For here or to go? asks the young woman in Majori, a beach place near Riga. I look around the rent-a-bike-shop for a place to enjoy my cappuccino. Is there a table somewhere? I inquire. We used to have one, she smiles. Well, to go then, I smile back.
I'm not familiar with Latvian food, what would you recommend? Noodles, they have become very popular in the last two years. Anything else that has recently become popular? Barber shops, the waiter smiles. All of a sudden they were all over, no idea why, his colleague jumps in. Until two years ago, he adds, the use of knives was forbidden in salons, only electric razors were permitted. And, has the murder rate since increased? I ask. Both waiters are now smiling, for this is what people usually do when they do not know what to say.
It was my first time in Riga. All I knew before I've decided to explore it for a week was that it was by the sea and that there was a long beach nearby. Upon my arrival I learned that I had quite mistakenly booked a hotel not in town but between the airport and the city. This however turned out to be a blessing for there was a train station nearby with connections to the city centre and to the popular Jurmala beach. Soviet-style trains were new to me and felt so exotic that I took them every day.
In Brazil I had learned to judge hotels by the breakfast buffet they offer. Apart from the usual variety of ham, cheese, cereals, yoghurts, fruit, and sweets, there were also meatballs, sausages, vegis, and and and – it was one of the richest ever.
Riga's old town means extraordinary architecture, wonderful parks, inviting cafes and restaurants, and lots of tourists. There are also reckless cyclists and I'm still wondering how I've survived my strolls without getting run over.
Whenever I'm in a place new to me I do sense quite quickly whether I warm to it or not. Riga is one of these places I immediately liked and that had of course a lot to do with my pleasent encounters with Latvians – from the friendly and helpful airport bus driver to the charming hotel staff that made me curious and eager to discover more of the country. Next time ...