The Baltics

Visiting Riga was one of the best whims we’ve had in Sweden. The deal is the same as the Åland trip: a super cheap cruise with very little time in the actual destination, the point of which is supposed to be eating, drinking, and shopping on the ferry. And like the Åland ferry, we didn’t take the boat back, but decided to stay while.

So with a cruise that goes Stockholm-Riga and back for 100 kronor, you can’t complain about the small cabin size. Especially with the nice tables on the top floor, with a view of the archipelago and later on the open sea. Food on board is expensive: we brought our own bread and hummus. However, we took advantage of the 30 kr sauna. A very enjoyable experience unless you get seasick.

I did, which is not surprising, considering my persistent motion sickness in road vehicles (trains are my favourite: not bumpy at all). While we were still around the archipelago, it was barely noticeable. However, when we were in the open sea, things changed dramatically for me. I still remember my confusion as I saw the water from the sauna showers flow in one corner, then the other. Luckily I still had my car sickness pills for some reason (tucked in my case with the toothpaste, tissues and everything), and even more luckily, they helped a lot. Once we arrived I was happy that we were to fly back rather than sail.

I must say I really enjoyed Riga. While my friends took the free city tour (highly recommended by tourist guides and our hostel staff; my friends really liked it, too) and went around museums, I took a stroll to get a better feeling of the city. The area where all the tourists end up is very different from the sights of the true residential districts. Nothing fancy 3 km away from the very centre, but the spirit is still nice: cute little kafejnica-s (coffeehouses) everywhere.

A very curious thing about Riga is the demographic situation: half of the population is Latvian and the other half is ethically Russian. It’s a bilingual city where people are not necessarily bilingual (although they have some knowledge of the other language). I wonder what it would be like to live in a place like this. There is obviously segregation: some places are dominated by Russians, while others: by Latvians. In the pub we dined, everything was in Latvian and apart from a couple of other travellers, the customers seemed to speak Latvian, too (a very peculiar language, related to Lithuanian only), whereas once you enter the huge food market, you hardly hear anything but Russian.

For me that was nice because, while I don’t speak a word of Latvian, I got to try out my Russian a bit, for the first time after I took Russian 1A in Edinburgh. I was quite proud of myself! I managed to say ‘Excuse me, my friends have never tried halva, but this is too big. Is it possible to cut it?’ and other things that made me beam. However, I was reminded of the delicate situation when I asked if I could pay by card (in Russian) in a supermarket and was given a sulky look: I turned around and saw all the labels and ads in the shop were in Latvian.

It turns out there are separate schools that teach either in Latvian or in Russian, but it is still hard to imagine how people in their everyday lives manage to judge if they’re facing one of their own or one of the others. Friend circles including both ethnicities are impossible unless one of the parties give up their language, which they are too proud to do.

I would really like to visit Riga again someday. I would even stand another boat trip there, now that I know my motion sickness pills are working. Although it doesn’t have parks (a big disappointment), the plentiful very nice cafés, pubs, and bars makes up for it, and, let’s not forget, it is much cheaper than Sweden.

Categories: Uppsala

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