Saturday, December 18, 2010

Homecoming Benefits

Despite my initial worries about being back for a winter break period for the first time in three years, it appears things won't be as dire as initially expected.

I had forgotten that my room at my father's house is a veritable treasure trove of SimCity CD-ROMs, phrase books in several languages, a Rubik's Snake and lava lamps. If these post-finals swollen throat glands turn into something serious, at least I know I'll be able to entertain myself until it blows over.

I'll also work on my lock-picking skills. No joke. Watch me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Finals, Holidays

Testing an application I just got for the iPod Touch that will render my MacBook useless in one more capacity. Sorry, MB.

I got to talk to my best friend for a while via Skype today. She told me how the annual Christmas party among friends went, down to the tiniest detail, per my request. Masochistic on my part, I know. I wish they had videotaped it so I could on some level pretend I had been there with them. I'm going to come right out and say it now: I'm afraid of what this year's holiday season will be like. I haven't been in the States for Christmas in three years.

It will be strange not going to the habitual Christmas Eve mass in Riga, pressed tightly into pews between complete strangers because you're all trying to keep warm. It will be strange not walking through the month-long Christmas market in Old Town, laughing at the boar, moose, duck, horse meat sold in tins by that one weird guy. It will be strange not spending Christmas Eve with my cousin and her family, trying my best not to be involved in any bloodshed while roughhousing with their four kids. Strange not waking up at 4 AM Christmas morning to call family back in the States to wish them a happy Christmas while trying not to fall asleep again...

I feel like I should be excited, not complaining. If I even am complaining? But this major of a shift in activity and setting after an extended period of time is just plain unsettling.

I miss my friends. I miss being in Latvia. I miss Latvia in general. This could all just be a side-effect of the end of the school semester, but wow, does this ever suck.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans, Dumplings

11 November is Lacplesis Day in Latvia. This day isn't, like it is for most of the rest of the world, celebrated for the end of WWI. It's celebrated for the victory over the Bermontian Army at the battle of Riga in 1919.

Tonight in Riga, the east bank of the Daugava River will be amass with bodies and lights. The brick walls of the presidential palace will be lined with people lighting candles and sticking them into any free space, warm with the smell of melting wax and an atmosphere thick with patriotism. Folk groups will perform, singing old songs of battle and victory, people will gather at small bonfires scattered along the normally traffic-busy, but now closed off, main river-front street.

I want to be there. I want to walk the crowds with my friends and complain about the cold, split a box of pelmeni and drink kvass from a glass bottle. I want to light my own candles for remembrance.

Friday, October 15, 2010

October Highlights

Or mediocrelights, really. Not that they're insignificant, they're just not bombastically exciting.

It rained a lot in New York, but I still spent a lot of time walking around outside, especially in the woods across the street from the apartment "village".

I also rediscovered the wonder of egg-less recipes, once again proving that just because you don't have all the "normal" ingredients for baking doesn't mean you can't make something as awesome as scones.

List Expansion

Add to the list of things I'm still not used to: States-style grocery shopping.

I'm still in the mindset of European-style grocery shopping. You generally keep the basic long-lived items around the house (rice, pasta, onions, garlic, spices, flour, porridge, etc.) at all times, but buy breads, fresh produce and meat on an as-needed basis.

Not having a car, bike, or Wheelies makes this type of shopping style incredibly difficult and at times expensive (if you break down and buy something from the Corner Store on campus, which wants people to pay CLOSE TO $5 FOR A JAR OF PICKLES).

Case in point: two weeks ago I took the campus line bus to the grocery store, where I gathered, hunted and duly paid for what seemed like a normal amount of food items. Kind of an "only buy what you can realistically fit into your bag or carry" tactic. Too bad for me, this is an amount of produce that is good for around three days if prepared and eaten normally, or five days if you get REALLY creative. (Flat-bread+soy cream cheese+cucumber+yellow bell pepper = like a cold, veggie pizza, only much, much sadder.) If anything, the lack of standard "North American" food items in Riga and overabundance of seemingly random items honed my skills of combining individual ingredients for edible results, but when all you have in your refrigerator is onions, relish, apricot jam and half a lime, it puts a strain on your abilities.

Maybe my dilemma stems from the fact that I don't understand boxed foods anymore. Those pre-packaged dinners-in-a-jiff that are such a hit in the States. At the campus store, I can buy 20 different kinds of Rice-a-Roni or Hamburger Helper dinners, but I can't find a single box of plain, white rice. I almost didn't find the small box of bullion cubes at the store among the entire aisle of soup cans.

I miss deciding to make something for dinner, stopping by a grocery store on the way home after work that day to pick up the ingredients and just making something. I liked not having to pre-plan my meals days in advance. I liked walking to the Central Market on weekends with only LVL 5 in pocket and coming home with 20lb worth of produce and LVL 1.50 left over for a magazine or newspaper.

Luckily tomorrow is Saturday; I'll have food in my fridge again soon. Tonight I have to make a careful list of what I need and remember to get everything on it. There won't be any quick, running back to the store later that day or the next to pick up something forgotten. I know I need to relearn a few things about being back here, but in a sense I'm afraid to. Because I don't want to forget how it was back in Riga.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Autumn ASAP

I guess this is what Indian Summer feels like? A stretch of two weeks in the 17º-19ºC range and suddenly we're back up to 26ºC?

I was ready for autumn last week. One of the things I'll miss the most this year is the turning of the leaves in Sigulda, Latvia. The city is hugely known for being a great autumn destination solely for the stunning view over the Gauja River Valley and the crazy spectrum of fall colours.

Even the beginnings of fall in Latvia are full of promise:

In New York I have a bit less to work with as far as fall colours go...:

Ah well. It's still kind of nice, though.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Shipping Methods

Turns out getting things set up to ship from Latvia to the States was easier than I had imagined. The trick was getting things taken care of once my shipment got to this side of the big pond.

First my shipment was shipped from Riga to New Jersey. That was the easy part - the people at LASL (Latvian American Shipping Lines) are professional, efficient and helpful -- that goes for both the Riga and US offices taken from New Jersey to Pennsylvania for a random customs check. Then it was held for a week or so there before being shipped to Rochester, at which point the shipment just stayed there. Because the customs officials there "didn't have my phone number". Sorry, the two valid phone numbers LASL gave them for me must have been too much too handle. If you can't handle making choices, just ignore them, right?

Eventually I was given the go-ahead to pick up my shipment, which luckily coincided with the same weekend I had rented a car (which is incidentally WAY easier/less stressful than renting a car in Riga, but only because the States seem to expect less of you). I also thankfully didn't have to pay the $20 storage fee I'd been told I would have to pay. Anyway, I got my shipment in the following condition:

Needless to say, but US Customs seems to exhibit a certain sense of efficiency. Right? Kudos for creativity and complimentary colour use of the red sign next to the green tape. Also, thanks for not stealing any of my stuff. Though to be honest, there were so many books in there I probably wouldn't notice if one was missing.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Transportation or the Lack Thereof

Public transportation in the city where I now live is anything but convenient. If I want to get to the grocery store by bus, I get to take a 45 minute trip to go 4 miles, but only after walking a dandy 1.5 walk to get to the bus stop itself. The only convenient thing about any kind of mass-transit is the university shuttle, which gets me to, well, the university. Put a Target or regular-sized grocery store on campus and I'll stop complaining.

To put it most simply, I miss Riga. I miss Latvia. I miss a public transportation so convenient and consistent that I know it like the back of my hand. I miss living in a city where it takes me only 15 minutes to get from point A to point B, pretty much no matter where you are in downtown. I miss bus tickets that cost LVL 0.70 (~USD 1.40). I miss a round-trip train ticket from Riga to Sigulda that costs me LVL 2.10 (~USD 4.20).

I miss not having my hands tied. If I at least had my bike here or, hell, even a skateboard or Razor Scooter, I'd feel less boxed in than I feel now.

If you're in Riga or planning on going, definitely take advantage of the mass-transit system, if only because the prices are cheap (in comparison to countries like Germany or Italy).

Riga also now offers several rentable bike systems, everything from a bike shop on the eastern side of Vermanes Park (Elizabetes Street), to BalticBike (by airBaltic). BalticBike I know costs LVL 1 per hour; register for it online here and enjoy a decently convenient ride with bike stands located throughout Riga and Jurmala (Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija in Riga, across from the McDonald's in Old Town, near the beach in the Bulduri neighbourhood of Jurmala, and several locations in the Majori neighbourhood).

The train station is much less shady than it was back in 1994, and much more convenient. The EC Fund has even helped out in sprucing up train car interiors. The passenger train network itself is fairly well-developed, but does not - I repeat - DOES NOT travel internationally, with the exception of a once-daily train to St. Petersburg (and which DOES NOT excuse you from needing a valid visa to travel into Russia). It's always cheaper (though by only a few santims) to buy a round-trip ticket instead of two one-way tickets. Tickets are bought for specific destinations and have no time stamp; they can be used at any time of the day on the date the ticket was bought. A round-trip ticket is valid for a trip to the destination on the date the ticket was bought and a return trip from the same destination either on the day the ticket was bought or on the following calendar day.

The Riga Public Transport system, I love. Sadly. Tickets are best bought in the new "e-Talons" card format, which are most easily purchased at Narvesen convenience stores. Yellow e-Talons tickets are essentially single-use tickets good for 5-20 rides. Single-use as in once the rides are used up, you toss the card. For once, buying an e-Talons is cheaper than buying a ticket from the driver (which you have to do if you don't have an e-Talons or if yours winds up being out of trips), which now costs LVL 0.70 per person, per ride.

The easiest way to get around and even out of Latvia in a bit more style and comfort (which honestly depends on the destination...I've ended up on a scary 30-person minivan for a 2.5 hour trip to Saldus mid-winter) is to travel by coach. Tickets are reasonably priced and best bought a few days in advance, especially if traveling to larger cities on the weekend. Tickets can be bought online at, but it really is easiest to just go to the Coach Station and buy them from a service counter. On that note, Vilnius and Tallinn are both a mere 4 hours from Riga!

I have none of these options here - or at least none of these options in a convenient way. I think I've made my point for now.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Missing Riga

Some shots from the Riga Canal boat tour. I highly recommend taking this tour - if you want you can even disembark at one of many stops along the way. If you go on a Monday, the price is LVL 3 instead of LVL 5. Best of all, no annoying tour information. You just sit back and relax and enjoy the sounds of the city and river.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A New State

Of being, of mind, of residence. However you slice it, this, my friends, is new.

The State of New York is proving to be an interesting place. The fact that the city I live in now is so close to the Canadian border takes the edge off of what I would refer to as "stereotypical New York angst", making people nicer, happier, helpful, more polite...

Basically, it makes them Minnesotan.

I'm hoping that once we get over the initial few days of receiving our syllabi and calendars for courses things will pick up in the world of academia. For now I wake up at 7 AM, an hour before my alarm goes off, and wonder what the hell I'm going to do with the 5-6 hours until it's time to catch a bus to campus. At some point I'm going to have to figure out how to get to a grocery store via the school's bus lines. And by "some point" I mean "preferably before I run out of food and starve to death". There are options for eats on campus, but I really don't think it's my style to pay $3.50 for a granola bar.

The graduate housing area I live in is nice enough. It's mostly foreign graduate students and graduate students with families and kids. And sometimes grandpas. I've seen at least one. So there are plenty of kids' toys and jungle-gyms and hey! a sandbox in the surrounding area. I will not get bored here.

I haven't met anyone living in my building, but have seen them many times and can say that I am most likely the only non-Asian person in it. In truth, most of the park seems to be inhabited by the Asian graduate student community. Which is fine, and sometimes hard to deal with, as around dinner time it's easy to catch tantalizing whiffs of noodles or pot dishes cooking in their apartments. I want to meet people and make friends, I suppose, but showing up at someone's door with a bowl and my own pair of chopsticks hardly seems the way to go about it.

Also, the eggs here are pure, snow white. And stick to the cartons and subsequently crack when you try to pry them off. Raw egg, it turns out, is rather hard to control and clean up.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Eyesight Ramblings

Ah, another post from me about doctor-related things. I suppose the only reason I've been to see various specialists about seemingly small issues I would have otherwise left to fend for and fix themselves (had I been back in the States) is because, wait for it,


This, of course, provided you have a decently-to-well paying job and can afford the odd $20 of chest X-rays and what-have-yous necessary for work permits or general curiosity. If you're old and have a crap pension plan, it's a whole other story, and in that case you're probably a bit up shit creek with getting by overall. Which is wrong and unfair. This, of course, also considering that consultations aren't all that cheap, but that most prescription medicines (inhalers, for you fellow asthmatics) and vaccinations and X-rays really are cheaper than a week's worth of red meat. Which, if you're like me and don't eat read meat anyway, is great because why wouldn't you want four identical X-rays of your chest cavity to turn into modern art in your home?

But I digress. Anyway, I've done a bit more research on whether or not it would be worth my time and money to make an appointment with an eye doctor again, as I believe the papillary conjunctivitis (re: rusty screw feeling under my left eyelid) has returned. I apparently took care of it once, medicated the peepers for two weeks, then disregarded the doctor's instruction to consult a contact lens specialist and just started using the contacts again. And lo! Problems! 1:0, doctors. Fair play.

Where all this is going is that I have reason to believe that it is the specific brand/make of contact that is causing problems. This I believe because I wore contacts in high school and throughout college without any problems - and I wore contacts the first ~1+ year in Latvia without any issues. After some article searching and reading I've come to the potential conclusion that the specific type of contact I've been buying and using in Latvia has slowly built up an allergic reaction in my eye. Damn you, fatherland optometry!

I'm reluctant to go back to a doctor, as I know what I have and would just rather have the prescription for the same fiery eye-drops of last time instead of paying someone close to $40 to tell me what I already know. Oh, wait, sounds like America!

It also seems that nothing is covered by the health insurance I've paid for through work. The clinic I've been going to for the past two years isn't covered by my programme or company, and nowhere else nearby either takes my insurance, or has any openings before next Wednesday, by which time I will be back in the States and hugging a $2 alarm clock and cotton bath towel set from IKEA.

However, on a certain level, I feel that if I do nothing about the eye I could be sporting an eye-patch sooner than and much later after Halloween.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Heat Wave

Even cats have a rough time dealing with the heat. Mine can't even stand to sleep on his stomach.

Saturdays and Eggs

I'm working through another weekend evening to try and ensure that I will be done by tomorrow and in time to go toss my cousin's kids around in the Gauja River. It was around 30ºC in Latvia today and will probably be the same tomorrow. Great swimming weather.

Though I'm supposed to be translating right now (I feel most of whatever I write or do at otherwise inappropriate times comes about when procrastinating), I can't stop thinking about the omelet I had for breakfast and the egg situation in Latvia.

Oh yes, we have a situation. About eggs.

Although life in Germany gave me the choice of buying brown or white eggs, life in Latvia generally greets you ONLY with brown eggs. White eggs only show up around Easter, right in time for them to be bought out and used for traditional egg colouring. (Truth be told, they might be available year-round somewhere else, but I'm used to not expecting to see them anymore.) So, brown eggs it is. And that's cool. I'm down with brown eggs; I have been since Germany.

The thing I'm not so down with is the fact that, when living in Latvia, you are reminded on an egg-by-egg basis just exactly where that egg came from. Almost every single carton of eggs is filled with individual reminders that, even if Egg did come first, this one definitely came from Chicken. Specifically, from the internal, body-juice, feathery nether regions of Chicken.

Eggs in Latvia are, as could be surmised, not cleaned very well or at all before being packed into cartons and shipped off to grocery stores for shelving. Standard cooking procedures at home have also changed. Gone are the days of carefree egg cracking straight into the bowl. Now everything is prefaced by wrinkled noses and gasps of disgust as eggs are turned over to reveal bits of feathers, bits of other egg and even blood before attempting to wash it with several cleaning fluids before use.

Granted, you can always opt for the plastic six-pack of eggs of non-specific origin, wrapped in a thin, black carton slip sporting a picture of a glistening body builder, but as these eggs neither come with miniature tricep and bicep bulges, nor do they make you strong enough to challenge strongman Raimonds Bermanis, the extra four santims don't really seem worth it.

Now, instead of popping the lid off the carton at the store just to check for cracked shells, I also check for the carton that has the least amount of carnage still attached to it. The day I find a tiny chicken beak or underdeveloped wing tip in a carton is the day I go ovo-vegetarian.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ze donats/The Donuts

First – I wrote this somewhere else a while ago, but it is once again relevant because I may be grabbing handfuls of breakfast there tomorrow if a) I get enough work done tonight/early tomorrow morning (such are my Friday nights, boo hoo), b) if I wake up in time to not miss three consecutive trains out to Riga (it happens, life moves on) and c) the Ze donats is open early enough for the pending feeding to be considered breakfast. (And d) who am I kidding? Breakfast is clearly an any-time applicable meal concept.)

Second - DOUGHNUTS. For some reason these pop-culture type re-spellings of words (also: drive thru) really, really bother me.

Third - oh my HOLY BUTLERS OF AMSTERDAM*. I'm not a fan of cake doughnuts, but these circles of perfection are a nice middle ground between cake and raised types. They also cost only LVL 0.25 a piece (unless you go for filled, which run 5-15 santims higher) and come in all kinds of flavours with exciting names, like "Džons lemons" (John Lemon). That's right, they're clever, too. The people, not the doughnuts.

Ze donats/The Donuts is located on Kr. Valdemāra Street in riga, between Dzirnavu and Lačuplēšu Streets (closer to the corner of Dzirnavu Street). The staff are extremely nice, the place itself is really unassuming and comfortable and the eats, well... Let's just say "two's company, three's a crowd" does NOT apply to this as a Sunday morning breakfast item.

This place used to be a slight problem (reference name's days, birthdays, last-day-of-work-on-contract days, random days) as I used to live a half block from it. The only benefits were that it wasn't open late (thus eliminating any post-office day depression fixing via sugary carbohydrates) and that I tended to quickly forget that there was anything in this country similar to a "good doughnut". Now that I live outside Riga, temptation has dropped considerably. This lack of temptation, however, makes taking the 30 minute train ride and 15 minute walk from the station to the cafe all that more important because, dammit, if I came all this way I'm going to go there and eat WHATEVER I WANT.

I also just discovered their website is up and running and full of annoying sounds. Just wish it had opening hours available!Hours of operation are found under the "Kontakti" section.

*I don't get it, either. That's how I roll.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Difference in Insects

As far as mosquitoes go, there's not a huge difference between Minnesota's honorary state bird and its Latvian counterpart. Both result in gigantic red welts on your poor, abused skin. Minnesota mosquitoes, however, have a nasty itch that accompanies their bites.

I swear, the more I itch, the more the bites seem to multiply.

Tomorrow night I fly back to Latvia for around month before flying back to the States to resume academic life in New York state. Excitement! I still don't know where I'll be living! More excitement! Most of all it's one month left in Europe before I sign myself up for at least one academic year of living in the States. That may be what I'm most worried about. This is because I'm not used to customer service anymore, I'm not used to people being polite. I'm not used to people talking to you about the boots their crazy aunt bought for their sister's poodle while you wait in line for the ATM. It's just plain weird. Thus, being back may well derail me. I'm hoping I'll be able to handle a new environment in an old environment with a semblance of grace and calm.

I'd really like to say something a bit more regarding...anything, really, but my feet just itch too flipping much. I've also got a boatload of things to pick up tomorrow to bring back for people (fantastic North American candy for my co-workers and the most unnatural, sugar-loaded pancake syrup I can find for my cousin's kids), as well as my own packing to do. Not thinking straight right now. Clearly.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Clap Paws, Squeal with Glee.

Or something to that effect. My dad is a fan of this one time in a Garfield comic...

We leave Berlin on the night train tonight for Paris. We're sunburnt, tired and sore. Life hurts right now, but I'm still high from the excitement of flying back into Germany. I love this country.
Living in Latvia makes travel easier and generally cheaper, so I can afford to indulge in my travel obsession and fanaticism.

We may attempt to learn French by 10 AM tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Driving in Latvia

Latvian drivers SUCK. Period. Amen.

Yesterday I got to experience three different kinds of angry, stupid drivers. In a way it was my best worst driving day ever -- and that's a comment to the skills and consideration of the other people and considering I tend to follow driving rules and speed limits like the Bible.

The best example was a woman who was on the bumper of my rental car going 90 km, which isn't fast, I know, but it's the legal maximum in Latvia on highways. So I'm driving the speed limit because I don't want a ticket, not today, thankyouverymuch, when this woman tailing me starts honking her horn like it's her job. In the rear-view mirror I can see she's waving her arms wildly and her mouth is flapping as she rattles off a series of what could only be curses and poxes upon my house. Alright, she's upset, I get that. Then she swerves into the other lane, barely zips diagonally between me and the car in the neighbouring lane, speeds up to at least 120 and then cuts back across to the other lane without signalling and speeds off into the afternoon.

The funny part of her actions? Her car was covered in triangular stickers with a red border and black M in the middle - the stickers that tell you the car is a car used by a driving school. This woman was an instructor.

And thus I learned the probably source of all crappy driving in Latvia. Huzzah! Just in time to leave the country for a bit and soak up western European civility.

Moving, Cats, Dust

There is an old woman sitting dejectedly on a chair on a balcony across the courtyard and two floors up. She looks like she's being punished. The door is closed behind her and she looks less than thrilled to be out in the fresh air. I wonder what she's done wrong.

Irrelevant. Today is the final day in the Riga apartment. Excitement and sadness. And a bit of frustration. I'll start with frustration. I love my (now former) flatmate and she's a wonderful friend and person, but when you move out and leave your key in the postbox without cleaning anything in the apartment and leave a bunch of your unwanted items behind for me to clean up, my positive feelings become a little harder to dole out. Good thing my best friend is coming out later to help me put this place back to order.

Sadness. This is a good place. It's a good location. The rent was decent enough. The landlady was a riot. The fridge is big enough to hold all of our assorted jams, mustards, and sauces (as we rarely had real food around). My cat had plenty of windows to guard from the onslaught of angry, dirty pigeons. Etcetera. Also, moving in general is a stressful undertaking.

Excitement. I leave with a few friends for a 10-day trip around Germany(!!!) and France. Then I get four days to pull myself together again before jetting off to the US for the rest of July. This will involve carting the cat, howling and piss-stained (the cat, not me), through four airports and three flights, followed by a two-day car ride across the eastern states. I'm excited for all of this, minus the piss part, but am also concerned for the cat. After today's vet visit, he has even ME convinced that I'm the worst person on the face of the planet. I hope the huge bay window facing the bird feeder in Minnesota will more than make up for what is to come.

As soon as I publish this post I'm off to keep throwing my belongings into unmarked boxes and bags -- it'll be like Christmas when I open them again in a few months or just days. I always want to write something more frequently, but June was a wild month in Latvia. I finished my contract at work and went in part-time to help out until they found someone to replace me (which has yet to happen), did some driving around Latvia with my dad, who was here on research/vacation purposes, and then the whole moving thing.

I can't keep my family obligations and thoughts straight right now. Hopefully I'll get some mental air cleared soon so I can make things interesting on here again.

That old woman is still out on the balcony. Now she's chewing her nails. What a world.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Um, June.

Stuff and things, and then some more stuff and things.

Vacation was fantastic. That's about all I can really thing to say of it right now. I can't even say if I'll attempt to go back and write some kind of re-cap for it.

This is my last contract week on the job in Riga. It's a little confusing, but I think I'll be okay. I still haven't made it to editing photos from the UK trip, and friends and family are getting restless.

My thoughts will settle, soon I'll maybe get more then 6 hours of sleep a night, and things will be right again. Or at least more right than they are now.

Friday, May 7, 2010

In Time for Vacation

We just had a long weekend in Latvia due to the national holiday on 4 May, marking 20 since Latvia proclaimed the renewal of its independence. I would be lying if I said I knew what went on during the holidays (except for the clusters of national flags propped up in strategic places around Old Town), as I was under the weather for all of it. Friday to Tuesday, I stayed at home, venturing outside only a few times and no further than the closest Narvesen a block away. Tonsillitis, nasal polyps, fever, headache. Best four-day weekend I've had in a LONG time.

Now I'm on my last day of antibiotics and am getting ready for a final few hours of mad dashing around to collect the last few items I need before heading off for a two week mother-daughter vacation. The last time we did this was in Germany in 2005, when my mother came to visit me while I was studying abroad. This year is a slight upgrade for her, as we'll be in a country where she fluently speaks the language.

I'm glad I got the worst part of the sickness out of the way before vacation, but will be wary the entire time of the cold and rainy UK weather. Forecasts say it will be around 10 degrees colder than it will be in Latvia. But I'll be armed with several scarves, plan on drinking more than my fair share of tea and am just excited for another chance to be away from the computer for two weeks. That said, I've got a few notebook pages scribbled full of geocaching locations, a handful of New Yorker fiction reading podcasts on my iPod and half a season of Corner Gas loaded onto my mobile phone. I think I'm more than prepared for the temporary separation.

There may or may not be updates posted during the actual trip. This depends on how frequently we have to visit internet cafes to find information on things to do or see. As if we're going to run out :) England, here we come!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Weather by Sybil

The weather summary for Riga today is as follows: rain, snow, rain, snow, sun, rain. Repeat ad nauseam.

We're nearing the end of April, and though Spring had seemed to more or less figure itself out, it's suddenly freaking out and throwing us all for a loop.

In other news, flights have resumed for the most part, which means our friend Emma will be able to return to Belgium a week after her initial flight date. I think at least one of my co-workers is still stranded somewhere, most likely in England or Ireland, judging by how long she's wherever she is now. Since family has asked previously, there are still no signs of volcanic ash in Latvia and I kind of doubt there will be. Unless that snow was really ash. In which case, jokes on us.

After this weekend I'll have finished my two-week stint of dripping a combination of liquids and gels into my eyes. I'd say I'll be glad to be done with it, but oddly enough I think I'll almost miss it. It quickly became a part of my morning and evening routines, and with the exception of the evening/morning of the work party out in Sigulda, I didn't miss a single dosage, which is strange, even for me. Usually I'm horrible at remembering to take care of things related to my health (re: that cough I had in high school and let go untreated for two months before learning it was a form of walking pneumonia, or those kind of painful months leading up to finally booking what was my first ever colonoscopy). Part of me thinks that I value my eyes a bit more than I may let on. I don't think I'd mind eventually going blind, but not at 24. Not on my watch.

Pun not intended.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

About Geocaching

Saturday I went on a work outing that involved a day full of running and driving around the city trying to find as many geocache points as possible before lunch.

For those who don't know what it is or do and want to know more: There's probably a point near your house. I know there's one near mine :)

Though there are many disappointments in geocaching and the joy of finding a hidden cache is brief, however intense, it's also a great way to see more of the city or region in which you live. For example, I would have never gone to the former USSR Military Academy grounds (a now abandoned, bum-ridden and spray-painted complex), or picked my way through mounds of broken glass and shattered cement blocks to the top of one of the abandoned buildings in the VEF area of Riga. In addition to being a great team-building activity, it was also a great time and reason to explore.

The hardest cache to find was the one located by the Fire-fighting Museum in Riga. We spent an hour at the site looking into every possible nook and cranny, overturning every stone in the tiny flowerbed out front -- all while a group of fire-fighters looked on in amusement during their smoke break. Eventually we gave up, but after realising later that there were encrypted hints for most of the points, figured out the clue and drove back to the museum to triumphantly jump up and down when we finally had the cache in hand. Mid-day traffic was sparse, but cars did slow down as drivers tried to understand what why this group of four adults was prancing about a street corner in glee.

My team found 4-5 out of the 10-12 points we visited. Sunday afternoon after I got back from Sigulda, where we had our "8th Grade Reunion" themed party and feast, I did some work from home then headed out to find a few more caches. That night I told my mom about all of it and in 15 minutes had her writing down coordinates to find a cache near her house back in the States. It really is a global phenomenon and an addicting one at that.

I haven't really heard that much from other grad. schools yet. There seem to be a lot of technical issues going on: one school's system had my application fee marked as "not paid", but when I wrote to ask "WTF" and by the time I got a reply saying that's not what they saw, it was back to "paid". Other school systems seem to be missing or temporarily misplacing recommendation forms from my people, but if my in-box has three confirmations from three different reviewers, why should I think differently? I'm hoping these issues will be resolved, as I would be somewhat uncomfortable writing my former professors to say "So you know that thing you filled out five months ago? D'ya think you could do it again?"

I'm also hoping that the delay in hearing back from schools has a lot to do with the fact that I'm in Latvia, not that the schools are trying to decide on the best way to crush my confidence. At the same time it's frustrating, but what are you gonna do?

Spring in Latvia is in semi-swing. We've had sun and brisk weather, but today is a bit overcast. I wonder if that volcanic ash is finally making its way to our little country...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sore Eyes

I apparently have papillary conjunctivitis in my left eye. I went to the doctor this evening and after the ophthalmologist thoroughly poked around my eyeballs (so thoroughly, in fact, that we probably should have gone on at least three dates, first), she gave me a diagnosis, two prescriptions and sent me away bleary eyed and sniffling. For the next two weeks I get to administer two medications two times daily. Then I have to go back and meet with the contact lens specialists to have them tell me if I can even WEAR lenses. I think? Maybe she just meant whether or not I can wear them in respect of my poor, sick eyes.

As opposed to previous trips to the doctor's, this trip was a bit more expensive. Though I did get some kind of note qualifying me for a discount next time. The Latvian medical world works in strange ways.

Wonderfully sunny in Riga.


As much as I appreciate my cousin's work in setting up a family server run blog for me, I have to admit that navigating and keeping things in order is much easier with the Blogger system. This is especially true considering the Blogger system also connects with the Gmail server, which will make linking to my Picassa albums much, much easier. I hope Steve will forgive me!

As of today I will be slowly transferring older posts from to this blog. The most recent posts will appear first. This means that over the next week my archive will balloon to a size large enough to knock over the radio tower in Riga.

I also hope to make more headway with this. Expect Latvian music reviews and Riga restaurant reviews. Possibly even Latvian city reviews. Oh, how the writing will commence!

Slightly Absent

I haven't written in what seems like a long, long time again. I seem to have lost my drive for writing, partially because I've been pushing all my energy into photography-related things. I'm learning new tricks with Photoshop and am even playing around more with colours and contrast. The results are good so far.

Easter was spent with a group of friends at our friend Ilze's house out in Jurmala. We had a feast of home-made Latvian style pancakes filled with ground beef, bananas and Nutella, and cheese. Soy cheese for me, of course. The fantastic soy cheese I picked up on that weekend trip to Brussels :) We also walked to the beach, took many photos, and then decorated eggs the good old Latvian way. Lots and lots of onion skins. The eggs also turned out lovely, and were then bashed to near smithereens during our friendly egg-wars.

The weather has been better in Riga, too. The week after Brussels (which was a weekend trip of running around seeing everything we could possibly see and eating everything we could possibly eat -- including escargot -- which was DELICIOUS) we still had snow in Latvia, and the weather got rainy and damp and disgusting. Then it miraculously all passed and one day the snow was gone! Today was about 45ºF, which allowed me to go for my first run of the Spring season and spend most of my time outside for the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening I was to meet relatives to go to a play at The Stage Theatre, but there was a huge miscommunication and two of the main actors were in some other Latvian city putting on some other play, so... everyone was apologised to and invited to come back the next weekend or to get a refund. So next weekend it is! Instead we backtracked a bit to Gallery kim? to catch the last three Baltic Student Film Festival shorts and then have a delicious dinner at Meta Cafe. The Spikeri area of Riga used to be kind of shady, but in the past year has improved by leaps and bounds and is quickly becoming a hipster/indie hot spot for galleries, concerts and good eats. Whereas before I would have told people to think twice before heading out there, I'd recommend it now. Even with all the drunks and slightly creepy people still around. But they exist in groups and generally stay to themselves.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Something Something

The past month has gone by pretty quickly. Lately I've been feeling like my life is a rubber band. It gets stretched out then let loose, over and over. Everything is perpetual.

Tomorrow I jet off to Brussels with Ilze and Davids for the weekend. We're going to visit our friend Monika, as well as to revel in the 50-degree weather. It's still below 20 here.

We've also had a good stream of snowy days, which pleases me immensely. Ilze and I finally made it out to Cesis a few weekends ago for our first ever snowboarding lesson. It went relatively well considering we knew nothing going into it. I fell a few times, but nothing I couldn't bounce back from. Once quite literally. Lately I've been worried that we won't have any snow left to let us go try boarding a second time, but if it keeps up like this, I might get a chance come April.

Last weekend I went with a childhood friend and her boyfriend (who are visiting Latvia from the States) to Sigulda, where we hoped to ride down the bob/luge/skeleton track in what is essentially several mattresses tied together on tiny wheels. But there was some kind of competition going on, so we were turned away and went bowling instead. Bowling also turned out to be fun.

Today I'm also off to get my third Latvian visa stamped into my passport. Except this time it's all about repatriation, baby! That's right, family members who may be reading this, I am an official repatriate to the Republic of Latvia. What this means is that I get a 5-year residential permit with little to no strings attached, didn't have to pay to submit my documents, and am generally smiled upon more than when I was just a temporary resident.

I now don't need a work visa to hang around or work in Latvia. I can just be here, if I so choose (to do nothing). This does not make me a citizen, it does not mean I have given up US citizenship, this does not mean I can vote in Latvia. It doesn't sound all that great, but really, it's quite exciting.

In other news, I was in the newspaper Diena a week or so ago, and I also indirectly found out my GRE scores. The article was good, the scores were kind of painful. As expected.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Palatine in "Schmap"

If you go to and check out their Rome map and pictures -- specifically the section about Palatine -- you'll find one of my shots from my 2009 Rome trip. The photo is one of many the Schmap people chose from members. Woot. My picture is now one of hundreds of others for the Rome guide:

happy searching!

Look around by clicking the right or left arrow of the Palatine pictures on the right side of the screen. Eventually you may find mine :)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Universal Medications

This week has been fairly gruelling health-wise. It's amazing how something small like an accidental bite to the inner lip can result in a canker sore so painful I have to literally go home after work and sleep. It's hard to eat, drink, talk, laugh. Sometimes it's just painful to sit and do nothing. Seems like the "injury" is located at a kind of nerve centre, so the pain shoots up through my jaw and into my ears. GREAT times.

This is an entry to showcase the absolute absurdity or universal greatness (depending on how you look at it) that is Medicine in Latvia.

I've received recommendations from almost everyone as to what I should do/administer/not do regarding this canker sore. I am not allowed to drink juice, eat fruits, or spicy, hard or abrasive foods. Basically, anything with real flavour is off limits. If you know me, you know how miserable this has made me the past five days.

After realising that obsessively applying a numbing agent meant for teething children (the alcohol in the ingredients may actually be doing more harm than good), I have turned to other remedies. Baking soda, salt water, black tea bags, hydrogen peroxide. Ouch, blech, ouch and nothing.

After my numerous "consultations", I have decided that doing nothing that will make the canker sore hurt will be the best course of action. I understand that it may take the sore a full two weeks to heal, but COME ON. I can't do this that much longer.

Now I'm down to using something called "Faringo Spray", which is basically a mixture of seabuckthorn and calendula oils. Faringo Spray is first and foremost intended to be used as a throat spray for sore or infected throats, but per instruction leaflet extends to uses related to general infections of the mouth and (here comes the absurd/great part) is even listed as being good for outer injuries such as cuts, burns and rashes.

I understand that natural oils have many purposes, but I can't get over the fact that the spectrum of things this medicine is supposed to heal is SO WIDE. And random. Burns? Seriously.

This morning I stopped off at the pharmacy before work and picked up something called "Kanistad N", which is usually recommended for people with dental prosthetics to heal mouth sores and irritations. According to my relatives AND the lady at the pharmacy, this stuff is supposed to be ace. I read something online about a kind of paste or liquid meant to heal mouth sores that turns your teeth blue -- so I'm glad I wasn't recommended this stuff.

Another thing recommended (and heeded) was to take Ibuprofen. Since my "big stash" is at work, I picked up a smaller pack for a whopping LVL 0.25 (that's USD 0.50). I was about to buy more, but this Latvian Ibuprofen has an expiry date in March. MARCH. This medicine will be good for the next MONTH, at best. Which leads me to wonder -- what the crap is in this stuff that renders it useless in such a short amount of time?

My grandmother recommended that I simply chew or suck on Tums tablets (many websites recommend swishing Malox around your mouth for a few minutes) to neutralise the pH level in my mouth. I ate my last calcium-fortified Tums tablet over four months ago, but had a pack of Gas-X chewable tablets my mother had sent me. I will say this once: GAS-X IS NOT THE SAME AS TUMS. Oh, God, is it ever not the same. That was a burning, unholy mistake I will never, ever make again.

Other simple at-home remedies include drinking chamomile tea. Which I'm not a huge fan of doing, but let me tell you, was I EVER chilled out last night. Whoa, man. Whoa.

Next time I will write about the whole repatriation business. So until then I'm going to keep trying to nurse my poor mouth back to health with these Latvian wonder-meds.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No Motivation

I'm feeling entirely unmotivated right now. Maybe it's certain factors that aren't really working to my advantage that are making it more difficult to BECOME motivated. For example, I was fully prepared to book an instructor to go start learning how to snowboard tomorrow. But the place I was looking at is not easy to get to with public transportation and doesn't have a bus stop anywhere near it, although buses do drive by it. So now I don't know what to do. I guess wait, maybe rent a car and go? But even that would end up being too expensive.

This just feels like a week that will take a while to get through.

Saturday I took my god-daughter to see "The Princess and the Frog". It was the first time I had been to an animated film that had complete and "professional" Latvian language dubbing. For the most part it was tolerable, except that most of the male-sung songs sounded more like schlager music than Disney music. But it was a good experience. I might borrow my cousin's kids again this weekend to go see "The Fantastic Mr. Fox". Of course it will be great to spend more time with immediate family, but let's be serious, I don't want to be that lone, creepy adult sitting in on a kids' film.

My back and neck seem to have be almost entirely recovered. This is fantastic news to me, considering it only took three 30-minute sessions to undo 3 weeks of pain.

It's snowing again today in Riga. This means more days spent traversing the different barriers put up on side-walks so roof cleaners can push the pounds and pounds of snow off the buildings and onto the street. This is something I didn't see or just plain missed last winter. It's kind of neat to see people up on the roofs shovelling snow, and people standing on the opposite side of the street with their heads tipped back to watch them do so. It's the winter equivalent of gathering to watch someone repair their car or motorcycle.

Ugh. I even lack the motivation to make connections throughout this post. Next one will be an enlightening update about repatriation vs. residential permits!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

About Latvian Dentists and Other Doctors

Today I went in for two consultations.

The first one was a form of physical therapy cum massage, during which I basically got a massage. The woman I went to see was recommended to me by a co-worker who has known the woman for some time. Though the better part of the consultation (pretty great that the consultations are so hands-on some of the time) was mostly trying to work out the ridiculous stiffness in my right shoulder and shoulder blade, a tiny part at the beginning was spent with my head being suspended with the help of a strap, then turned this way and that. This ended up being to make sure the problem wasn't in my spine. The best part of all of it? Massages like this are (rightly) considered a medical procedure, in my case is most likely a result of my working conditions and is covered by my insurance. Which I paid for, I know, but still.

The goal is to get me in for another 9 sessions to knock this thing out of my park, so to speak.

The second consultation was with a dentist, to determine if the apparent upward-crescent shaped wear in the bottom of my right front tooth (hah, seems as if the entire right side of my body is having troubles) was actually a wear, or a chip, and if it could be fixed. It's pretty widely known that Latvian dentists have good reputations for being skilled, efficient, and inexpensive. Many practices advertise to tourists who are looking for "medical vacation" options. Anyway, I went to the consultation and was told by the dentist that I had a few options for fixing what he determined was a chip in the enamel of my tooth. One was to fill it in with the same stuff used for filling cavities, but which would probably fall out within a week to a month later. Another option was to get ceramic caps, I guess they would be, which would be the most drastic option. Then he remembered he could always kind of "buff down" the corner of the chipped tooth to make it look even. When he said "buff", I heard "file". I said it seemed to make more sense than a filling.

So I'm sitting in the patient's chair, thinking about how I'm going to have to decide on what to do, then make another appointment, when the back of my chair is moving down and the dentist takes the buffer/filer and I have just enough time to realise what is about to happen and open my mouth. Water droplets fly everywhere to the whir of the buffer. I'm handed a mirror, and then I lose it. I laugh so hard form the bottom of my stomach up that the dentist and his assistant just look at me for a few moments before nervously laughing with and asking what is going on. But I'm laughing too hard to accurately explain that something like that would NEVER happen in America; there would be questions, new appointments made, lots of murmuring and thinking... I manage to say something about how everything looks good and it's great, but it's just so damn funny to come in for a consultation and next thing you know your teeth are being filed down.

The dentist stopped me there and said it wasn't "filing", but "buffing". So I kept laughing, this time with him and the assistant laughing with me. Then the dentist says "Well, there's nothing really for me to do here", then tells me I can go see the hygienist if I want, so my trip here isn't wasted. And I did. I waited 30 minutes, but I had thought to bring a book and wasn't bothered. All in all... a very good day for medical visits. I have yet to be disappointed by dentists in Latvia, though I've only seen three specialists to date.

I also think I did well enough on the written and analogies part of the GRE to make up for how shameful the math section will turn out :D

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Busy in February

For the shortest month, February is going to take a really long time.

I'm scheduled to take the GRE exam this coming Saturday, will be performing for about an hour the Friday after that with some of the members from a folk group "Saviesi" at a European youth association meeting. Or something. We'll be playing some "danchi", or dances, which are something between "rotaljas" (games) and folk dances. It's a bit hard to explain it. The easiest thing is to just see what "danchi" are and then put the word to the action.

At some point I also really really REALLY want to make it out to Sigulda to start learning how to snowboard. My learner-in-crime was sick this past weekend, so that fell through. This weekend is filled with tests and farewell parties for a few close friends and the weekend after at least two of my friends, if not three or four, will be heading for their "ski break" to Egypt. They're planning on Sharm el-Sheik and just basking in the sun. I can't say I'm entirely bummed out about this; I don't think I'd be ready for Egypt again so soon.

If absolutely everyone leaves Latvia during that time, I'm just going to go learn how to snowboard myself. The weather has been excellent for this the past two days -- we've gotten many much snow (6"+ or ~20cm+) in the past day, and a bit more overnight yesterday. It's enough to make me literally stop in my tracks and wonder if I shouldn't fake sick and just go roll in the snow in another city.

I have other things on my mind that will keep me busy during the month as well. One is putting together goodies for birthdays :) Others are things I don't quite yet want to write about because I'd rather not get people prematurely excited.

On another note, a few of us might go check out the last Dinamo Riga (hockey) game of the month. Against Moscow. Wooooot.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Little Boy is Drinking Water

January is almost done! Wow. I thought I wrote something a week ago, or at least had a draft going, but it turns out that was all in my head. Like one of those dreams you have right after your alarm goes off where you think "Well, time to get dressed" and physically feel like you're getting out of bed and are putting clothes on and are just about to go out the bedroom door when... the alarm goes off again and you realise you're still in bed, in your pajamas and with your shirt magically turned around completely backwards.

I'm a restless sleeper.

Anyway, January has been an interesting month in Riga. My dad was here visiting and taking care of research until mid-month. While he was here we spent time with relatives, did a bit of visiting away from Riga, watched some fish be fed, saw a few plays/shows and generally hung out and exchanged knowledge of memes and viral videos.

The two plays we saw were both put on by the Jaunais Rigas Teatris (New Riga Theatre), respectively "Klusuma skanas" (The Sound of Silence) and "Vectevs" (Grandfather). Both were fantastic, as is to be expected. If you're ever in Riga and are looking for a good theatre performance, check in with JRT first. If you're lucky enough to land some tickets (buy them online in advance if possible; they sell out fast), almost every show comes highly recommended. As an added bonus for those tourists who DON'T speak or understand Latvian, JRT has two plays that I know of where knowledge of the national language is not necessary. "Gara dzive" (A Long Life) and "Klusuma skanas" are both directed by Alvis Hermanis (a genius of a man, if I may say so.) and are entirely dialogue-less plays. Emphasis is placed on actions, and it is truly amazing to see that words really aren't that needed all the time. "Gara dzive" is a look at older Latvians and the daily lives they lead, most likely as retirees. "Klusuma skanas" was a later production but counts as the "prequel" to "Gara dzive" and takes the audience through the hippie movement in Latvia. Also fascinating. There are very well timed moments of laughter, seriousness, heartache, etc. And again, both highly, HIGHLY recommended.

Now I'm back to work, have taken two sick days, have continued with my Rosetta Stone Japanese lessons and have been to two of my three trial lessons in Russian language offered through the company I work for. I'm not sure if I'll keep up with the Russian lessons, as knowing the language isn't required for my position and doesn't change my position, and because I'm not able to understand the simple commands the teacher gives the others (some of my co-workers) in the class. They've grown up in Latvia and if they haven't spoken Russian now and then since they were little, they've at least heard it on a subconscious level. I, on the other hand, just stare blankly at the teacher when she says something as simple as "Kaija, will you please read the next sentence?" I recognise my name, the word please and the formal "you". Instead I think I'll just keep up with one-on-one lessons with one of my Russian co-workers who has been kind enough and excited enough to give me lessons on an as-possible basis.

The Rosetta Stone is an interesting product... I've learned some sentences (like "The little boy(s)/girls(s)/woman(en)/man(en) is/are drinking water") that I would never really use on a daily basis, but the point is that I can say them. I am aware that the point is to introduce simple vocabulary and sentence structure, and I kind of like it! Using that structure, I can input any variety of animate objects and subjects receiving action to get an entirely new sentence. Such as: "Neko wa mizu wo nondeimasu!" or "The cat is drinking water!" Which is a sentence that I clearly WOULD use on a daily basis. Now all I need to learn is "The cat is peeing on your bag" or "The cat is pretending to rip your face off in the middle of the night". One step at a time, this language acquisition business.

Yesterday, after an almost solid 48 hours of sleeping and sitting in one place to pre-combat this coughing cold sinus thing, a group of friends and I went to the Riga zoo. At night. Oh yes, at night. They're having some kind of deal until the end of the month: from 4-6 p.m., tickets are only LVL 1 and the zoo is open until 8 p.m. Camels in the dark! Outside was horrifically cold, but the indoor exhibits were a welcome change and it was feeding time for most of the animals, so we got to see them standing in one place instead of hiding from people. Some of the animals seemed to be affected by the cold, but when there's a bin of apples and carrots in front of you, seriously, who cares!?

It's supposed to get warmer by the end of next week and snow, as well. This will be a nice change considering the entire country has been hovering near -20 to -30ºC all week/end. It will be around -5ºC by this coming Friday, which means I get to officially drag people out to Sigulda to do some snowboarding. Sorry, that makes me sound too cool. To LEARN how to do some snowboarding. Yes, much better. I'm sure I'll have some kind of story for that...

Friday, January 15, 2010

This is a New Year

Riga has been nicely frosted over the past two days. I'm excited to take my new tripod out for its first outdoor spin today after work. I've been waiting all day to get back outside and get some shots of the parks while they look this nice and fairytale-like.

I've also had the iTunes free download of the week, "This is a New Year" by Ian Axel, featuring Chad Vaccarino, on loop for the past 48 hours. It's a great, simple, upbeat and hope-filled song that I can't seem to get enough of. 2010 has had a bit of a stressful start for me, and a rocky and crap-filled start for others; this track seems to be herald something everyone could use a little bit of right about now.

Anyway, because there are only (based on search results) about 4 or 5 websites that list the entire lyrics to the song, I thought I'd jump on that bandwagon to up the hit count. Lo and behold, "This is a New Year":

Another year you made a promise
Another chance to turn it all around
And do not save this for tomorrow
Embrace the past and you can live for now
And I will give the world to you

Speak louder than the words before you
And give them meaning no one else has found
The role we play is so important
We are the voices of the underground
And I will give the world to you

Say everything you’ve always wanted
Be not afraid of who you really are
‘Cause in the end we have each other
And that’s at least one thing worth living for
And I would give the world to you

A million suns that shine upon me
A million eyes you are the brightest blue
Let’s tear the walls down that divide us
And build a statue strong enough for two

I pass it back to you
And I will wait for you
‘Cause I would give the world
And I would give the world
And I would give the world to you

This is a new year
A new beginning
You made a promise
You are the brightest
We are the voices
This is a new year
We are the voices
This is a new year

Friday, January 8, 2010

Athletic Clubs and E-tickets

Epic fail for me this morning.

Last night I went with a friend as a guest to the gym she goes to. Quite the Eastern European experience. Other than a few guys working out, I think I was the only woman in the place wearing running shorts. There was one woman with a kind of onesie tennis skirt thing and leggings that looked like the Spandex delivery guys wear in the winter as they bike across the city. I can't imagine working out indoors with long pants, unless the place is highly air-conditioned.

The gym was decent as far as gyms go. I was glad to see they even have the unmarked bottles of "disinfectant", which could be a combination of any number of abrasive and clear cleaning liquids, used to wipe down the machines after use.

Anyway, after a good 30 minute run and lots of post stretching at the gym, I went home and slept wonderfully. So wonderfully, in fact, that I got to work 1.5 hours late. My alarm went off at 08.00, I hit snooze twice, and all of a sudden it was 09.30. I checked two other clocks, including my father's mobile phone, before I was convinced I was not hallucinating.

I called in to tell one project manager about my fail, and to have him send a project due at 10.00 to my home computer, and he laughed. Then proceeded to tell the rest of the office of my fail. At least everyone else got to start their Friday in-office with a chuckle.

The real reason behind this post, however, is that I just discovered it IS possible to pre-order bus tickets on the Internets!, literally "No lines", is a dandy little website that lets you order tickets and have them sent to your e-mail in .pdf format, OR (I'm getting giddy) sent to your mobile phone! How green is that?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Year

Happy New Year to everyone! New Year's Eve in Riga was pretty fantastic. I was lucky enough to be able to combine friends and family; people came over to the apartment, where we visited, snacked, melted and poured lead to "predict our 2010 fortunes" and drank some pre-2010 champagne. At 23.30 we pulled on our coats and shoes and rushed to the square in front of the Freedom Monument, making it there literally 10 seconds before the New Year. 2010 arrived with fireworks, more champagne, part poppers and lots of picture-taking. Again, I felt really blessed to have been able to spend the evening with some great, close friends and family, my father included. We managed to eventually call through to the States, wish my grandparents all the best, and my mom all the best in the New Year (through my mother I got to speak to my aunt, too, since I caught my mother at church right before she was to go give the first reading). After taking pictures of people dressed as nuns, chickens and rabbits, we all headed to the Dome Square for some mulled wine and, and, AND! sledding down the small hill to the lower yard in front of the Dome Cathedral. I hadn't been sledding in YEARS and even though I was wearing a skirt I was more than thrilled to get the chance to do so again. The sled was a kind of lacquered plywood about 7' long. Very... minimalistic, but it got the job done. My father and I finally made it back home around 03.00, at which time we deemed it far enough into the New Year to open a sort of "New Year's present" from one of our relatives. We knew the present was books and we're book people, so waiting much longer to look at what they were wouldn't have happened anyway.

One of the books is this absolutely fantastic "The Big Guide to Riga Architecture". It describes a great deal of buildings around the city, both in the centre and out of it, showing a modern picture, a small copy of the original blueprint and a short write-up of what the building is/was meant to be. Many of these buildings are buildings I've passed on a daily or weekly basis and have had no idea what their deal was. It's a bunch of mini history lessons in a very non-boring format. I plan on stocking up on copies and gifting them to people.

This week is the first full week of the New Year. It was nice having two back-to-back three-day work weeks, and I'm surprised that I don't feel like it should be Friday today.

Last night my father and I went to see “Klusuma skanjas” (The Sounds of Silence) at the Muzeum of Art and Theatre. The funny thing about that was that we thought the play was going to be at the New Riga Theatre in the city centre, but at 10 minutes to show time figured out that the venue was NOT the New Riga Theatre and that the actual venue was across the river in some previously unknown location. But since the play is based off of movement and expression alone (that's right, ZERO) dialogue, it is not only a brilliant play to see (and take non-Latvian speaking people to), but it is also less of a big deal if you miss the first 20 minutes of it. I'm a fan of the director, Alvis Hermanis, and have seen his original "no-dialogue" play "Gara dzive" (A Long Life). I recommend both.

And now for the reason this post seemed important: we had dinner at the Theatre Bar Restaurant (through the courtyard behind the actual New Riga Theatre; there's a regular Theatre Bar across the street), which has a very unique menu and has a very kitschy yet not annoying interior. The food is also good. If you end up in the area of the New Riga Theatre (on Lacplesu Street), pop in for a quick bite or drink. The prices are decent, and their cauliflower-eggplant cream soup with pumpkin seeds is absolutely mouth-watering.