05.02.2010 - 07.02.2010 -10 °C
Press play for Regurgitator's 2 minute take on the baltics.
My last day in Lithuania began in the main public park in town, Vingis park. It was a nice stroll to the opposite side of town to where I spent the previous day. The snow-blanketed park was deserted. I wandered through trails of various size and also went off-piste bravely walking on the frozen Negris river. This abruptly came to an end where I saw some footprints followed by a person sized whole in the ice. The cracking sound was starting to annoy me anyways. Made my way around to the botanic gardens and passed a rugby field and a soccer pitch. Then I hit a huge clearing with a weird shell structure, which I later found was a concert venue. Decided to make my own path across it, but was stuffed when I got to the middle and it was almost upto my waist, had to keep going. On my way out of the park was deafened by some woodpeckers and also spotted a squirrel. Walked back through more residential area and continued to be surprised by the amount of Lukoil petrol stations. Statoil pretty much had all the others. Returned just at the sun was calling it a day. Appreciated some English-language TV (absent in Nagoya) before heading out later. Also polish Viva was good for a laugh. I went down to the lobby to meet a Lithuanian friend of a friend where I was soon whisked away to a waiting taxi in which was also his jovial girlfriend. We were quickly at a nice little steak house down in the old town where I devoured a great piece of meat which was my first proper meal in ages. I was also reacquainted with the most well known local beer, Syvturas, which I had had before courtesy of Dan Murphy’s. It was good to get the real lowdown on the country from locals, who comprehensively answered all my random questions. Next stop was the Tamsta rock club I had noticed on my previous explorings in the old town where they were holding a charity gig for Haiti. I gave my donation to the red cross to get in and found the place was packed, which was surprising for so early on a weeknight. I later found out they raised about AU$2000 on the night which is a pretty good effort! The local bands that played were pretty good, but the setup up with half chairs and tables and half standing, gave the place a weird atmosphere. Sank some more syvturas and was amused by the bong-looking beer towers, kinda like a yard glass with a tap, being brought out to the tables at a cracking pace. After a while it was time to move on to somewhere quieter where we could talk. It took me a while to get used to cloaking at every venue on a night out again. We walked down to what was expected to be a jazz club to find it blaring hippity hop to an audience of 3 or so people. Instead we went to the cool semi cave like Bix bar playing indie/rock tunes where we remained until closing time, which was thankfully much later than at home. Regardless it came round all of sudden and we were the last ones to leave. My hosts took care of me superbly and I was saying farewell back at my hotel in no time. I had a fantastic time with my new Lithuanian friends and wished I could have stayed longer in this cool country. I really hope to see them again either in Europe or in Australia soon.
The next day was a very late start to complement the late night. It was pretty much straight to the bus station which was conveniently adjacent to the nearby main train station. Luckily I checked the website as the timetable had moved an hour earlier from when I booked online. When the bus rocked up it was a much lower quality one than originally booked aswell, great communication guys. Disappointing as this was at least it wasn’t full, as I hate bus trips at the best of times. Please Baltics get your intercity passenger rail links together. The trip was slow on a one lane highway for most of the trip crammed with trucks, and was capped off with a lengthy border stop; despite being in the schengen zone I was perplexed. Another passenger had to be taken off and interviewed for half an hour before we could continue. We still managed to make it into Riga just on time to the midst of Friday night peak hour. The sweeping flat fields of snow where replaced with a large city on a wide river that seemed to come out of nowhere, or maybe I just fell asleep along the way. My accommodation was through the hangars of the central market which was filled with an amazing variety of produce and merchandise of the legal and not so legal variety. This place is a step up from the last joint and even cheaper, go figure. Weird window shutters in place of curtains but at last I wasn’t next to any noisy lifts this time. Went out to firstly change money, which took ages, as apparently it’s what all the cool Latvian kids also do on Friday nights. The valuation of the currency is unusual in that most things cost cents not whole units (Lats). Dunno if they recently knocked some zeroes off it or something? Supermarket dinner to compensate for the previous nights extravagance and decided to make it exciting and take advantage of the huge amount of Russian goods (probably 50%) on the shelves. Due to my lack of Cyrillic reading skills I cant tell you exactly what I ate but it tasted OK and was cheap. Onto the important stuff, saw my first Australian bar of the trip and what a doozy it was. Called “Bumberang” it was a massive bummer, but at least there was very little mention of fosters in this underground hole. Also found a place called Steam, which is apparently all powered by steam. It billed itself as a” futuristic night venue” but instead looked like they had bought all the left over props/sets from the 90’s Will Smith movie the Wild West.
Commenced with a decent buffet at the hotel pub, the Baltic pancakes were a big hit. Then hit the streets, crossing through the large central station to the old part of town. Full of a combination of architectural styles it was interesting to compare against the hillier, smaller and more cohesive Vilnius version. It was nice to have the streets pretty much to myself due to the area being subject to a congestion tax, which could be paid via SMS. Also there were surprisingly few other tourists around. I expected that during the week, but thought people would take weekend visits bring a ryanair hub and all. Anyways this allowed me to have Hesburger all to myself at lunch, it’s the Finnish version of Quick (which is the French answer to le macdo) with dill being the answer to everything, which I totally agree with. The variety of languages around confuses me greatly at times, with probably half the people speaking Russian, another large chunk Latvian and then there are visitors from other Baltic states as well. The Russian influence here is immense compared to Lithuania, for example the Stalinist-style academy of sciences building is exactly like the ministry of culture building in Warsaw, just a bit shorter. Though there are a lot of German art-nouveau inspired buildings the Russian standard designs are even more plentiful. One of the bridges is also the same as the main one the soviets built to cross the Danube in Bratislava. All the Russian I learned from all the 60’s bond movies is finally coming in handy here, as I figure I’ve got a better chance getting by with that than Latvian. The city is biggest in the baltics, and reflects the highly central urbanised nature of the country. I was impressed by the Riga castle, where the current president resides, which also manages to squeeze enough space to also be the home of two museums. No photos today as the weather was brilliant, the first blue sunny skies for some times. This caused the temperature to be chillier than previously, the high was -10. Tonight just chilling enjoying the worlds greatest tv channel, deutsch mtv.