Riga, day 1
I liked Riga as soon as I stepped off the bus: the city canal was right next to the bus station, and there were people kayaking in it as I walked to my hostel. You have to take some pedestrian tunnels to cross the street in that part of the city, and I went up a couple of wrong staircases before I found the one I needed. Riga Hostel is in the same building as a McDonald’s; in fact, you have to walk through one of its entrances to get to a second door for the rest of the building. My hostel also shared a building with two other hostels and is situated on the fourth floor.
Dana, who was working at the front desk when I arrived, was warm and welcoming. She checked me in, showed me to my room, and went over the four keys I would be using during my stay: a chip for the door next to McDonald’s, a key to the hostel, a key to my room, and a key to my in-room locker. Linens and towels are included, but soap seems to be unreliably stocked in the shared bathrooms.
Soon after I dropped off my stuff, I went across the street to Rimi Supermarket for a snack and headed to the meeting point for a Couchsurfing event in Old Town. The three hosts were Daniel, John, and Varun, and the three of them met in London. But Daniel now lives in Helsinki. Varun moved to London from New Delhi five years ago. John has traveled to over 120 countries! It turned out that the three of them also hosted the Tallinn camping event last night that Magdalena from Serbia and Peter from Holland went to (both folks I met at the Tallinn weekly Couchsurfing meetup). Another nice thing the three of them did was give a ride to Alynda (from Holland) from Tallinn to Riga since they’d hired a car. She’s staying in the same building as I am in a different hostel.
We started by waiting for possible latecomers at the bar next to the meeting point. I got to chatting with our hosts and two sisters from Germany, Julia (lives in Berlin) and Vivian (lives in Frankfurt). They are so lovely! Julia originally ordered a beer, but after I said I wanted cider, she switched her order to match mine. In response, I gave her a high five.
Viv was born in Chester, England, and also spent a year in Michigan in high school. She said her perspective on material things in life changed after she visited Morocco. No longer did she think it was okay for her to have 20 pens in her pen bag: her dad has all this swag because he’s a pediatrician, so she took those pens with her to Morocco and gave them as parting gifts to the children there after chatting with them and getting to know them (rather than automatically handing them out). She’s also an aspiring dentist. I only found out two days later that she was celebrating her 21st birthday, but I suppose it’s not as big a deal in Europe as it is in the States.
Monsef, who lives in Las Vegas but is originally from Morocco, told me that I can probably get by just speaking English, but some people also know Spanish. (Too bad my Spanish is also terrible. Maybe I should start cramming it in Mango Languages.) He’s a teacher, and he often travels without his wife so that he can visit countries she doesn’t want to visit. His upcoming itinerary has slight overlaps with mine: Vilnius and Kiev, where he will be taking Russian language lessons. Maybe we will meet up again in those cities!
The next stop was Aussie Backpackers Pub, where we picked up a few more travelers: Nate from Detroit, Pietro from Italy, Davide from near Genoa, Italy, and a Norwegian dude whose name escapes me. Nate and I chatted at some length: he’s an electrical engineer working in energy, and he originally wanted to build wind farms but realized he could make a bigger impact by working with traditional forms of energy. He wants to start volunteering for Wolf PAC, which is trying to get money out of government and to get enough state legislature votes for a constitutional convention.
Some of us got hungry, so we went to Lido Vermanitis, the larger location outside of Old Town, which is cheaper than Lido Alus Seta. There was a huge selection! I was overwhelmed and intrigued, but I settled on grilled salmon, mixed veggies, sauerkraut, a spinach pancake stuffed with cheese, and borscht. It was all pretty satisfying, but the salmon was a bit overcooked. A bunch more things looked interesting, but there’s only so much I can eat in one sitting. It was less than €12 for all that food, and I was overly full!
Then we met up with the rest of the crew at Kaņepes Kultūras Centrs, which was an interesting spot: a bar, a drum circle room, and a large outdoor drinking area made up the place, and there was a large plaster lion statue sitting vertically on the building wall. (I found out later that “kaņepes” means “cannabis” in Latvian.) I tried another local cider, and it was served in a wine glass for €2.50. The drum circle room had some really high energy going on and was fun to dance along with. As the sun was going down just after 10pm, Alynda and I said goodbye to everyone so that we could walk back to our hostel building together. The sun was pretty much gone as we started walking, but I’m glad we had each other’s company.
I thought I would be the first person asleep in my room, but my two roommates already had the lights off by the time I returned. One was coughing like crazy all night, and the other was looking at her phone for a bit before sleeping. No one was using the showers by the time I returned, so that was nice. I was exhausted and passed out despite the incessant coughing. It was pretty warm overnight even though the window was cracked open, but there’s of course no AC or a fan in the room, but I somehow muscled through.