Week in Review
7 August 2017
I have been away from the United States for over a week, and tomorrow will mark my first full week in Latvia. I had been meaning to write a post per day, but time gets away from you when you are traveling the bumpy highways of Latvia!
Last week is already a blur with trips to the mall, the Depo, Rimi and other shops to find items on my list for Latvian living. All I need now is a little fridge and my crate from America to complete the cycle and be independent. For now, I still come to Ansis and Monta’s house for food, and they feed me well. I
have said it before, and I will say it again, Latvians do not mess around when serving food! The fresh fruits and vegetables are the highlights of every meal. Summer does not last long here, so they take advantage of it to the fullest with ripe tomatoes, incredible strawberries, and gailene. I keep telling myself that I will get in shape in Latvia without American snacks and processed foods in close proximity, but now I’m feeling very full after every meal.
I cannot exaggerate the generosity of this Grasmanis family which has welcomed me, and of the other Latvian people I meet. I can only hope to return the favor in any way possible as I find my way though this world!
Ansis also let me borrow his bike, so I went on a little tour of the local roads and saw a nice little cemetery, some more amazing Latvian skies, and I hope to ride on the dam to see the Daugava soon! I will mention this again and again… have been to many places in this world, but I have never seen skies so lovely as in Latvia. Each day is a swirling mix of blue, gray and white… the sky stretches into infinity and each look opens a doorway to your imagination. From saullēkts, lai saulriets (sunrise to sunset), you can expect to be in awe.
So I had a busy week buying a bicycle, fixing wifi, navigating public transportation, taking some informal Latvian lessons, eating, drinking, and, in general, being merry. I feel like I have so much more to say, but the weekend was wonderful, so it must be written about.
Renting a Car in Riga
On Saturday, Rita was hoping to visit Alūksne, a small town about 200 kilometers from Riga where her mother and father are buried in Latvia’s largest cemetery. Each year, cemeteries all over Latvia celebrate Kapusvēkti. They gather at the graves of their ancestors and each town has a date in the summer for their own celebration. We also have this ceremony in Lincoln with the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church, but I think I only attended once or twice. There was no context.
In order to get to this town, I needed to rent a car. This was a last minute effort on both of our parts to make this happen, so she found a place to stay, and I went to Orbitz to find a car. I wasn’t picky, but I wanted to get a car in the city and not have to go all the way to the airport, so I went with a local company called Sixt. They also rent bicycles in town.
Before picking up the car at 4:30, I thought I’d make a day of it and meet my lovely cousin Gita and have lunch and catch up. I took the Red Bus from Dzintari (just a little walk from Sēlieši) to the MTS station in Riga. I found her waiting for me, but she refused to take a selfie with me, so I apologize in advance for the lack of photos. We had a lovely meal, and then walked to the gramatuveikals (bookstore), Jānis Roze. There I purchased a Latvian dictionary, phrasebook, and map. I feel that I am armed and ready to learn the language… pray for me (lūdzies par mani).
Then it was time to kill time by walking through the markets in search of Sixt, the rental car place. The Orbitz app showed me that it was somewhere in the main bus station (autoosta), so we kind of meandered toward there. On the way, we bought some berries, fruits, and vegetables. It is hard to resist when there are so many wonderful things surrounding you! Once we arrived at the station, I went to the Info desk to ask where the office was. No office. Apparently, they just drop the car off, and you do your business there. “In front or in back?” I asked. But he didn’t know.
As time drew near for my car to arrive, I made a phone call to find out where the car would be. “Sorry, I will give my number to my colleague and he will call you back.” We waited, eating strawberries and bilberries on the most uncomfortable bench in the world, but no one called. At 4:30, I called again. Same response. “My colleague’s phone is busy, but he will call you soon.” Again we waited walking to the front and back of the station hoping to see someone, but no luck. I called again, this time handing the phone to Gita so she could properly scold them in Latvian. She got the same response.
Finally, at 4:50, my phone rang and the guy wanted me to meet him in the big car park. What car park? No clue, so he said he would just drive to where I was. Thank God!
He rolled up 5 minutes later in a Ford Fiesta, lots of papers to sign, and an apology. He blamed the weekend service they hire to answer the phones. My worst nightmare came true when I asked if I return the car here, and he said, “No, you drive it to Radisson hotel park it and drop the keys in the box inside. It’s easy!” I asked for very specific directions on where to park it. “On street you can park. Sunday no problem. There is no cost. If you can’t find on Elizabetas street, then park on (another street name I didn’t know).” He wrote the address down and then proceeded to tell me about surcharges, and insurance, and copays, and deposits. By the time it was all over and I signed the credit card receipt, I felt a bit like my head was spinning. He was a nice guy, but I feel like he overestimated my ability to park in Riga.
As it was, I packed up my flowers, grapes, Black Balsam, cucumbers and books in the back along with my overnight backpack, and Gita settled in the front seat. I skillfully drove her home, and then went to pick up Rita for our trip to Alūksne.
Side note: After I added the link to Sixt Rental Cars, look what ad popped up on my Facebook feed! Evil, I tell you. Evil! “Get it or Regret it!”