Latvian Tales, Part I

It’s June 18th when I leave Groningen to go to visit a friend in Latvia, a country where I have never been. Because the cheapest way to get there is first to travel to Berlin (Germany) and then fly from Berlin to Riga (Latvia), I take the train to Berlin first. All in all this takes about 6–7 hours to get there. I end up at Berlin Zoologische Garten (Berlin Zoo) station. From there I still have to get to Berlin Schönefeld, where the airport is.

In order to get there, however, I first have to figure out how the German railway works within Berlin. I go to a machine that says Fahrkarten (train tickets) and type in my destination, class, number of people etc. It plans the route for me. But there’s no way to order the ticket, just to print out the route… I try again, still nothing. I go downstairs to the information desk where a friendly German woman tells me that I have to buy the ticket at the machine at the track where my train leaves. I walk upstairs again with my big suitcase (which, thank god, has wheels) to the track. There I find the machine. I try to change its language to English. It doesn’t respond. Then I find a row of buttons underneath the screen. After pressing a couple the machine asks me if I want A, AB, or ABC… What’s that supposed to be? I have no clue. I ask a Deutche Bahn (German railway) employee that’s standing there. She asks me where I want to go. “To Berlin-Schönefeld.” I say. “Oh, you just need AB then.” she hits a couple of buttons and the machine asks me to pay 2 euros. I pay and get my ticket.

Around 22.45 I arrive at the airport. My plane leaves at 7.00, I can check-in at 5.00. Yes, I have to stay overnight at the airport, joy! Apparantly EasyJet (the plane company I’m flying with) has a whole dedicated hall there with just EasyJet check-in stuff. I go sit down on a bench. Nearby there’s a group of Russian people (I will later conclude, because one is called Ivan and another Dimitri) talking really loud. I lay down and try to sleep a little, it’s not very comfortable on the little bench. On the bench next to me there’s a girl that apparantly has more experience in sleeping at airports, she brought a blanket-like thingy and a kind of pillow. Around 3.00 I stop trying and sit up, listening to my iPod. A few moments later two German guys go and sit next to me. I suspect they’re father and son. The son sits next to me and is dozing off all the time. Personally I have no problems with people falling asleep. I do it all the time. What I DO have a problem with is strange people falling asleep on top of me. Like, on my shoulder or lap… And that’s what the guy did, he fell asleep on my shoulder all the time. The first time I pushed him away, but it didn’t help. A minute later he fell my way again. Why he didn’t fall asleep in his dad’s arms? Don’t ask me. After one-and-a-half hours of Germans-falling-asleep-on-my-shoulder horror the check-in opens at 4.30. Thank god.

After check-in, which can be done using a machine in Schönefeld which prints you a boarding pass and labels for your suitcases, I enter my luggage and then proceed to customs. At customer I get a full body search (spread legs and arms). The flight to Riga went fine, apart from a Latvian girl (most Latvians hardly speak any English at all and therefore can’t read the tags in an air plane) trying to enter the cockpit, while wanting to go to the lavatory.

After waiting for 10 minutes for my luggage while at Riga Airport, I walk out where my friend (Zanete) is waiting for me. “Let’s go, I’m feeling like I’ve been waiting for the dentist.” she says. We walk to the bus right away. At the busstation we have to buy a ticket. In Latvia people buy bus tickets with numbers on them, the earlier you buy, the earlier you’re allowed to enter the bus (so you can pick the better seat). A bus ticket looks more like a receipt you get a store, they’re not nearly as fancy as the ones in Holland. The bus stops somewhere in Riga. We have to walk for about 25 minutes through Riga to go to the bus station where the bus to Valmiera (where Zanete lives) leaves.

The ride to Valmiera takes around 1.5 hours. Luckily it’s a good bus, because the roads are pretty bad in Latvia. Lots of holes and lots, lots of patching. We drop some stuff at Zanete’s room in Valmiera and then go to her parents’ place. By the time we get there I haven’t slept for about 27 hours and I feel like crap. Zanete’s parents’ house is full of cousins talking in Latvian. I have no idea what they’re saying. I take a shower and then go to bed. “How long do you want to sleep, 3 hours?” Zanete asks. That sounds fine with me. 5 hours later I wake up. It’s around 21.00. She didn’t want to wake me. We eat something and then watch Finding Nemo with her youngest sister.

The house is quite big, but also very impractical. It consists of two buildings. One has bedrooms and a small living room downstairs, the other has a very big living room, bathroom and kitchen. If you get up in the morning you have to leave the one building and enter the other to wash yourself.

Zanete and Annija

(Zanete and her youngest sister Annija)

The kitchen

(The kitchen)

The living room

(The living room)

After watching Finding Nemo and playing some card games we go to bed again. The next morning we drive back to Valmiera and visit her workplace. Zanete is a computer science student who’s currently doing an internship at a little 2-person web development company. In the “office” (apartment of one of the owners) there’s no more room for me to sit and work, so we go to the Valmiera University’s library to work there. We eat breakfast and lunch in a restaurant nearby. That night we eat very bad pizza in a dodgy place near the bus station.

To be continued tomorrow.