Sunday, October 24, 2004

Riga blog.

Back a decade for this one, to Riga, the most Russian and perhaps not accidentally the least picturesque of the Baltic capitals.

October 12, 1994.

Checked out of the Victorija Hotel, Riga, around noon. The clerk said (in English), “Going home?” “Yes,” I answered, skipping the detailed explanation. We’d only been one night at the Victorija, a dowdy old hotel. Last night we dined in the room, including the can of reindeer pate we bought on the boat from Helsinki to Tallinn, which was tasty on crackers. As in many dowdy hotels of old Europe, the bathroom was down the hall. The first time I went to find it, I came across a room marked WC + the universal pictograph for man, behind which I could hear a shower running. Naturally I assumed I could walk in and use the head even while someone was showering, but my assumption was based on years of experience with bathrooms in capitalist states. As soon as I opened the door I noticed a man taking a shower, unenclosed by a wall. He yelled at me and I closed the door again.

We had the day to kill before taking a train to Vilnius. First we had lunch at the Rama Café, run by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in a walk-down space under a nondescript building. Cost the equivalent of $2.50 for both of us: decent vegetarian fare, rice, beans, greens, that sort of thing. And fine samosas. The place was packed, which must speak about the limited inexpensive dining options in this town. Most of the crowd didn’t look poor, but more ragged people were lined up at a side door, receiving food for free, probably.

Later we went to the State Art Museum, which had a good collection of 18th- and 19th-century Russian art, plus an assortment of Latvian works. What did we have for dinner? Can’t recall, but in the early evening we did go on a walk again through the old town, and I went into a department store to pee. Also had some passable pastries there. We caught the train to Vilnius at a decent hour (9:30 pm), and had the good fortune to share the compartment with a quiet middle-aged man.


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