One of the things I find endearing about people in Riga is when people ask incredulously “Why did you choose Riga?” I mean sure, it’s a bit out of the way to travel just for affordable beer. And then, there are the suspicious types who inquire whether I’m like the British and Italian sex-tourists who visit the city on the weekends for discount-priced prostitution. I probably should be insulted but I find that an amusing suggestion. Thing is I don’t particularly have any moral high-ground against regulated prostitution except that I’m too cheap. I won’t even shell out for a girl’s drink, let alone pay for sex.
So why Riga then? Why not? It’s fun to live in a foreign city – to get to know the people, the culture, the food and drink. And it’s interesting to observe all the quirks which seem completely normal to the locals. Here are a few I’ve noticed so far.
Riga Old Town is tiny especially when compared to the likes of Vilnius Old Town (which is supposed to be one of the largest in Europe. I don’t know what these people from Vilnius are so proud about, with my horrible sense of direction I was constantly lost. And whenever I stopped people for help, they looked helplessly lost as well.) So, I actually love Riga’s Old Town for it’s size. I still get lost, but at least people are able to help me.
Money in Latvia is bizzare. The Lat is stronger than the US Dollar, Euro and even Pound. Plus, the coins are tiny. I feel like Gulliver when I handle the 1 Lvl coins, which are the size of a dime but worth US$2. And it’s surreal what you can buy with these tiny coins. They’re almost magical.
The price of beer seems to vary quite a bit. 1.50 Lvl seems to be the average price for decent beer in Old Town. More than that you are probably paying tourist prices. Truthfully, the beer isn’t that amazing but at these prices you can’t afford not to drink! Ok this isn’t really a quirk, I just like talking about beer.
Bars in Riga operate with an alternate reality definition of “happy hour”. Basically, it’s possible to start at 6pm and find bars participating in various happy hours right until 2 am. That’s a lot of 2-for-1 cocktails. Oh and on Sunday, it’s just Happy Day. I wonder how many people call in sick on Mondays.
Riga is a very walkable city but there are a variety of public transport options to choose from, like trams, buses and trolley buses (ie. electric buses). Then there are these mini-vans which take the same route as the buses but turn up a couple of minutes before them. I’m fairly sure they are dodgy. And for whatever reason, some trams and buses share the same numbers but do completely different routes, meaning that there’s the potential to get quite lost. I think I’ll stick to walking.
People seem pretty paranoid with their security. In order to get into my flat. I have to use a pin-code to access the building. Then I have one set of doors to unlock. Then I have a second door with two locks on it to unlock. The icing on the cake is that 2 of my 3 keys are laser-cut. And all we have that’s worth stealing in the flat is a blender which makes amazing smoothies. Imagine if we had a TV! (Back home in New Zealand, we often left our doors unlocked. Admittedly we eventually got robbed, so we probably should have kept them locked.)