Last night there was a performance art show happening in the courtyard in front of our house. It was amazing. We’ve watched two people on rollerblades wearing morph suits egging and dry humping each other. They weren’t skilled rollerbladers and kept falling over (but being true performers, they worked that into their act). That was followed by a theatrical wonderland of (I think ) ‘Propaganda as Art’. It involved flour, paint, a woman having her clothes ripped off, a few aerosol cans being lit, a guy on a loudspeaker, and a dude playing the guitar with a cello bow. It ended with some industrial fireworks being set of fire in a very small space, with lots of echo! They started a small fire in the garden (of course) which meant multiple buckets of water to put out. Impressive. I couldn’t have scripted anything more perfect.
I knew it was going to be interesting by the soundcheck earlier in the day. It was capped by an old Latvian lady hanging out her upstairs window yelling (presumably insults).
No way would I have predicted this on our trip. THIS is why it’s awesome. You never know what’s around the corner. We did know that the refurbishment of the bar in the front of us was happening at a feverish pace, but we had no idea why. It was rushed due to this performance as they were the hosts of the event.
It’s finally starting to feel real this trip and it’s everything I hoped it would be! We’ve been in Latvia 2 weeks now, and although yesterday we went to the ‘Russian district’ where I felt out of my depth again (in terms of communication), it mostly feels ‘normal’. Normal in the sense that I know that it will be reasonably ok to buy food from the ‘Bun lady’, the ‘Egg lady’ and the ‘Grumpy veggie lady’ and then there’s the ‘Honey lady’ who sang us a song in English, and told us her story. Honey Lady is 76 and in the 1970’s she taught 6 and 7 year olds English. Well at least that’s my version of her story. Nat thought she said that she’s in her 70’s and is studying towards an English degree and her English is at level of a 6 or 7 year old. Whatever the real story, it was wonderful to get a genuine smile. and a song. Latvian’s pride themselves on their singing, but we haven’t heard any spontaneous singing (apart form buskers).
We’ve figured out that it’s actually pretty hard to get lost when you’ve studied bus and tram numbers (Bus 21 and Tram 2 drops us off about a 3 minute walk to our front door). Yesterday we tried to see where the trams would take us, we wanted to get lost. However, we got on the #4 tram and ended up heading back towards our house. We finally found Tram #7 which took us south east in the direction of Belarus (no, we didn’t go to Belarus, that’s about 4 hours away). We ended up at a mall that reminded me of Hunters Corner in Auckland.
Just so you know, I don’t feel so bummed about missing out on going to Russia now. Riga is very much influenced by Russia. You see the old ‘babushka’ ladies in their headscarves, we have the Soviet Monument down the street and I’m still learning if someone is speaking to me in Latvian or in Russian. I have figured out that the Russian’s I’ve dealt with tend to roll their eyes at you when they realise you can’t speak Russian, and I reckon they turn it into a bit of a game to make it as difficult as possible. The Latvian’s (although they never smile) are more willing to switch to English for you.
You may have picked up on the comments about smiling. Latvian’s do not smile! I’m serious. They don’t smile. At. All. You can tell the Mormon missionaries a mile away because they smile at you and try and engage. Which makes them automatic ‘weirdoes’. They should have some cultural training before they come.
Latvian’s hate it when you block their path – especially with backpacks or kids. The double whammy of kids wearing backpacks give most of the bus riders and supermarket shoppers a heart attack. Which means the babushkas bring out their best Russian (or is it Latvian) muttering and grumbling. So be warned if you come here, watch the backpacks! Our way of dealing with it? Ignore it, since we have to fill our backpacks with food and get it home somehow.
Everyone sweeps and I have a theory. Since they have to shovel snow in the winter (I assume), they get into the habit. Therefore, they need to do something in the spring/summer, plus it must feel pretty amazing to stand outside and just push some leaves and dust around rather than putting the effort into moving snow.
The buildings here seem to look like they should be condemned. I remember looking on Google earth (after booking our Air BnB) and thinking “what have I done?” Now I realise there’s a different architecture for different neighbourhoods. There is ‘Old Town’ which is tourist central so all the buildings are immaculate and restored, then there’s the rich ‘outer layer’ (like in Oslo), where stand alone houses are outside the central city. That leaves two other options, the ‘Russian Blocks’ which are grey concrete crumbling (mostly) apartment blocks 5-6 stories high, and finally our neighbourhood (which is very cool and a fantastic location for public transport). The buildings here are historic buildings 100+ years old all made of wood or brick and some with a plaster ‘coating’. What seems to happen is this plaster coating crumbles away and isn’t fixed (wages are low so there’s no money to fix them). If a building burns it just sits there. If there’s graffiti, it stays because who has the money to clean it? But can I just say the graffiti is awesome, it’s truly art (Sam you’d love it!).
Yes there’s graffiti, broken windows, and a very intimidating atmosphere… at first. But then I noticed something. The windows. It’s weird, but you can tell a crap hole building to a building that’s probably awesome on the inside by their windows. If their windows have been upgraded, then it’s what I’ve deemed a ‘good building’, if the windows haven’t been, then.. nah I wouldn’t want to live there. Our neighbourhood, even though it looks dodgy have mostly great windows. Also you often can’t sen the beautiful buildings because they are tucked away behind the dodgy front houses. So keep that in mind when you come here.
There’s nothing much in NZ that I can compare our neighbourhood too. Feel free to comment if you can, but I can’t think of one. Our neighbourhood is kinda trendy, but it’s not at all. It’s the old part of town, but not in a classic ‘old villa’s done up’. It has some modern shops, but then you have the 100 year old market.
One of the other things that confused me and made me think we were in a dodgy area, were how many doors we have to unlock to get into our house. There’s the door of the front apartment building you need to unlock and walk through to get to the back courtyard (where the performance art was). You get the the front door of our building which may or may not be locked. You go up the stairs to our place where there are two doors to unlock to get in. It’s normal to have two doors, everyone has two doors according to our hosts, unless you live in one of the modern buildings. My first thought was “wow, is this place so unsafe you have to have a thousand doors?” Apparently not, it’s just different to how we do thing in NZ.
Another thing about the buildings, are ’stealthy businesses’. You have to know where you are going, because there’s no business signage outside. We have a feeling that there’s either a daycare or paediatric dentist or doctor down the street, but since it doesn’t have any signage we’re guessing based on the stickers in the window. The building next to it has computers and an office set up, but we have no idea what they do, sometimes I hear grinding like a dentist, but can’t who knows.
I need take video so you can see what I see. I wish I could really explain all this to you, in fact it would be better if you could see it. What you see would be different to what I see, which is one of the amazing things I’ve learned about travel. I want to absorb it all, but I only can absorb my viewpoint of it.
I really need to start writing more about how we’re travelling with two kids and not eating out. The travel videos you watch are of the 20 somethings who eat what they want, stay up however long they want, and walk for hours at a time… Yeah it doesn’t work like that for us. We really should get scooters for the kids, it’s the best tip I’ve come across. Kids can just stand on them and adults push when they get too tired too, that means we can squeeze in more sights. However, cobblestone streets won’t work so well unless you have the good wheels. Then there’s the issue of taking them with us form country to country. Since we’re in one location for such a long period of time it’s probably worth it. They also become good shopping carriers and you can put your luggage on them too. The scooter tip has come from two directions, Lennox’s teacher and then we had neighbours (Mum, Dad and son) who were staying the night from…. guess, go on guess where they were from..…. Melbourne. They’ve been doing a ton of travelling and the scooters have been their go-to. However, let me share this picture. Yeah, Star Wars nerds, and Lennox’s new best friend. They had just come from Warsaw and bought this Star Wars monster from a flea market and were dragging it around with them for the next 6 weeks. It was great to have a little reprieve when it came to speaking English and Lennox got his Star Wars on for a bit too, and played like a ‘normal’ kid. Instead of a weirdly hushed play where we’re trying not to scare the locals, but an outburst happens from time to time.
So let me know if there is anything you want to know. Or if there are videos you’d like me to take and share. I think I’ll do a video of how we get into our house. I’t snot like driving up the drive and then going to the front door and putting the key in.