Baltics Day 9: Riga is so cheap, you can buy all the Latvian Air Bud DVDs you want!

Day 9: September 11th, 2016

Based on my previous entries and my amazing record for sleeping well, guess how much sleep I got last night? If you guessed four hours, then cheers to you!

I woke up at 10am today since I told Anja I'd meet her for the 11am walking tour. Off I went, sans breakfast, to the main church for the walking tour. Anja met me there, right on time, and offered me some food she got at the farmer's market. She's so sweet! I didn't accept, though, since I wasn't too hungry. I am not sure what it is about travel, but apparently it makes me immune to the need for eating or sleeping. Travel, folks, and it will make you resistant to basic human needs! But not throat infections.

The tour was pretty bad. I mean, the guide was nice, and he seemed knowledgeable, but his jokes were just awful, and the only person humoring him was some Swiss guy who laughed way too hard at them. Anja and I kept laughing at how the guide would continually tell everyone how long it would be to our next stop. The distance would be no more than a 2 minute walk, but he would inform us "it's a bit of a longer walk; we'll be going to that statue up the road and we'll stop and I'll tell you about it." Is that how walking tours work? I wasn't sure. Tell me more about this walking and touring part!

The tour ends at the guide's friend's bar, which is *such* a sleazy tour guide move (the old "hey let's all come to this great bar that's owned by my friend so you can buy all of the beers!") and he shows us a powerpoint presentation about other tours the company offers and at the end of it all I feel like I'm obligated to buy a timeshare or something. It ends around 1:30pm, and Anja and I make plans to meet up at the hostel later for dinner.

By now I'm feeling hungry, naturally, as it's been 17 hours since my last meal. Off I go to the marketplace to load up on some sweet, sweet carbs.

Anja previously let me down by telling me the marketplace has "one bakery vendor." ONE bakery vendor? Just one? How can I...I don't even know what to say. But then I get to the market and Anja must not have seen everything because don't you worry, there were starches and sugars aplenty.

I once again discovered the joys of being in this cheap country. Back in Helsinki, these pastries all cost about 3 euros each. Here they were a tiny itty bitty fraction of the price, each ringing up at no more than 70 cents each. I got a giant mashed potato bread thing again, which cost 70 euro cents. Piradzins ar gafu, which are little 3-inch baguettes with spices, cost 20 cents. Virtuli ar ievarijumu, a sort of fried dough ball (where can you go wrong, really), cost 19 cents. I also got a small cinnamon roll, much like a danish pastry, for 17 cents. Then I proceeded to eat it all.


In the market there was a honey stand that sold pollen, raw honey, hand creams, soaps, and other products all made with honey or pollen. The woman didn't speak much English or Latvian, but she did speak Russian. Ooh, since my trip to central Asia, I can deal with that! I looked at her products for 20 minutes and she gave me a binder with English translations of all the labels. In the end I bought various hand creams, honeys, and candle wicks (what can I say, I enjoy crafting) for under $10. When I made the purchase, I said "spasibo" and her face lit up at hearing my Russian. I can't wait until I'm more fluent in this language!

honey and beeswax

I went to a candy stand that sold a bajillion types of wrapped candies and encountered another vendor who spoke no English. Therefore, gesturing was necessary. "Four pieces each...of ALL OF THESE," I told her as I swiped my hand over the entire glass display. She wanted to be sure I didn't mean four kilos each, so she pulled out four individual candies and said "Four?" Yes, please. I don't want 50 pounds of candy. Instead I walked away with only two pounds, for only $3.

I walked back outside to the outdoor vendors and encountered a sort of flea market vendor selling miscellaneous used things. I love flea markets because it tells you about the waste of the local people. What do people have an abundance of? What do they discard? In Riga's case, it's boxes of vintage Soviet-era pins and tie clips, as well as a box of 13 surgical tools. I come upon a variety of surgical scissors and bandage scissors and dental Riga is a hotbed for back alley surgeries? Not sure.

there it is! The Academy of Sciences!

Behind the market is a whole neighborhood that is what our tour guide from earlier described as "real Riga," since most people tend to stick in the touristy old part of town. I first encounter the old Soviet-era building for the Academy of Sciences, which towers over a nearby park. My map is an off-the-beaten-path map and mentions a flea market that has all sorts of weird stuff, and says "we wouldn't be surprised if you found a kidney there!" Well, I knew what they meant once I got inside because it was sketchy as hell. Luckily it was daylight because I'm pretty sure that I would have been harvested for those kidneys to sell to other people had it not been.

not pictured: kidneys

I walk in and I immediately feel like I don't belong, as there are pretty much no other customers. There are various stands, some half-covered with tarps, that are each piled high with absolute junk. There are piles of batteries, dangling cords, old VHS tape recorders, CDs, DVDs, pins, plumbing pipes, nuts and bolts, remotes, pots and pans, and other various items. None of it appears to be worth buying, and since there's so much of it, the vendors don't bother pricing anything, instead preferring a good haggle. But how can you haggle on something that you absolutely don't want? They have Latvian DVDs of Air Bud, for God's sakes.

I walk up to a couple of the "aisles" of booths but don't go into them, as they're so close together and so crowded with junk that I fear that someone will just chloroform me from behind a tower of old Russian Friends DVDs and start using some flea market dental tools to rip out my heart.

I returned to the city center because I really wanted to see the House of Blackheads that I kept seeing on all the postcards, which is the main sight when you google Riga. I can't believe our tour guide didn't take us there! I sought it out on my map and finally found it in one of the squares. It's absolutely stunning, and one of my favorite sights in Riga.

House of Blackheads

After writing/sending a couple postcards, I returned to my hostel around 5pm. I took a nice long shower and hung out in the hostel lobby for their happy hour. A large group of us, including JP, Anja, an Aussie named Britt and a Canadian named Ross, linger in the lobby for a while until 9:30pm rolls around and it's time to make a decision about food because most restaurants close at 10pm. Britt suggests a local dumpling place, since it's open until 4am. Sounds great!

The restaurant is cafeteria style, so you take a tray and fill up your bowl with the various dumplings of choice, each labeled by a cartoon of what animal the meat comes from. There are sauces, sauerkraut, and sour cream to top your dumplings, if you so wish. Then, at the end of the line, there is a scale for you to weigh your food and you pay for it by weight. Yes, you can know exactly how many pounds of dumplings you ate. I wasn't very hungry because, you know, vacation habits, and therefore my bowl only weighed $2 worth of food. TWO DOLLARS, PEOPLE! Isn't Riga the best?!

We plan on heading out to a bar, but first we stop at the hostel because apparently drinks there are way cheaper than the already super-cheap bars. Anja is totally with me if I want to go to a bar or nightclub, but she also doesn't care if we stay in the hostel. Since it's getting pretty late, I end up deciding that we stay in the hostel since I have to wake up early yet again tomorrow. Notice how I'm not taking naps ever? I don't understand how my body is surviving.

Logically, since I need to get up early tomorrow, I end up staying up late chatting with Anja, Damien, his stepbrother, and another Aussie girl. Damien and I recap the previous crazy night to the group, and we all talk about various accents and travel and all the other late night hostel conversation topics. At 4am I decide I should head to sleep, but as my cough gets worse at night, I decide to take a shot of the ole' Latvian Black Balsam to calm the throat. Good thing that hostel bar is open 24/7.