If Estonia wasn’t random enough for you, my current location certainly is. I’m in Riga, Latvia, famous for the religion George Costanza was to convert to (if it wasn’t for him cheating on his test).
Actually, the main denomination here is Lutheran, and Lonely Planet doesn’t even mention the Latvian Orthodox Church. I’m starting to think it was made up, unfortunately.
Riga is nice enough, but not as nice as Tallinn. Here the city council has been given a warning from UNESCO – keep building glassy modern buildings and no more World Heritage listing for you. For example, TGI Friday’s is right in the middle of one of the main squares, and a modern shopping centre is opposite the cathedral (yet no one seems to shop here, I have never seen so much leopard skin in my life).
But, as I said, it is nice enough for a day of sightseeing. I started the day at the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, which was similar to the one in Tallinn but better. The poor old Baltics. I feel sorry for them, always getting pushed around – the West managed to save Finland and Austria from communism but seemed to turn a blind eye to the eastern side of the Baltic Sea. And yet still people don’t know much about them. People even get ‘Baltics’ confused with ‘Balkans’, a completely different place with a very different history.
I then headed off to the Central Market, the oldest market in Europe which has been operating more or less since the thirteenth century. It was crazy. People seemed to sell everything that wasn’t nailed down – I laughed when I saw a stall selling solely dressing gowns but shut up quickly when I saw the next three stalls were identical. All of the stallholders seemed to be Russian – or should I say ‘bloody Russians’ as every person has called them. There are more ‘bloody Russians’ in Riga than Latvians, which seems to anger Latvians more than anything. The Russians living in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are stateless – they still have Soviet citizenship which is worthless, and were unable to prove their nationality back when the countries regained their independence. This is interesting stuff, folks.
I spent the rest of the day wandering around the Old Town. Every street seemed to house a church, each bigger than the next, and all lovely inside and out. The Freedom Monument was also a highlight, with its bouquets of flowers at the base – putting flowers here less than twenty years ago got you a one-way ticket to Siberia.
I’ve also tried Latvian food, which gives the Germans a run for their money in terms of calories per gram. And I was pleased to discover this morning that the sauna was good for one thing, at least – all evidence of my Vienna Boys’ Choir Great Fall has faded to the naked eye.