I had researched hostels in Riga before leaving London. But upon arriving via my budget airline at one in the morning, I promptly decided not to deal with checking into a hostel tonight. I would sleep at the airport until the buses started running and deal with it then. Upon finding a long bench in a dark corner, I somehow further decided not to sleep at all. My sleep schedule has been nonexistent for weeks anyways. So what is one extra night of no sleep?
Riga greeted me with a cool 10°c. Crisp enough to see my breath! My 7am bus journey boasted a fiery pink sky morning. Riga is an attractive city. I had been told this a few times in the past few days, by probably the only people in my life I’ve ever met who have been to Latvia (as well as some of the few who didn’t immediately query me ‘where’s Latvia?’) Still, I was surprised by it. I was first caught by the elegantly sculpted, softly colored buildings in long clean rows. These stretching down wide streets and wide sidewalks (a novelty compared to the cramped sidewalk space I had begrudgingly grown accustomed to in Asia). In general everything seemed tidy and well kept. Perhaps it was the early hour, but even the people about Riga seemed to go orderly about their business. It feels different here than other places in Europe. Maybe this is the Myanmar of the EU?
The hostel I had bookmarked wasn’t stirring yet at this hour of the morning. I sat on some benches across the street and people watched. Kids going to school; teenage boys on bikes, all of whom refrained from ever touching their handlebars; clusters of silent people waiting for buses; and older women smoking at the street corners. Finally I sought out tea. I’m always a little nervous in new countries about just spewing English at people. I don’t want to be presumptuous about other people knowing my language. But then Latvian wasn’t really a language option in school. My perusings on couchsurfing more than hinted that the residents here had a more than firm grasp of English. Anyways. The quintessential young, attractive barista greeted me in Latvian and following my timid request for tea switched fluidly to a beautifully accented English. Why can’t America be more concerned about learning other languages?
Just past eleven I finally checked into the hostel. I was informed that I had thirty-eight minutes to make it to the old city for a free walking tour. So off I went. A small, quiet voiced local was our guide. You could tell she was proud of her city. She took us, among other places, to the central market, the Daugava River, and the building known as Stalin’s birthday cake. It was a decent tour, and I was glad to have caught it the first day. However, afterwards I returned to the hostel. After over twenty-four hours of no sleep, I needed rest.
For dinner I found something called ‘cold soup’, which tastes like borscht with tzatziki mixed into it. In other words, incredible. I ate this in a nearby park as the sun set. Afterwards I strolled through the darkening city as slowly the windows and streetlights lit the city. Despite my nap earlier in the day, I retired early. My hostel room has a big window with a wide ledge. I made myself a cup of tea, pulled out the stroopwafels I had found in Rimi, and perched six stories over the city.