The Baltic Journals #1. Arrival.
It’s been a really long half term and I am absolutely exhausted. I am totally ready for a holiday and have been looking forward to my break in Riga for weeks. The ferry from Stockholm to Riga was a much more civilised affair than the boat that we took to Helsinki a few weeks back. For a start it was a smaller boat with less to do on it, and secondly Ryan and I are a smaller group and it’s not much fun having a party for two in the cabin. Tragically we were both so tired after a busy half-term that we could barely even muster up the energy to hold a conversation the first night.
So we got on the boat, enjoyed a can of cider, had a pretty dodgy meal of chicken with very sloppy mashed potato which cost me almost a tenner, and then went to the presentation about Riga as we had little else to do. After a very brief run-down of all that Riga has to offer we decided to stay in the Butlins-esque ballroom and participate in the music quiz. We didn’t perform brilliantly; only getting 7 out of 12 correct, but we still managed to get picked to win a consolation prize of a bar of Riga chocolate. Fab! A great start to the holiday.
9am and after a pretty comfortable sleep on the boat we were rudely awakened by a string of annoying jingles, advertisements and announcements over the ship’s tannoy system which we tried in vain to switch off for the best part of an hour – this is clearly not a hangover boat so thankfully neither of us had one! We had already prebooked our bus ticket from the ferry terminal to the town centre so all we had to do was get off the ferry and hop on to the bus.
Some time later we were dropped off outside the Tallink Hotel and by studying the map we realised that we were actually much further away from our hostel than when we had got off the ferry.
As luck would have it, we turned the corner to discover a few shabby bus shelters and a bus saying ‘Centr?l? Stacija’. Ryan and I are both seasoned travellers and after another quick glance at the map we saw that Central Station was indeed closer to our destination and so we got on. The kind bus driver allowed us a free ride as he didn’t have any change for our 20 Lat note and he clearly felt sorry for two careworn travellers who were carrying their own body weight in luggage. The ride was pleasant enough, we journeyed past cobbled streets and trams, across bridges and luscious green parks. Gradually the buildings became more dilapidated – beautiful architecture gave way to crumbling tower blocks starkly reminiscent of soviet rule. Ryan studied the map in earnest, our journey should have only lasted 10 minutes at the most but here we were, now heading down a highway through thickening forest…
Jumping off at the next station we realised that the bus no longer proudly announced Centr?l? Stacija as its final destination but somewhere frightening and unknown. There is nothing more frustrating than realising that you have gone the wrong way, especially when carrying your own body weight on a busy bus in a foreign country.
An hour after we first stood there we arrived back at the shabby bus shelters to see a bus changing its ‘Centr?l? Stacija’ sign into another now familiar destination to us (I can’t remember what the Latvian name was but I think the English translation might read ‘Middle of Nowhere’) and realised that we had actually already been standing in Central Station an hour before. Sure enough, on walking just a few more metres up the road we were confronted with a huge sign welcoming us to ‘Centr?l? Stacija’.
Half an hour later we were stood in the doorway to ‘The Naughty Squirrel Hostel for Backpackers’ where a stoned Aussie explained some of the ‘cool’ and ‘crazy’ places we could visit. Well he seemed stoned but it’s sometimes hard to tell with Aussies…He didn’t seem too impressed when we turned down the offer of firing an AK-47 rifle (done that) or bobsledding in the hope of procuring a-ha tickets for a concert that the brochure told us would be happening the next evening.
We threw our bags down in our bright and clean technicolour room, honestly it’s like something out of the Wizard of Oz, and rushed to find tickets for the concert. We negotiated with a lovely lady who didn’t understand and couldn’t speak a word of English and eventually came out proudly holding our a-ha tickets. I can’t believe it, Europe a few months ago and now a-ha! Fond memories of the early 80s (which Ryan my companion on this journey doesn’t even remember) came flooding back. I remember ‘Hunting High and Low’ being added to our growing record collection in the orange record box that me and my sister Jo shared shortly after ‘The Final Countdown’ made it there.
Now that the highlight of our trip was booked and paid for we were free to enjoy the afternoon in Riga and we spent a lovely few hours rambling around Riga’s very pretty old town which I shall write more about later on in the week.