Archive for April, 2009

And Also:

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

And also, I’ve officially been a temporary resident of Latvia for a little over a year! This does not include the two weeks I visited the States last summer.

Sun, Japan and Enrique

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

These past few days have been nice and spring-like in Riga. Temperatures in the 20s (Celsius), lots of sun and blue skies. Friday and Saturday evening were cause for celebration, as Friday a friend of ours from London flew in for the weekend and Saturday was another friend’s, Davids, birthday. Sunday a group of us took the leftovers from Davids birthday celebration for a beach-front picnic and spent the entire day in Jurmala. The train on the way to Jurmala was fine, but on the way back, OH MY GOD. It was like being in a cattle car. You don’t know balance desperation until you’re in a train on a nice day in Latvia, clutching onto a stranger for dear life so that when the train doors slide open you don’t fall back onto your head – and at the wrong stop, no less.

 

I leave for my week vacation in Japan in a little over 48 hours. Back in February it seemed like it would never come, but, lo!, here it is! I’m really, really excited to see my friend Anna again (her parents, as well – they’re in Japan right now and will be there for the week I’m there, too). It’s been over a year at least since we’ve last seen each other, so she’s going to get mauled by yours truly. Don’t worry, I’ve warned her.

 

I’m also really excited to eat my full of rice and fish and rice and rice and more rice. And noodles. And any Japanese food, actually. I’ll apparently be just missing the cherry blossoms, but the time I will be in Japan is supposed to be a huge week of festivals (Golden Week), so I’m hoping to get some sweet pictures of kimonos, fireworks, etc. etc. I’m also contemplating packing little to nothing for the flight there, since I’ll probably end up buying 20lbs worth of chopsticks and spices. And syrupy-cute Japanese trinkets to dole out to friends. Blindfold me, stick a credit card in my hand and set me loose in a grocery store, please. Seriously.

 

I guess some people might expect culture shock when going to Japan, but I expect to have a fantastic time. Japanese classes in college certainly help, but at this point I’m ready for any type of different that is more pleasant than what the Egypt trip was. I also remember the Japanese word for “library” and hope it will get me very far. My game plan is to attempt to re-learn what I knew/know of the Japanese language on the way to Nihon. I have 11 hours. I should be a genius by the time the wheels touch down at the Narita airport.

 

Some people at work seemed concerned that I’ll be gone for a week. I keep telling them it’s just a week and that it could be worse – I could have taken the two weeks of vacation IN A ROW. Gaaaaah!! That sentence alone is a script for an R-rated horror film.

 

In a bout of pre-trip activity, Ilze, Davids and I went to the Enrique Iglesias/Henry Church/Indrikis Baznica concert in Riga last night. It turned out to be a decent time, even though some random warm-up act girl from who knows where bored us before Mr. Iglesias graced the stage and once he did show up, he only performed for 1.5 hours. But to his credit, he learned how to say “Sveiki, Riga!” (Hello, Riga!) and “Paldies!” (thank you!). One of the highlights was being able to finally identify the problem with the education system in this country. First Enrique pulls the “only guy jumping up and down to the song” on stage:

 

Enrique: What’s your name?

Man: Normunds!

Enrique: How old are you?

Man:……………

Enrique:…………..

Man: Not….old!

Enrique: Well I’m over 30. S***, 30, that’s old, huh?

Man: No! *points wildly to himself*

Enrique: You’re 30?

Man: No!

Enrique: 29?

Man:…..One *pointing downward* one…one year down!

Enrique:…28?

Man: No!…No, yes, YES!!

 

Then Enrique proceeded to learn Normunds was at the concert with his wife, the wife gets pulled on stage and they sit with Enrique for a bit while he sings. Then Enrique offers them something to drink, then suggests a shot. Of Grey Goose vodka. Both Normunds and wife wave their hands “No” in embarrassed gratitude. DUDE. If you’re on stage with Enrique Iglesias and he offers you a drink, YOU TAKE THE SHOT. Finally the wife agreed to a shot. Jeez.

 

The other winner was the 13 year old girl who got brought up on stage and had multiple panic and freak-out attacks while Enrique serenaded her “as his little sister”. Her efforts at telling him how old she was involved very spastic displays of first 10 fingers, then three. Bravo. We teach you English in Latvia, but not the numbers or counting part. MAYBE THIS IS WHY WE’RE IN THE MIDST OF AN ECONOMIC CRISIS.

 

Chew on THAT one for a while J

 

Anyway, as per usual now, no planned e-mail or Internets interaction planned during my time in Japan. And of COURSE I haven’t started packing. That’s just me.

April Showers… Or Not.

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

I realised this morning that, despite the drawn-out communication with our landlady for last month’s rent invoice, it completely skipped my mind to give her the water meter readings for March. Maybe this is why she gave me a half-disinterested look a few days ago when I said “good morning” to her. And we had been doing so well.

Spring seems to finally be here in Riga. I have to point and laugh in the general direction of Minnesota, as I heard they got a bit of snow Sunday. Streaming radio over the Internet lets me do that. Laugh at the uncontrollable weather misfortunes of others, that is. Sunday in Latvia it was around 60°F, brilliant, blinding sun and fresh air. A group of us decided to start our spring – summer treks to Majori a bit early. We took the train to Bulduri, picked up Ilze, then walked along the beach to Majori and to Sue’s Asia, which, in my opinion, has the hands-down BEST pan-Asian cuisine. The owner is from the UK (as far as I know) and of Indian decent, and serves mouth watering Indian, Thai and Chinese dishes. Unfortunately, the prices have gone up dramatically, between LVL 2 – 3. The new, high prices almost killed the joy of eating Sue’s Asia food again, but we grit our teeth and went with it. In truth, it’s mostly the Chinese cuisine that has become pricier. The Indian cuisine is still priced the same, I believe, and worst case scenario, at least the Basmati rice and naan bread are still under LVL 2 a serving.

The good part about going to gorge on this food is that you can walk back to Bulduri, save some chump change for the two extra train stops and work off whatever “bad” stuff you may have eaten. This is what makes Majori a good thing in the summer. Laze around the beach by Bulduri, and then walk to Majori for lunch or iced coffee. The exercise alone justifies anything you may find along Jomas iela, the main “strip” or “board walk” of the Majori/Dzintari area.

Of course, by the time we had all gotten back home, feet were achy and a bit blistered. Then we looked up our route on www.mapmyrun.com, only to discover that, HOLY CRAP, we had walked almost seven miles. SEVEN MILES. I told my grandmother this later that evening, adding that we had entirely “accidentally,” “Well that wasn’t very smart,” was her reply. This distance would also explain why my father was surprised when I relayed how Ilze and I had walked form Bulduri to Dzintari (where there is this amazing gated wooded area with the coolest playground ever) and then to Majori, which is somewhere around 3.5 miles. Putting that number to the walk makes it seem more daunting. More serious. But it’s not something you really think about. And yes, my hips did feel half broken the next day. That time we tried to go running along the beach resulted in a feeling of completely broken hips. Not recommended.

On the topic of running and hurting the next day, I’ve been working on getting back into running mode. A recent “addition” to our network of friends is one Rose Moon (RoseMoon! to us, just one word, exclamation mark included and mandatory), a Fulbrighter from Kansas who is teaching English at one of the high schools in Riga. The reason I introduce RoseMoon! is because we are running buddies and this fact is relevant to what I’ve been up to the past week. Which includes a lot of walking and/or running around in the fresh, almost-spring air. RoseMoon! just got back this past week from a vacation/visit in the states, where she and her fiancé tooled around Washington D.C. for around two weeks. The Friday of the week RoseMoon! had gotten back to Latvia we went running to and around Kipsala, which is the islandy bit of land between the city centre and Pardaugava – the “other” side – which I think ends up being a 4 – 5 mile round trip. We hadn’t been running in around 3 weeks, but we ran hard this time and I hurt less the next morning. We stick to the “interval principle”, which is supposedly better for you anyway. Plus we’re both out of running form. There’s a 5 k coming up some time in May and a few of us are entertaining the thought of signing up for that. I almost wish this post was 8 days ago so I could call an April Fools, just in case.

Nothing else has really changed around here, other than the fact I think it’s time to pack away the winter coats. My Japan trip comes in about three weeks, and I’ve done nothing to brush up on my year and a half of Japanese lessons. Anna, the friend I’m going to visit, said I could do so on the plane ride there. I loathe that she brought that up, but it’s true, I have 14 hours of transit and could probably relearn the language in lieu of going crazy for sitting so long. Maybe I’ll follow around the flight attendants and ask them question upon question. Mostly the phrasing “What do you call that in Japanese?” I’m sure they’ll love me. Yatta!

Doh yeah, and there hasn’t been any rain here this April. Yet.

About Luxor

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

I’ve still been having some rough patches of getting used to being back in the swing of responsible, adult life. It’s quite possible that I picked up a minor but very attached stomach bug, but after I spent some time visiting with a relative I came home and passed out until early morning and woke up feeling a bit better. Takes me back to Egypt. Ah, segues.

Luxor was more interesting for me than Cairo had been. The trip started out a bit better considering we didn’t have to leave the hotel until 4 a.m., but since 2/3 of our group had stomach issues, it wasn’t THAT much better than the Cairo bus trip. This time we were greeted by our Russian-speaking local guide at the bus. Davids goes “English?” The guide goes “…Where you from?” We say “Latvia.” He says “Ah, *incomprehensible*, pa Ruski!” We go “…No…English?” He goes: “*sigh* What are you going to do on tour?” We were just all, well, it worked fine on Tuesday, so we don’t see what difference Thursday makes. This guide was less friendly and concerned for our overall excitement than our guide, Ali, was on Tuesday, but this guide actually spent about five minutes summarising the 15 minute speech he gave our Russian tour group for each respective location. Once more, we were spared from having to listen to/understand bad or cheesy jokes.

The trip to Luxor included a tour of the Valley of the Kings, which while being very valleyish and probably kingly, was mostly a hot desert area with lots of caves. The valley itself is HUGE, and it was cool to look around at some of the more distinct rock or wall formations and imagine that a statue or monument had been started there, but left unfinished for unknown reasons. We weren’t able to take pictures of the insides of the tombs, which was hard for me to come to terms with, though I know full well why they insist on no cameras. Our tour group tickets gave us access to any of the tombs, but to only three total. We chose at least one our guide suggested and chose whatever for the other two. The hieroglyphs inside were pretty astounding – the colours had been preserved so incredibly well, even on the surfaces people could easily reach and touch if no one was looking. P.s., sarcophagi are cold and smooth.

One of the tombs we went into had been also used by crusaders as a sanctuary. There was even some Christian graffiti inside this tomb, dated A.D. something. What hooligans. Another interesting thing to see was that almost all of the faces of the Egyptian gods had been scratched off, as had been the cartouches of the buried royalty. The belief is that if you get rid of the person’s cartouche (name plate), he or she will not be able to come back in another life, end of story. The same must go for the gods. What was weird was to see that the crusaders had probably taken part in some of the defacing activities. You think that if they were so sure of their own religion, they wouldn’t be so subject to the beliefs of a people they probably considered inferior. Probably better safe than sorry.

Skip forward past the alabaster factory/shop to the Karnak Temple. MIND BLOWING. This place was by far the coolest thing I saw in Egypt (even cooler than hibiscus bushes growing like regular hedge-bushes). It probably made a difference that we could actually walk in and around the temple, touch the pillars and just take it all in. Words cannot describe, but in short it was a place I would have loved to visit during several different times of day just to see how the light changed the atmosphere. I’m still lazily uploading pictures of this trip, so to get the effect you’ll have to either check those out and have a great imagination, or just go to Luxor yourselves. And I don’t mean the Las Vegas version.