I got into Riga on Wednesday evening. The sun had already set, and an unrelenting, frigid Baltic wind whistled around me at the central bus station. The hungry rip-off artists at the cab-stand were all lined up, waiting for their latest victim to get in and hand over large amounts of Lats (the local currency, currently exchanged at around 1 Lat / $2.00). I usually get taken for one “ride” (maybe two, tops) before I fall into an informed comfort-zone of what I should be paying. Honestly, my immediate post-arrival priority became food, not whether a few unnecessarily extra dollars were going to change wallets.
I stayed on the far side of Akmens Tilts (“Stone Bridge”), directly across the Daugava River from old town Riga. Dinner was either going to be at the hotel restaurant, or inside of one or another restaurant on the far bank. I was curious about the new town, and had the itch to move around a little after hours on a bus. Armed with a strong recommendation from the receptionist, I resolutely stepped out into a brutal wind.
I wore my winter jacket, but that wind made a complete mockery of my attempts to stay warm on the walk over. I was shaking all over like a crazy-dog’s leash. The bridge which I had to cross was arched, and the middle had a crest which I designated my “point of no return”. If I decided to scrap the walk before “the point”, I’d still be closer to the hotel than the restaurant. Otherwise, it’d make more sense to press on. Now, I’ve had some “gut-checks” in my life, where for one reason or another I have had to personally dare myself to continue a particular course of action. This 1,500 meter walk was rapidly turning into one of those cases.
Old-town Riga was quiet. I sharply deduced that nobody (well, almost nobody) was foolish enough to be puttering around in that kind of weather. By the time I creaked into the restaurant, much of my face was frozen. Certain appendages were on strike. The hostess’ face was not frozen, however, and from her expression of mild amusement, I correctly interpreted that she was not anticipating very many patrons that evening.
So, I had a great dinner at Province Krodzinš. I’m listing what I ate, mostly because it was fun trying to find the various letters and symbols to create these words (the English translation is straight out of the menu):
- The soup: Zirnīšu krēmzupa ar cūkas kūpinātās krūtiņas gabaliņiem (Peas crème-soup with smoked bacon)
- The main course: Liellopu stroganovs ar barvikam (Latvian beef stroganoff with porcini mushrooms)
- The anti-freeze: Karsais koktailis ar Rīgas melon balzāmu un upeņu sulu (Blackcurrant hot cocktail with Riga Black Balsam) ***For those familiar with German glühwein, this drink is like that, only more bitter-tasting.
Part of me acknowledged that there was in my imminent future going to be a cold walk back. I had managed to mostly delude myself into thinking that the walk to the restaurant wasn’t that bad. Being well-fed in a warm, cozy restaurant will do that to a person. Boy did that illusion ever vanish within the first homeward minute! I’m not ashamed to admit that I broke into an undignified lope. There was nothing stately about my desperation to reach the hotel lobby, and I won’t pretend otherwise.
Further exploration of Riga would have to wait until morning. I soaked in the hottest tub-water I could stand, and day-dreamed about my family until drowsiness propelled me into bed. Outside, swirling snowflakes turned the city a thick white.