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Michael’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 19 Mar 2008

Location: Riga, Latvia

MapAfter a little less than an hour in the doctors, Potter rang me and I headed back there to meet him. Not knowing how long it was going to take he told me to go and wander which I did. We met at the Hotel Latvia, mainly because we decided we'd got up to the Skyline Bar on the 26th floor and have a drink there. First thing though, I waited for Potter to take his steroids and rub the lotion on his skin in the Hotel bathroom... must have been an interesting site for the upper class hotel residents to see!

We jumped into the elevator and ascended the 26th floors, looking out the glass over the city. Unfortunately when we arrived at the bar entrance we found that it didn't open until 3 pm, about and hour away. Instead we descended and decided to wander around the old Russian area of the city. A lot of it had built up and now consisted of plenty of office blocks with boutique shops on the ground floor. We wandered past the Orthodox Cathedral, and the Vermanes Park. We were quickly getting further away from the Skyline Bar, not lost, but not knowing where we were headed. We figured that given we were hoping to get to the Bobsleigh track the following day that we should probably do a bit of sight seeing in case we ran out of time later. Eventually we had wandered all the way back to the Douglas River, around the heart of the city rather than through the Old Town. We wandered around the Russian markets which are held in and around the six or so old Nazi zeppelin hangars that are still there sitting alongside the river. I'm sure there were probably plenty of bargains there, but aside from trying on a couple pairs of aviators, we didn't look that hard at anything.

As the markets were next to the bus terminal, we figured it would probably be a good idea to check what time the busses were leaving on the Friday to Riga, particularly as it was Good Friday, and we feared a reduced schedule. In the end it sounded lucky that we did with many of the afternoon and evening busses have only 5-10 seats left, and this was on Wednesday avo. We booked the last bus, the 1900, just in case we couldn't get a bobsled run in on the Thursday, we'd have time to do a run on the Friday.

From there we wandered back in the general direction of the Hotel Latvia, wandering past impressive looking buildings, and through a big looking shopping complex. Inside we realised, and were disappointed to find, that it was only a train station! Some time just after 4 pm we arrived back at the Skyline Bar - apparently that was getting late! All of the seats looking east back towards the Old Town and the majority of the city, and the Daugava River were already taken, so we were sat looking west out towards the suburbs. As it would happen, the 3+ hour session drinking cocktails and beers up there would mean that there was opportunity to switch to the east looking side of the bar later, where we would remain as the sun set and the city descended into night.

Some time around 730 we headed back out onto the street and towards the Old Town. We wandered down the main boulevard, with all of it's trees clipped bare for the winter which was rather striking. Then we came across the Freedom Monument, the price of Riga. During Soviet rule it was illegal to place flowers at the base of the monument, and yet people still did... as with all things Soviet, a quick exile into Siberia was the punishment for those caught... or worse. These days’ British tourists have a habit of using it as a lavatory, and on average one a month is busted pissing on the thing. The Latvian's fed up with the law only allowing them to impose a £50 fine decided that 5 days in jail for the most recent guy caught might get the word out there that it is not cool. I informed the tiny bladdered Potter and he duly walked past it...

In the Old Town we ducked into another small pub and asked for "two beers, thanks". With that the guys knew we were Aussies somehow and we chatted to him for a minute before finishing our beers and moving on. Afterwards we headed for dinner to the local restaurant chain Lido. It is a buffet style restaurant, with each different dish having a price, and you just pick and choose what you want and then pay for it all at the counter. The grilled salmon was incredible, and I went back for a second helping, and the chicken schnitzels not too bad - a bit small and greasy, but edible. Apparently it is a very popular restaurant, and there is one venue about 15 minutes out of the city that is supposedly
HUGE, and attached to the Eesti ethnographic museum, and some sort of children's fun park. I can see why it is popular though, great hearty meals, nice and cheap.

We headed back to the hostel by 930, looking forward to heading out on the town at 11 with the 'tour' to Pulkvedim neviens neraksta or in English, No-one Writes to the Colonel. In the end we waited till about 12, chatting with everyone, and drinking beer, in the hostels bar. Potter, feeling the effects of an afternoons drinking at the Skyline Bar, and perhaps the steroids(!), decided it would be a safer option to drink Bacardi Breezer's as they went down easier... which just meant faster! Having said that, in the space of just a few hours the swelling, scabbing and redness in his face had dropped incredibly. I guess he was right about knowing that all he needed was some strong steroids.

Anyway, we finally head to Pulkvedis which was one hell of a hot sweaty place! Upstairs was a very industrious looking bar, with steel work all over the place including ramps over gaps in the floor, metal stools and a crazy steel DJ booth. We sat with Frank for a bit and had a beer with him, finding out about the hostel. Then we chatted with the Albury lads before heading into the downstairs bar with the locals. My god, it was even hotter down there, in what must have been some sort of converted bomb shelter. The walls were clad with pink fur and the R&B & hip-hop was banging out hard. It turned into a ‘rather large’ night with Potter running amok with the locals and we eventually packed it in and ended up back in the hostel bar around 5am. Somehow Potter thought it would be an awesome idea to do some Breezer strawpeedo’s with all the Irish peeps we’d met when we got there… as a result the following morning (well, afternoon) hurt more than you could imagine.

More Riga later....