February 2014

Lessons learned, part 1: Raunchy Riga

‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.’ (St Augustine).

Apart from never being able to put down a good book, for me, travelling is also about having fun, getting into crazy adventures and, with every new place that I visit, coming closer to uncovering all the countries on my scratchable world map.
On the way, I might even learn a lesson or two.

1. Raunchy Riga

In Riga, I made a strange man very happy by removing a couple of items of clothing. (And no, this didn’t happen in the hotel sauna).

Latvian market life (needless to say this is not the luxurious Skyline bar)

Latvian market life (no, not the luxurious Skyline bar)

Earlier that evening, Kai and I sat in the Skyline bar. The 26th floor of the Radisson Blue Hotel Latvija is the place to be for the young, hip and cool in-crowd. Local celebs mingle with enthusiastic party goers and the latest Eurotrash pop sensation is displayed on massive TV screens.

Through giant glass windows in the cocktail lounge the town below could be seen, covered in snow. The city areas we wandered that morning, where farmers in worn out clothes sell their home grown cucumbers for about 30 pence a kilo, are so close, yet a world away from Skyline bar’s luxurious surroundings. Here, apart from reasonable priced cocktails, stylish stuck up staff sells Black Sturgeon caviar that’d set you back 128 euros for 28 grams (yes, at this price it does come with toast and sour cream).

My boyfriend went for a cigarette while I stayed behind at our table. A guy strolled passed, checked me out and waited expectantly. When I ignored him he walked on. This happened a few times, and funnily enough the men weren’t even remotely in my age bracket. They all looked a bit hesitant, as if expecting a bit more enthusiasm and maybe even a move from my side, as well as assessing, like a passer-by checking out mannequins in the shop window before deciding whether to enter the store or not.

Me drinking a margarita (and, according to some Latvian men, looking like an escort)

Me drinking a margarita (and, according to some men, looking like an escort)

When I told him about the strange men, Kai laughed and told me the Skyline bar was also a famous place for picking up prostitutes. Great, I’d just been mistaken for a hooker four times in the last ten minutes – while wearing leggings and a black top that didn’t even show the slightest bit of boob. Not sure if I should be offended or could somehow take this as a compliment, ‘at least I’ve still got sex appeal’-style, and should thus be flattered. In the end I settled for amused (and pleaded him not to go for further smoking breaks).

Two frozen strawberry margaritas later, when Kai disappeared to the bar to get us a third one, another man made his way to our table and looked at me. Since I already had my fair share of Dutch courage, this time, I smiled back.

Fast forward a few hours.

Kai and I were walking along the city streets in the middle of the night, hopping over piles of snow and trying not to slip on the icy roads as we made our way back to the hotel. An old man, probably a tramp, was standing on a street corner, dressed in rags. He smelled, a mixture of puke and booze. Mumbling to himself, rocking unsteadily on his feet and rubbing his cracked hands to keep warm, he clearly wasn’t with it anymore. We passed him quickly, aware of Riga’s reputation of crime, pickpocketing and other scams especially targeted to foreigners.

Then I reconsidered. Turning around, I took off my gloves and offered them to him. He hesitated and looked confused before accepting the two woolly, white and blue coloured mitts and finally smiling. The smile started slowly, but made its way all over his face and ended in his eyes beaming with joy. We continued our way, and when we were halfway across the street he shouted after us: “Thank you!”

Lessons learned:
1. In a world where many people still live in subhuman conditions, small gestures can make a big difference.
2. If I ever get tired of writing and decide to quit my job, I could probably make a decent amount of money as a call girl in Riga.

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