Aug. 22nd, 2015

Day 7, Friday 21 Aug

Junko emerged from the Riga information centre fuming at the unhelpful response of one of the staff. And, I have to say that there is a general air of the grudging attitude to service that was so often reported in the Soviet period. However, today we were served tea and cake in a cafe by a waitress who should be the ambassador for the country, certainly the tourist ambassador. Her friendliness and willingness to answer questions we asked, even offering to answer a question we'd only discussed among ourselves, was very refreshing.

There are some very impressive buildings in Riga old town. Some beautifully restored. However, you don't have to look very far to see that the place is still pulling itself out of decades of Soviet neglect. They are trying, and work is still going on, but they don't seem to have gone as far as Estonia. That said, I guess Riga is a much bigger place than Tallinn.

Shingo & Stina did their own thing today, so Kohe, Aya, Junko & I wandered the town all day. We bought a tour bus ticket and rode the two lines. We believe we can do the same again tomorrow, so may well use the ticket to go and visit some of the interesting areas we only drove past today.

Our evening meal could best be described as 'hearty'. We spotted two people tucking into a meal in a loaf and thought it looked interesting, so took a seat. It was a thick stew poured into a hollowed out loaf. Kohe & I had to have a soup, as they only had 2 loaves left. However, I think our soups, also very hearty, were actually tastier. I'm still feeling rather full.
Day 8, Sat, 22 Aug

More wandering the streets of Riga. We took the tour bus again (no extra charge) that took us to the impressive Russian Orthodox Church. While outside, Kohe was filming and a man came out and said "Sorry." We though it was because we were in the way of their car park, as there was a Christening on. However, there was a sign asking visitors not to take photos or use a video camera. The man also stopped a man filming from the front door, so maybe we weren't even supposed to film the outside. Anyway, the inside was very ornate, though obviously not old, and very colourful.

We strolled around the Vermanes Gardens, ending up in Riga railway station. We went up one of the stairways to the platform and once again were struck by thee shabbiness of the place. However, to give them their due, this was not the main stair, which we used to leave the platform and was actually somewhat nicer than the 'back' stair. Even so, it more or less confirms the slightly poorer image this country has when compared to Estonia.

We wound up in a coffee shop restaurant, where I had a very nice and artistic cup of coffee while the others ate a meal. I abstained. Having eaten well last night and not refused the hotel breakfast, I was not hungry.

Having drunk, I eventually needed the toilet and had to use the station's. This was an odd and not very pleasant experience. Entering, one has to pay 30c to the elderly lady in the booth. You then have to take what paper you think you need before you enter the cubicles. Once inside, a shock awaited. It seems that the operators did not want users to flush their used paper away, as the nearby waste bin was full of, to put it politely, soiled paper. Nice. I have to say that I didn't follow suit and trusted to the water's power.

Actually, when I came out, two of the Babushkas were busily chatting away while water in one of the wash basins was running cheerfully to waste. I did wonder exactly what they were being paid to do.

We then took a tour on the inner canal. There are competing companies and we thought our bus tour ticket allowed us a discount. It didn't. So, as this particular tour was the most expensive, we returned to a cheaper one, only to be told that boat was now full. Anyway, we did find a boat with spare seats and had a pleasant trip going down the canal in the town's park, then out on to the Daugava River and back into the other end of the canal. Not all the route was picturesque, but it was an interesting trip.

Finally, an evening meal in a very nice Latvian restaurant. Again, I wasn't that hungry, but the light salad with sprats was extremely tasty and the others spoke equally highly of theirs.

Once again, a day of fabulous weather. Dare I say, we've been extremely lucky in that regard, not having a single poor day so far?

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