From Latvia to Russia with love—and fear

wifi graffiti

     21st century activism.

     On a hot day in Latvia (or anywhere in Scandinavia) you have to go to the beach. It’s the law. The reason is because it might be the last time for the year. That’s how bad the weather is up north.
     I went to the seaside in Jurmala, which is a Latvian word meaning “seaside.” (I wonder if Riga means “capital”?) I was walking along, minding my own business, when I heard beach volleyball in the distance. We native Californians, we have what is called in medical journals “Volleyball Ear”. We can hear great beach volleyball before we can see it. We can hear the crisp passing, the solid serves, the confident spikes, and simply know. My ear led me to stumble on two of the world’s top players during a practice, Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins. I stayed for nearly an hour, asking a woman next to me about the guys. I didn’t say anything about The Ear. No reason to invite skepticism on a hot day.

     Samoilovs spiking. Can you hear it?

     If you have never heard of those guys, then you might know another Latvian sportsman, basketballer Kristaps Porzingis, who was drafted by the New York Knicks this year. I fear the worst for his future, especially since now he has that Knicks taint on him. (See Lampe, Maciej)
ship hotel

     A ship shape hotel. Ten euros for fifteen minutes of massage. In Thailand I think you could get a two-hour massage for that and have money left over for a watermelon shake plus another two-hour massage. In fact, I can hear every Thai masseuse packing their bags now and studying Latvian.

riga statue

     Statue right in the middle of Riga. Isn’t she a beaut?

riga woman statue

     Another evocative statue, in a different way.

art nouveau building

     There is a quarter in Riga with many art nouveau buildings that were much more impressive than I could have ever guessed. So beautiful! This is just one facade. It was hard to get one good photo of the scale of it all.

riga hostel

     This is a new hostel in Riga, a renovated former farmhouse called Amalienhof and it was great because few people know about it, but that will change, and when it does, one toilet for 15 people won’t be cozy. 10 euros. It is outside of the center, but in the center Riga is plagued by stag parties. British lager louts come in droves to take advantage of cheap flights to party like they might die tomorrow.

RUSSIA! (but with a warning from the Estonians)
     I took a twenty-euro bus from Riga to Pskov. That’s too much for only 290km, but that’s all there is. I noticed a thirty-euro night bus. I think you pay more for a less surly driver. Only eight people were on the bus, including a Dutch guy with a stroller, but no baby. He is literally delivering a stroller for his brother from Holland to Russia because his brother simply forgot to bring it with him.
     I had to get stamped out of southeastern Estonia, but the guard gave me a pamphlet and a warning about overstaying my Schengen visa for Europe. I am pretty sure I have a good two weeks left, but he was serious about making sure I understood despite not being able to communicate well. I think I overstay my Schengen visa every year, but no one has ever said a peep about it.
     The Russian immigration officer went through my passport stamps three times. I can never watch them too closely because it cracks me up. For some reason I think it is the funniest thing to watch them scrutinize my Kyrgyzstan stamps or whatever catches their eye, and it’s a bad habit that is going to get me in trouble some day.
pskov view

     A view of Pskov with the Trinity Cathedral in the distance.

trinity cathedral

     My airbnb host’s living room. Were you fooled? It’s Trinity Cathedral.

lenin statue pskov

     Lenin statue on Lenin Square in the center of Pskov. Laissez les bon temps roulez!

     I’m a little spooked about Russia. Day One went pretty well, but for some reason I have the idea I really need to be on my toes. I feel like an infant with hardly being able to speak. I really need to learn some verbs. I can read the alphabet and my vocabulary is slowly growing, but my sentences are like grunting when I can only say, “Small! Small!” in a restaurant.
     First person to reply below gets a postcard from Russia—if you want one.
     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

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From Latvia to Russia with love—and fear — 11 Comments

  1. Are you there now?! Geez, you get around. Looks beautiful there though. How’s the chow? I was with Kip, Greg’s brother in the old Yugoslavia back in the day. All I remember is mushy, boiled vegetables & mealy sausages….everywhere!

  2. It’s too soon to comment on the food, but at least there is food. It was a struggle last time I was here. I would have killed for mealy sausages last time!

  3. Call me, if You want to supply your Russian vocabulary with: “grandpa sits on the roof and plays his violin”!!;-)

  4. I too share your guilty pleasure at the bewilderment of modestly-educated border staff. I once laughed out loud after an Indian official had been studying my visa for a good long time, to tell me that my Indian visa was out of date. Turns out he’s been struggling to read the Cyrillic on an old Kazakhstan Visa. At least he worked out that it was indeed expired.

    The best was good ol’ US Immigration in Atlanta though.

    Wayar in the hayall is KYER ZIZI STAAAN?

  5. HA! That’s a good one. They way they scrutinize every stamp is funny and sometimes I can tell they are embarrassed that they can’t figure out some stamps. I do wonder what goes through their mind…

  6. This is what he is thinking:
    I wonder if these here stamps are real. Maybe there fakes. Wonder if he’s fresh from some terrorist training camp – should I call my supervisors ? Hell, they don’t pay me enough to get excited. Besides I get off in a couple of hours. Wonder how this guy’s paying for all this travelin’. He don’t look like he’s got more than a couple of bucks to his name. Man, look at that woman over there. How come she ain’t in my line. All I ever get is these weirdos here with all them fake passport stamps….

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