Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Week of Entertainment

Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to point out about how cool Stockholm is: let's say you're running for the bus but on the way realise a) you don't have enough change or b) you don't have your wallet with you. If you don't have a cell phone, you're completely up creek, but if you do, you can send a quick SMS to the transportation number and buy a ticket that way. Spiff, no?

Okay, on to the week of entertainment. Why week? Because it's an approximate calendar week, leave it be. Entertainment? Weeeeeell, it all started on Saturday morning when I picked up my new computer.

That's right, this post is coming to you from the half-comfort of my own couchbed.

So that's just entertainment on its own - I now have my "land-line" back, my "TV" back, all of it. Saturday was spent hanging around Riga centre in the lovely weather (don't worry, Sunday to today has been either cloudy/rainy/depressing or sunny and cold, by May standards), looking at the photography display (A Day in Latvia, 1987 and 2007) set up in Doma laukums, and then heading home for a quick nap and a bit of tinkering with a project I had gotten for the weekend, before heading back into the centre for Museum Night.

Museum Night! Not all as exciting as I would have thought it would be, but it was definitely interesting seeing how absolutely packed the buildings and streets could be. Museum Night happens once a year in Latvia, where basically every museum in Riga and other major Latvian cities is open until the very wee hours of the morning. I doubt that the museums see that much action (I'm talking huge lines of people waiting to get inside) any other day. I started late, met up with some friends (who were very [Slava!, much??] plastered with round stickers in all kinds of colours, showing which museums they had been to see) and took a quick turn through the National Art Museum and the tiny yet shiny Latvian jewelry museum.

Sunday I did nothing but wash laundry, watch three movies on my computer (entertainment) and take a quick trip with my flatmate to the resident Nelda grocery store (entertainment - I still don't know how to get there and back from our apartment. I rely on my flatmate to steer me through the labyrinth that is our neighbourhood).

Bad choice! Monday I was overly stir crazy, even borderline hysterical. I think I've really learned that, as much as I'd love to and as wonderful as it sounds to just sit and do jack for an entire day, I pay for it dearly with what could be considered an energy hangover. I have too much of it the day following and almost need to cry after sitting at my desk for 8 hours. Anyway, during the day Monday a friend sent me an SMS saying that music artist Imants Daksis was having a CD release concert. For free. So I totally went. The only thing I knew about Imants Daksis was from what I read of a relative's album review of Daksis' last album; the music wasn't necessarily bad, it was just weird.

This was beyond me as the first "set", in which he played songs from his new album, were really good and, despite some of the texts being a bit more than I'm used too, completely normal. The guy sitting in front of us was a normal, long-haired (Daksis ditched the bald head and long beard image, apparently) indie musician. THEN he got into his old stuff, which was, in all sense of the concept, AN AWKWARD TIME. The guitar was still amazing, but I can't say I was feeling the lyrics about "burnt witches" and "massacred Indians", although I thought that the general message of the song was important. There was a message, really.

Tonight I'm heading out to go see Chekov's "The Seagull". It's supposed to be a short play, and I've checked with my grandfather, who approves of it, so I'm expecting a decent evening. Keeping my fingers crossed (or holding my thumbs)!

Addition: The Chekov play wasn't bad, but I didn't really get it. I'll have to read an English version of it to see if it makes sense then. Tomorrow evening we're going to stop by Livu laukums to see Vilkaci perform. At this point, anything to keep my mind off of the new loss of a seriously excellent family member, who was like a figurative sibling to me. R.I.P., Kimene. This is one of the rare times in my rounds of Europe where I regret not being home.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Always One Step Ahead

Latvian bureaucracy. Always one step ahead.

I got up extra early this morning so that I would have time to not only eventually get to work, but also to stop in at the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs to see what I could do with my documents (as I may have mentioned, yesterday was a bust because yours truly forgot her passport at home). I get off at the respective bus stop, correctly guess which street to turn on, walk up to the building and LO! The door is there, but there are no signs, no indicators, nothing. I try the door - nothing. A woman who was also milling around asked "Excuse me, but do you know where the OCMA is?" Me: "That's what I'm trying to figure out. It was here not too long ago..." Then I went to the computer accessories/office supplies store on the same block and asked a nice elderly man if he knew what was up.

Me: "Excuse me, but do you know if the OCMA has moved office?"

Man: "Yep, they sure have."

Me: "Geez. Do you know where to?"

Man: "Oh, sure, out in Ciekurkalns in the direction of Mezuparks..."

Me: "......where??"

Man: "You take the 11th tram, across the B--- bridge, second stop, past Mezaparks cemetery, it's on the right side, a huge, glass building. Ugly box."

Me: "...thanks?"

Basically, whenever I think I'm one step closer to my goal, or that I'm almost to the finish line, they somehow manage to top it. They've moved office and left zero notice on the prior building. The only advantage is that the new office has been in service since May 6th (there were a few weeks in April when I wouldn't have been able to do anything anyway since they had locked down for the move), meaning that, hopefully, other 'immigrants' will either a) not know where the office is or b) be too lazy to head out that far to get their paperwork taken care of. Let's hope that Latvia is full of lazy people who want citizenship, right?

Kidding. But I could totally use a nap.

If I can figure out where the new office is, I'll try again tomorrow. In the words of Chumbawamba: "I get knocked down, but I get up again - you're never gonna keep me down! (repeat ad nauseum)"

Monday, May 12, 2008

Stockholm and Clean Lungs

Poor readers! I promised you Stockholm almost a week ago and have given you NOTHING! Today it’s cloudy and considerably cooler in Riga – what a great end to an absolutely fantastic weekend of sunny weather. Friday I had my lungs X-rayed (and I’m CLEAN! No TB in these puffers!) and was going to take all of my documents to the respective department today, but realized that I had left my passport at my apartment (note: last night/today is my last day of apartment sitting, so all of my belongings are not where I am), so I get to try again tomorrow. And if I haven’t already said so, I have my official and for-real work permit, so now all I need is the stay-in-Latvia permit! Keep your fingers crossed!

Stockholm, much like Zurich, has nothing really pretty to it, but has something about it that makes you want to go back.

There is a free city bus that leaves the centre once every hour on the hour and drives you to IKEA. The same bus drives you back to the city centre from IKEA once every hour on the half hour. I learned only post-Stockholm that the IKEA we went to is the largest IKEA in the woooooorld! And it was glorious. It’s kind of a slow-sloping spiral design, so you see everything at a nice, slow pace. Real Swedish IKEA’s have “family” goods: shampoo, lotion, toothbrushes, bathrobes, jogging suits, etc. Families also get a discount at IKEA with a special Family Card.

For lunch we ate real Swedish IKEA meatballs, from the motherland source, with a nice glass of lingenberry juice on the side.

We hit up more or less every H&M store we saw – and yes, they ARE all different. At least what you can't find at one you could find at another, and some "special" items weren't available at other H&M stores (like this dress thing I bought. Yes, Kaija bought a dress thing. Of her own free will. And it’s girly. But has a good deal of black in it [HAH!]). The other things I picked up almost made my flatmate cry from joy because they weren't black. She was very proud that I came back with clothing in colours.

We also managed to take a quick jaunt through the Old Town on Gamla Stan. We got as far as the Parliament and the Royal Castle, then hit up this little square with the Nobel Museum and three buildings that look suspiciously like the Three Brothers here in Riga. Then it was time to head back to the hotel to pick up the rest of our loot and find our way back to the ferry. The ferry on the way back was very... "Eastern European", as my father put it after hearing my description. In comparison to the near-luxury we experienced on the way from Tallinn to Stockholm, the Stockholm to Riga trip was mostly groups of middle-aged people drinking when they got on the boat, drinking that evening on the boat, drinking that morning as we drew closer to Riga, and drinking while we were waiting to get off the boat. Getting off the boat… let’s just say that, had there been a real emergency situation, we would have all been screwed. There were no announcements made regarding where we were to disembark, no ferry staff walking around directing people where to go (in fact, some were even standing in the cattle-drive like lines with the rest of us, checking messages on their mobile phones). It wasn't until 20 minutes after we were docked that an announcement came saying "Uh.... all passengers please disembark the ferry via the vehicle cargo area..." So down, down, down we went into the cargo area where cars were parked, and then out the back of the ferry onto solid, Latvian concrete. This ferry was also much shakier than the Tallinn-Stockholm ferry.

None of us, however, got sick from the trips. The rides were both considerably smooth, no trouble, no turbulent waters. Only the back-trip was a bit shady.

Overall the trip was a hit – we talked, we laughed, we took pictures. Our feet hurt like the flipping dickens. I smile to myself thinking back on it. We got back Sunday late morning, then had a few hours to recover before heading out to the National Opera to see Latvian a capella group Cosmos showcase their new album. The concert was a great end to a great weekend.

Good things about Stockholm:

-Wayne’s Coffee (a coffee CHAIN with coffee to go that uses lactose free milk. Excellent coffee in good sizes and somewhat decent prices)

- H&M (um, duh.)

- IKEA (loves the free transportation to and from)

- 7-11 (oh yes there IS! At least one 7-11 per block, sells anything your heart may desire)

- good coffee, in general.

- decently cool architecture

- lots of good things to photograph

- the people are society-nice. This means they’re not Minnesota or Iowa overly nice, but just actually nice people who are fond of helping out if needed.

Next time I head back I’ll be all about hitting up the museums – we didn't have enough time this trip, but next trip that's all I plan on doing :)

Aaah yes, and I get my new baby (a.k.a. computer) next week! I’ll be whole again!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Since last post I’ve definitely been to Sweden and Estonia and back. We took the god-awful bus trip to Tallinn, arrived shortly before 5 a.m. and had too many hours to kill before the ferry to Stockholm would leave. We dragged ourselves to a Double Coffee, where we were immediately greeted with English “Hi! How are you?” from a younger guy sitting at a table with his friend, his friends girlfriend, and his own girlfriend, who was passed out in the chair next to him. It appeared they had been out all night taking advantage of the holiday, and were still recovering. Then another local sat down with us, showed us all of the phone numbers he had collected on his arms (his presence was funny in general, as my father had just sent an SMS saying “Tere, Kaija! Tik uzmanies no eesti poisod!” Regardless if I spelled it right or not, the SMS basically read “Hello, Kaija! Just watch out for Estonian boys!”

Thanks, dad. Just in time, too.

So our new friend attempted to talk to us through his half-hung over stupor and a cup of coffee (which Ilze and Julija, being smart, told the server was on a separate bill because the guy wasn’t with us), while we conversed in Latvian and tried to gently signal that we were too tired to socialize outside of our group. He eventually got the idea and left.

By 8 a.m. we had been approached by at least 4 people and I was ready to take down the next person who talked at us. Luckily for them (and us, I suppose), no one did. I have never been mildly harassed by locals when I’ve been abroad. It was an entirely new experience for me, and not one that I enjoyed. The worst one was some guy who, after trying to talk to a man on the sidewalk (who ignored him), threw up his arms in exasperation, then walked back toward where Ilze was sitting on a stone dove and where I was trying to photograph another stone dove. I figured the guy would come over and just hover until I had taken my picture but nooooooooo, instead he sits down right on the sculpture I was trying to photograph. And says nothing. As I huffily put my camera away he starts speaking in broken English, saying something like “Is it… eh, is it hard? Is it bad, for you?” I look to Ilze who’s ignoring him and feign non-English speaker. Then we start to leave because Julija was done with the ATM. Then the guy sighs again and says, “You are afraid.”

Buddy, what the hell? I’ve had 30 minutes of sleep, will be on my feet for 12 hours and you just sat down in my frame without any regard for what I was doing. Does my face read fear? Shortly thereafter when Ilze, Julija and I were nearing the mall for a breakfast hunt was when I threatened suffering to the next person who would come toward us. Then I did some stretches on the mall floor and felt better.

Tallinn was nice,overall, and that’s all I can say about it. The old town is very similar to parts of Riga and smaller German cities, so I wasn’t in awe of anything other than the more modern buildings leading up to the older part of the city. I had also had close to zero hours of sleep since 4 p.m. the previous day (power nap!) and was not looking forward to 12 hours of walking around with no purpose. I managed to take a few pictures, managed to be interested enough in some things we saw, and generally cared very little about the rest. As I said, Tallinn, while lovely, is similar to Riga – no real need to get freaked out about it.

Julija finally suggested that we catch a movie to kill a few hours – AMAZING plan. We did just that, managed to stay awake the entire time (we saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, which, although containing unnecessary nudity in places, was a light comedy and at least somewhat realistic). Then we had a hobo-ish picnic on some steps before dragging ourselves across a major road to the ferry. By this time we had no objections to showing up for the 2-hours-prior-to-boarding request. We got to our absolutely divine cabin (three foldy beds, a couch, a TV, and a toilet-shower) and crashed. When we woke up a few hours later we explored the ferry, tested some perfumes, ate the dinner we brought along (otherwise the ferry dinner buffet would cost 17 LVL or $34… I choose hunger), watched a movie on Julija’s computer and passed out again until morning when we were almost to Stockholm.

TBC with Stockholm details in a few days.