Kiri and


Romance in Riga

February 11th, 2017 (by Steve)

Imagine if you were able to time travel – where would you go to? The past, the future? We had an opportunity for a little bit of time travel at the beginning of December; a few days where we were just Kiri and Steve once again without having to think about our child. Believe me, it was weird, weird, weird! But where would we go? What would we do? As we’d missed the Baltics in our travels with Bertha, we decided on a few nights in Riga, Latvia. I’d been before on my own, both in summer and winter and we were hoping for snow. Would guilt at leaving our child override our enjoyment though? Would we find stuff to talk about beyond logistics and the little one back home?

Who knew that in the mind of a small child, you say goodbye through the medium of shoving cornflakes in your Dad’s mouth? It was a straightforward journey to Luton, where we breezed through security, played Uno for a while, then had a very easy flight to Riga, bought our contactless bus tickets (that’s new since last time!) and hopped on a bus into the city from the airport. More importantly, there were 3-4 inches of snow on the ground, so we were straight into playing mode, despite the biting cold. Kiri announced “I can’t tell you how happy I am with my thermal leggings” before proceeding to tell me, at length, how great they were. My Poundland gloves didn’t quite cut it in the Baltic temperatures though, so we picked up some more in a supermarket before heading out in the falling snow to have a lovely goulash for dinner.

It was still bitterly cold the next day, but rainy, leading to a bit of a quandary – do you walk close to the road where you’re likely to be splashed by melt-water, or do you walk close to the buildings where you run a gauntlet of being caught by snow sliding from the rooftops? Our walking tour guide chose the former and was encompassed by a tidal wave created by a passing bus. This was the third time I’d been on the walking tour and each time the guide has presented the city in a different way. This time the narrative was one of an occupied nation, celebrating in 2016 its longest period of independence – 25 years. In contrast to previous tours though, the relationship with Russia was talked about with much more caution – the words chosen very carefully – “I can never view Russia as a peaceful nation” – and parallels drawn between Latvia in 1940 and the 2014 annexation of Crimea. The tour ended at the Splendid Palace theatre with a recommendation to view a Latvian film. Eager to find activities that took us out of the cold, we asked to book two tickets for the following afternoon. The cashier scrabbled around her papers for a good few minutes before declaring “…but it’s not in English?”. She seemed bemused that we still wanted tickets, but nevertheless completed the transaction.

Before the first day was out, I had a promise that I needed to fulfil. As with many cities in Eastern Europe (and more recently Western Europe), padlocks are put on bridges as a way of marking the commitment in a relationship. Many years ago, when I first visited Latvia with my ex-girlfriend, we broke up on the first day of the holiday (that’s a totally different story, but it was mutual!). She made me promise that should I ever get married, I would put a padlock on a bridge in Riga with my future wife. So Kiri and I had come to Riga, with a padlock prepared, which we duly attached to a bridge as a mark of respect, throwing the keys into the water beneath (which confused the hopeful ducks).

That evening we had a hearty meal at Lido, washed down with the sweet, malty, Russian rye bread nectar that is Kvass before heading to the Skyline bar at the top of one of the posh hotels. The first time I visited it, I was young, newly single with a solid job. The second time I visited (6 months later over New Year), I was still young, still single (on the closest I’ve ever been to a “lads’ holiday”) and freshly redundant, with many questions about my future. And here I was, several years on with my wife beside me and our child hundreds of miles away. This was to be an evening of deep reflections and conversations on life aspirations. A chance to be Kiri and Steve the couple, rather than Kiri and Steve the parents. As we took our time to sip on little glasses of Riga’s famous black balsams we were able to reconnect in a way that’s so difficult to do alongside parenting.

The balsams ran out all too quickly though, so we stopped via a supermarket on the way back to our hotel room to grab some more at half the price! We were nearly back at our hotel, wandering down a little alley, when a police van roared past us, stopped suddenly, then turned on its siren. Startled, a cat leaped out from beside us, making us jump, before a huge cascade of ice descended from a roof in front of us. Had the cat not jumped, we would have been underneath it. And the moral of that story? Ummm… cats can sometimes be useful?

That night there was further rain and hail, meaning that there was very little snow left when we ventured out the next day. The temperature had once again plummeted, turning all of the puddles to sheet ice. We spent time wandering around the many Christmas markets and buying a few of the wares on offer. I was particularly taken by how precise the Latvians are when I went to use a toilet:

“To flush, press and hold foot pedal for 3÷5 seconds”… I make that 0.6 seconds. I’m not sure that my flushing is quite that accurate, but I did my best! Leaving the Old Town, we had lunch in the Index Cafe amongst a different crowd – all young professionals and no obvious tourists, as we steeled ourselves for the film.

The film was “Melanijas Hronika“, or, for those of us who don’t speak Latvian, “The Chronicles of Melanie” – starting in 1941 during the forced exile of 40000 Latvians under Stalin’s orders. It was not easy watching – a harrowing and poignant tale with a clear message even if we didn’t understand the spoken words of Latvian and Russian or the corresponding Latvian and Russian subtitles. Reeling, we retreated to the modern luxuries of peace and freedom to unpack this film in a lovely little coffee shop over a hot chocolate. Could something like this happen again? Could it? Surely the voices of reason and justice can prevail?

Our evening was to take on a lighter note as we headed to an underground tavern of hearty food, good ale and live folk music. Our tour guide had recommended that we stick to beers starting with the letters “B”, “V” and “U”, so we plumped for Valmiermuiza and Bauska dark beers. The “beer snack” of garlic croûtons (we prefer our garlic alongside our beer, rather than in it!) that we ordered as a starter would have been sufficient as a main course, but as we’d already ordered mains, there was no going back, so we also chomped down on our half loaves of bread filled with beans, bacon, onions and a cream sauce. And the accompaniment? Some cracking live music from Rahu the fool who were a lot more free than the video in that link suggests, with spontaneous transitions from jazz flute to washboard playing and guitar to banjo. What a great way to end the trip.

We found that 3 nights away had been plenty and by the last morning we were very ready to be reunited with the wee one and return to the rollercoaster of parenting. We tucked into a hearty breakfast once again (our hotel had an amazing buffet each morning including Schoko Müsli (woohoo!), pickled fish, cooked breakfast, champagne and pastries!) before stocking up on balsams at the airport and being whisked back to Blighty. The little one was quite overwhelmed to see us again; running between each of us, beaming from ear to ear. Hearing about all of the fun the grandparents had got up to, we were reassured that we hadn’t been missed that much whilst we were away.

So when are we going away again? Well, there’s nothing planned, but given it’s taken over 2 months for me to find time to write this blog post, it might be a while before we find time to plan another trip!

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