Latvia

So, now it’s Tuesday.

After another morning of boring meetings on Monday, I escaped to the city again. It really is a nice place, full of interesting old buildings, industrious, happy looking people and it’s clean!  I learned that Riga has apparently been chosen as the European city of culture for 2014 – so book your place now.

Whilst here in Latvia I’ve noticed many things and been told many things about the country’s history and some quite personal stories. Many living Latvians will struggle to remember the last time the country was free of occupation of one sort or another and many will have been brought up to adulthood under a Soviet Regime, but enough parents remembered the free time between the wars to help the country back to its feet after independence in 1991.
History sites:
http://www.balticsworldwide.com/tourist/latvia/history.htm
http://timelines.ws/countries/LATVIA.HTML
http://www.li.lv/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=26&Itemid=449
and finally:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/1108059.stmnotice how Latvian history begins in 1918 for the BBC.

Talking to Latvians I’ve met has informed me of  slightly more personal story. Apparently, Lenin recruited Latvians for his ‘Praetorian Guard’ security team (this would need verifying) as they had the purist of socialist motives and beliefs. This can be contracted with the disdain with which ‘Stalinist’ buildings are regarded here. They make a distinction between what we might call ‘Soviet Bloc’ Blocks and Stalinist Buildings. The Soviet type is more worthy of rescue!

What other things have I noticed?

  • Taxi drivers are mad. I mean really mad, not just taxi driver mad. Mine wove in and out of traffic at speed as if he was weaving warp and weft together. (link – http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-warp-and-weft.htm)
  • The traffic lights are the only ones I’ve ever seen outside of England that work like ours. Red; Red + Amber; Green; Amber; Red. The ‘Green Man’ though, still works like the American version where drivers can still enter your crossing at 90 degrees and run you over (see Taxi driving above).
  • All staircases are dim at night! The hotel staircases have no lighting at night – but this morning, in full daylight – they had!
  • I actually found a Gent’s urinal that had headrests! Why?
  • Many of the autumn fields have old fashioned hay stacks – like Monet’s painting.
  • Most of the country is flat and the highest point is about 300 metres above sea level.

So there you go. Next post will be the conference (I think)

So, now it’s Tuesday. After another morning of boring meetings on Monday, I escaped to the city again. It really is a nice place. I learned that Riga has apparently been chosen as the European city of culture for 2014 – so book your place now.

http://www.bestriga.com/en/page/expanded/gpart/6/type/articlesnews/object/321

Whilst here in Latvia I’ve noticed many things and been told many things about the country’s history, some quite personal stories. Many living Latvians will struggle to remember the last time the country was free of occupation of one sort or another and many will have been brought up to adulthood under a Soviet Regime, but enough parents remembered the free time between the wars to help the country back to its feet after independence in 1991.

History sites:

http://www.balticsworldwide.com/tourist/latvia/history.htm

http://timelines.ws/countries/LATVIA.HTML

http://www.li.lv/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=26&Itemid=449

and finally:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/1108059.stm – notice how Latvian history begins in 1918 for the BBC.

Talking to Latvians tells other, slightly more personal story. Apparently, Lenin recruited Latvians for his ‘Praetorian Guard’ security team (this would need verifying) as they had the purist of socialist motives and beliefs. This can be contracted with the disdain with which ‘Stalinist’ buildings are regarded here. They make a distinction between what we might call ‘Soviet Bloc’ Blocks and Stalinist Buildings. The Soviet type is more worthy of rescue!

What other things have I noticed?

· Taxi drivers are mad. I mean really mad, not just taxi driver mad. Mine wove in and out of traffic at speed as if he was weaving warp and weft together. (link – http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-warp-and-weft.htm)

· The traffic lights are the only ones I’ve ever seen outside of England that work like ours. Red; Red + Amber; Green; Amber; Red. The ‘Green Man’ though, still works like the American version where drivers can still enter your crossing at 90degrees.

· All staircases are dim at night! The hotel staircases have no lighting at night – but this morning, in full daylight – they had!

· I actually found a Gent’s urinal that had headrests! Why?

· Many of the autumn fields have old fashioned hay stacks – like Monet’s painting. http://www2.bc.edu/~dohertyp/web_site/images/monet-haystack2.jpg

· Most of the country is flat and the highest point is about 300 metres above sea leve.

So there you go.

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Sunday in Riga

I finally got out yesterday afternoon (it’s Monday as I write this).

I’m here because I’ve been asked to deliver workshops on Tuesday at the MALT Conference being held at a University somewhere outside Riga. Also see https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/malt-project/ and the ensuing four posts. And – because my expenses are being covered by the project, I’m sitting through tedious meetings I only half understand. Nevertheless, I’m learning ‘stuff’ that might be useful in the future. But – I really wanted to see Riga while I was here – and in daylight.

So when we’d finished on Sunday, Brigita and Liesma (both Latvian) took Lorella (Italian) and me for a trip. We drove to what Brigita called the Jugenstil, and then we walked into the old town.

Riga is considered the world capital and metropolis of Art Nouveau (German: Jugenstil). The Riga ‘Jugendstil’ [DS – spelling corrected by German national!] is unique and distinct from its German cousin. No other city in the world has preserved so many fine examples of buildings made in this style that dominated art and architecture at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. Art Nouveau with its decorative elegance, curving lines and freedom of choice is regarded by many as the cream of architectural styles. More than 700 buildings or nearly 40% of all buildings in the very centre of today’s Riga are built in the Riga Art Nouveau style.’
[ http://acre.socsci.uva.nl/case-studies/riga.html ] also see …
http://latviasfriend.blogspot.com/2007/07/art-nouveau-jugenstil-in-riga.htm

A lot of refurbishment seems to have taken place over recent years and it really makes a visit to this area worthwhile. It’s beautiful. I think I’d like to come again in late Spring as it’s a bit cold right now. However, Riga looks wonderful as the leaves are still hanging colourfully from their branches and add a nice touch of autumn colour to the buildings and the town. The buildings are fabulous – something I’ve not been able to do justice to (via Flickr) because of the fading light, lack of elevation and (although excellent in every other way), the camera. Take a look at the dragons, the faces, the bodies, the shapes and the colours. Wonderful!

Riga is astride the banks of the Daugava [ http://www.riga-life.com/riga/river ] and a small waterway (the Pilsetas kanal) separates the old town from the wider Riga area. A park surrounds this waterway and it is crossed by many bridges: Luckily, this suits Latvian couples who wish to get married, as tradition demands that they ‘cross seven bridges’ together before arriving at the church. On the (presumably final – or first?) bridge, they signify their union by padlocking themselves together on the bridge! Someone must let them out because now, only the padlocks remain.

I’ll finish there for now and write a second ‘about Riga’ post later because this is getting a bit long now.

Daylight

Many thanks to the replies re: Schiphol – see below for details. Maybe it’s not as big as I thought!

So, I arrived – the plane was 30 minutes late but no matter, picking up luggage and finding a taxi was a breeze. I’d used a taxi company owned by Air Baltic, paid for a voucher online and this made it so much easier. Thank heavens for bijou airports. The airport is not too far from the city and it was an easy, but wet, journey to the hotel. I was met in the hall by colleagues and told that ‘we’ were going for dinner in 10 minutes – so whoosh, I dropped my bags in my room and returned to the lobby. What they meant to have said was “we’re hoping to go for dinner in 10 minutes” – others kept arriving so it was at least 45 minutes later before we went out.

But it was a great dinner, although served in a very busy but anachronistic setting.

It was cowboy time!

The restaurant was set up like a Wild West bar, complete with swing doors and leather tassel clad waitresses. It was a Latvian version of the Aberdeen Steak House but with a cowboy theme. My heart dropped. But – luckily it needn’t as the food was great. I had Baltic Herring Pieces (I think that the menu actually said ‘bits’). And why wouldn’t I? This fish is closely associated with Baltic/Scandinavian cuisine and I needed to try it. I was surprised by the nouvelle cuisine style service but pleased with the combination of flavours, textures and tastes. First of all the fish was not highly spiced or pickled – it was delicately sweet and only slightly sour and served with boiled potatoes and mildly pickled onion. Very nice – but made nicer by the available breads.  Apparently, black bread is a stable around here and there was plenty of that around. But the best one was a type of hard rye bread – not like pumpernickel but softer and whiter. It was stuffed with seeds, firm, slightly sweet and very very tasty. I followed this with an ‘El Buli’ steak (steaks are not my usual preference) which was perfectly cooked and also very tasty.

So that was day 1.

I’m posting this half way through day 2. I’ve been involved in a meeting all day and ‘hopefully’ I’ll get a chance to go out for a walk around Riga later this afternoon – before dark.

Schipol Comments were:

James Clay Says:
October 17, 2009 at 22:42 edit

Schipol Airport is 2,750 hectares.

King Fahd International Airport in Saudia Arabia is 78,000 hectares.

Heathrow is 1,214 hectares.

Bristol is 176 hectares.

AND

Lilian Says:
October 17, 2009 at 23:59 edit

Schipol is Europe’s 4th largest airport. And you know how you’re feeling like a fish out of water because you can’t do certain things online? I feel like that when I come back to England from Singapore and the taps don’t run automatically and the toilets don’t flush automatically etc. And as for train doors that you have to open from the outside…what’s that all about?

Arrival

I’ve arrived and will write more tomorrow but my day’s notes are thus:

You will know that Schipol is a large airport. I’m fairly sure that I read somewhere that it was the biggest in the world – but I don’t have the means to check right now (let me know won’t you?). The first time Sharon and I came here was in December 2001 and we were passing through at a rate of knots due to a delayed flight from Manchester. We had to run like the wind to catch our flight to Oman – which we just made, but which our luggage didn’t! (which is also part of todays stress – this wasn’t the first KLM horror story).  On our way back (by now it was January 2002) we were more taken with spending our ‘new’ Euros (which had replaced individual European currencies that month), to spend time looking around.

Now I’m back here and I’m worn out. I have 2.5 hours between flights but my connection to Riga is at the very opposite side of the airport to my arrival point. Having found my departure point, I had to walk up and down the corridor (35 gates – mine was No. 31) to keep checking that the gate hadn’t changed (it did – it moved to 35). The information screens seem to be at the centre of the hub, but nowhere to be seen on the spokes themselves. Then, having decided that I would just sit at the gate with a sandwich and a coffee – I had to go right back to the hub because the spoke-end coffee house had no coffee!!

All of this was after what was to me a completely new (well, new inasmuch as it hasn’t happened for about 15 years) procedure.

We are now so used to booking-in online that only being able to do so for my first flight was disconcerting, to be told upon arrival here in Amsterdam (twice – by KLM and AN Other) that ‘we cannot book you onto that flight’ was doubly disconcerting. I was told I had two options: leave the ‘safe area’ and book back in, as if entering from Holland (er – no thank you) or to go to the gate and let the crew book me in. This seemed the least scary of the two options, not leaving much room for manoeuvre. But – now it is clear to me that this is the done thing with Air Baltic.
I have now got a boarding card, having seen that gate 31 has a desk and that exactly one hour before the flight, this desk becomes manned (well, womanned). Well that’s ok – but why don’t e-Bookers know that? And why doesn’t KLM, the initiating flight carrier, know that either? After all – the booked my luggage straight through and it would have been far less stressful to know that booking in at the gate was normal. (more when I’m less tired)

Flying

This time tomorrow I’ll be in Latvia. All being well, I’ll have found my hotel, met my colleagues and have eaten. But you never know! I had to throw several wobblies this morning when first of all the XP laptop refused to do anything more than wheeze and pant and then, half way through a tortuous online booking episode, the vista laptop decided to sulk too. The online booking episode wasn’t the most straight forward either, with a simple refusal to let me book a seat on my second flight. Hey ho: The first e-Bookers call centre chappie said I’ll have to retrieve my bags in Amsterdam and re-book-in at the Air Baltic desk. The second e-Bookers call centre girlie said that that’s silly – of course I won’t – all will be booked through from Manchester.

We’ll see won’t we.