLLEY gets to your house, but not how a car might achieve the same thing.

17. Some taxi drivers will, after being told what your destination is, say “Right, so which way should I go?” and then get angry at you for telling them to go the wrong way, which only happened because you thought you knew how to get to your apartment by car. But you don’t. (ref. No. 16)

18. You cannot go a single day without running into or seeing someone you know – excluding colleagues. Even if you hide out in your apartment all day, but make a short trip to the store, you’ll probably randomly bump into someone who decided to randomly stop at the grocery store tucked away in your labyrinth of a residential community.

19. You cannot be served at the bank (or other similar places) without a numbered ticket. If you took the wrong type of ticket, it’s not their problem. If you were given the wrong type of ticket by an actual person, it’s still not their problem.

20. You cannot buy letter envelopes by the box. But you can buy them by the “packet”. I finally noticed them in a pen/pencil/stationary store I go to now and then. Problem solved.

21. You cannot get soy milk in your coffee at a cafe. If you ask for soy milk, the only response you will get is a blank stare.

22. You should not dry your laundry at a laundromat. It costs around 6 USD for one small load of laundry.

23. You cannot see a play, opera, or ballet in Riga that does not include some kind of random, psychedelic or otherwise awkward-moment dance or scene.

24. You cannot drink in public, as in sitting on a park bench sipping a bottle/can of booze. However, it seems that if said bottle/can is concealed in a paper/plastic bag, regardless of how conspicuous the concealment is or isn’t, the act is ignored.

25. You cannot attempt to take care of any bureaucratic documents or business without being sent to X number of offices, given X amount of telephone numbers to call, X amount of forms and applications to fill out. Once you have completed the aforementioned tasks, you cannot attempt to take care of the documents/business without repeating the process.

26. You should not forget to stamp (“compress”) your tram or trolley ticket. If ticket-control personnel board the tram or trolley and find that you have not compressed the ticket, you will be fined.

27. You should not cross the train tracks at any point other than the indicated crossings. If you get caught, the fine is probably around 30 lats.

28. You cannot get large, plastic grocery bags for free.

29. You cannot easily recycle plastic or glass. Most of it is just thrown away with the rest of the trash.

30. You should not dispose of still-lit cigarettes directly into metal trash bins. The trash inside WILL start on fire. I regret not having my camera with me, because it’s not every day you pass a burning metal bin.

31. If you want to have a quick meal, you should not eat at a restaurant where there is a middle-man, e.g. a server, between you and the food.

32. Even if a car is backing up slowly, you should not assume that the driver is actually looking back, looking in the rear-view mirror, or even aware that his/her vehicle is backing up.

33. You cannot leave work early on a Friday and expect to make it out of the city centre in a timely fashion because everybody else has the same plan.

34. You cannot use public restrooms for free, unless you are in a larger shopping centre where the door is not monitored very carefully.

35. When planning on using a public restroom, you should not assume that there will always be a toilet seat, a rim to the toilet, or even an actual toilet. (Most places now have normal situations, but there are the few exceptions where there’s not much to nothing)

36. You cannot buy hand sanitizer. We have yet to see it in stores.

37. You should not, absolutely SHOULD NOT piss on the Freedom Monument. If you do you are unbelievably childish and should have your passport taken away (if you are a tourist) because you obviously are incapable of respecting the culture and history of other nations. If you are a local doing so… what’s wrong with you?

38. You cannot touch the guards standing by the Monument. Or maybe it’s “you should not”. I’ve never tried or seen anyone try to do so.

39. You cannot buy/find “standard name brand” medications, such as Tylenol, Advil, Pepto-bismol, etc.

40. You cannot cross major streets in logical places because crosswalks are not logically placed along major streets.

Week of Entertainment Pt.2

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

My week of entertainment PLUS! continued. It stops at Wednesday the 28th, so don’t get too excited.

Wednesday the 21st I met up with some people in Livu laukums and saw folklore group Vilkaci perform. Figures our friend Edgars would be in the group – there seem to be very few folklore groups that he’s not a member of. It was a laid-back performance for the “grand opening” of Zelta filings, this beer-garden restaurant bar that basically changes its name every few years. The evening consisted of Vilkaci performing a few songs, then the increasingly more inebriated Host talking and then talking about how “if no one else wants to say anything theeeeeen I guess it’s back to me!” Vilkaci is the folklore group that’s supposedly known for not only singing, but also for gearing up and having old-time one-on-one combat shows. The first two guys fighting had a couple of clean rounds, finished with a truce handshake-hug. The next to guys fought like little monkeys. Swords and shields swinging all over the place, cheap shots to the head and groin. They finally went with the handshake-hug, but not before slamming each other in the helmet with the butt of their swords.

Thursday… Thursday I went and visited the relatives I had stayed with last fall (Agra & Co.), had a nice chat and some tea, then went home. It wasn’t so much a night of entertainment, but a night of unwinding with some dog-therapy included (they’ve still got Doro).

Friday I don’t remember what I did. There’s nothing written in my calendar, so there’s a good chance that Ilze, Julija and I met up like usual and decompressed after another hellish week. By decompressed I mean cocktail hour.

Saturday was Eurovision. This year I have surprisingly little to say, only that I’m a little disappointed that Dima Bilan won, considering his performance was… not really that spectacular. I’m sure the song is wonderful on its own, but how can the guy NOT be reaching for points when he has three-time Olympic figure skating champion Plushenko twirling around next to him? I have to say that Bilan’s 2005 Eurovision song was actually better than this one. Maybe next year more than four countries will get themselves in gear and put out an act that they think has a chance at winning. I have to agree with the consensus that this year’s contest was pathetic.

Who knows what happened Sunday. I think I did some work and then went to buy dish soap.

Monday nothing happened. Monday night I realised it had been a week since our dog Kimene had died and I spent my final hours awake in a crap mood.

Tuesday I once again headed out to Vienibas gatve and saw the daughter of the relatives with whom I stayed perform in the year-end recital of her music school. Another low-key and heartwarming concert, with free admission to boot :)

Wednesday was the big night for “Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat”. I’ve never seen the performance in any language before, but Julija assured us that it was exactly the same, choreography included, except the words were in Latvian. The musical was enjoyable enough and an interesting change from ballets and operas.

Week of entertainment ovah.