Trams 2017-2018

WARNING! This is likely to be the most boring thing I have ever written.

DEDICATION: I dedicate this to my older brother, Paul, who loves data and odd collections of numbers and bits of information that others might not think twice about.

I live a few blocks away from the Turgenev tram stop, and tram #7 takes me directly to the Latvijas Nacionālis Teātris which is very near to where my multiple teaching jobs are located. As a result, throughout the winter, when the weather was less than desirable, I rode the tram quite frequently.

What is a tram? The official word in Latvian is “Tramvaju” and they are light-rail electric trains that carry passengers across town. There is no subway or elevated system, so the trams just follow the regular roads to the dismay of all Riga drivers. As Omaha contemplates maybe some day getting something like this, Latvians have come to depend on these reliable and somewhat comfortable (sometimes not smelly) transportation services as a matter of daily life.

My commute takes about ten minutes each way, and because I am a public school teacher, I get to ride any public transportation any time anywhere in Riga for 16 Euro a month. Why not?
National Theater Stop

So, one day, I decided to start keeping track of which tram I was riding on. I just wondered how many trams there are in Riga and whether or not I was riding on the same one each day? I wondered if the trams were random or if there was some order to them? I wanted to learn. These are the things I think about on any given day. Don’t judge.

Trams are numbered in two ways. The main number (1-11) tells you which route the tram is on, but each tram also has a serial number which tells you which specific car you are riding on. I guess I became curious when I got on one tram which had orange rails when most of them are painted blue. I knew the new trams were different from the old, but now I realized that even the old trams were individualized and somehow deserved to be noted and remembered.

If you ever want to see how to get around Riga via tram, trolleybus or bus, just check out 1188.lv for information!

Side Note: I just realized that I do not know if the front car and back car have different numbers or not when they are linked together. Now I feel like all of my data might be off. More research is needed.
Magic Yellow Tram

If you are traveling to Riga, the public transportation system is quite efficient. I know that other Riga residents complain about the smell of some of the trams, and sometimes they are crowded, but for the most part, they get you there on time. My biggest issue is that I run out to catch the tram in the morning, only to find that it was 2-3 minutes early, and is already leaving before I get there. This just teaches me to be more disciplined. And during the morning and evening rush, the trams show up at 7 minute intervals, so even if I miss one, I don’t have to wait long.

Just for the record, I have 151 photos of tram serial numbers stretching over the past 4 months or so. I did not take photos of every tram ride I took, but I tried to get most of them. Sorry, a lot of them are selfies, and if you are really bored, you can look through them! They will be at the bottom of the page in all of their glory!

Tram Vignettes

I know it sounds crazy, but I have been trying to write this blog post for a long time. I have decided to share some little stories from the tram this winter. These are distilled to short little bite-sized observations.

The queen of the tram

Queen in her Fur

I see her most working days in her matching coat and hat. She has at least three very colorful varieties, and she always looks serious and sometimes angry. One time, I saw her step onto the tram and some young woman was sitting in one of the “old lady” seats. She stood there glaring at the girl until she finally gave up her seat. There are rules to riding the tram, unwritten, but more important, perhaps than the laws on the books. You get up to let the ladies sit down. She is a keeper of this code.

 

One of the many drunk men

He gets on the tram near the market and rides, sitting on the floor, drunk or hungover with his long face and disheveled clothing. On one winter day, the tram police were checking for cards, and he did not have one. They told him to get off at the Opera. They got off, and so did he, but as the doors were about to close, he jumped back on with incredible speed and sat on the floor for the duration of my journey.

 

Brothers

These two young men ride the tram on school mornings. They are both red heads, and the older brother is very short with some hair on his face. He could be any age from 15-30. I cannot tell. But there is an unspoken devotion between him and his smaller sibling. They always stare at me like I am some kind of sight-seeing object. I want to speak with them, but I am afraid that they wouldn’t understand or might even ruin our delicate understanding.

 

Kids

One thing I love about Latvia is that kids are free. They aren’t taught to be afraid to do things, and they go outside and play and ride bikes and do stuff that we used to do back when the world was more normal than it is today. So I was so happy to see this girl who lives somewhere near our flat dominating the tram. She gets on, finds a seat, and gets off and heads for home like she owns the world. It is hard to explain the confidence that I see in the young people here. It isn’t that cockiness of the kid whose mom bought him an expensive pair of sneakers, but the real self-assuredness and lack of fear that all children should be blessed with. An innocent understanding that if we do what we are supposed to do in life, then everything else will be okay. The world isn’t out there to hurt us or destroy us, but for us to explore and learn from. Maybe I see too much, but she was an inspiration, nevertheless. This girl, is, of course, just one example of many of these free-spirited young people who use free public transportation all over Latvia to get to and from school each day.

 

Old Lady Hats

Call me sentimental, because I am, but I see so many old ladies in Latvia who remind me of my mom or one of my aunts. The kids I teach make fun of public transportation because it is crowded with elderly people, especially when you hit the central market. Public transportation is free as a part of social services for pensioners, so they can ride whenever they want wherever they want. So why wouldn’t they?

My favorite thing is to see these older men and women sprinting to stops to catch a bus or train. It could be the national sport of Latvia and likely explains their strong showing in past Olympics in the sport of walking. They never want to look like they are running because Latvians have a certain dignity, so they walk, faster than most people run, toward the stops. It is incredible.

So sometimes I take pictures of the hats on the tram. The old ladies, all have different looking but much the same feeling hats. It is like seeing winter flowers.

 

Drivers

Trams are currently manned or womanned by human beings pushing buttons and guiding them through the streets. The one variance of their duty to simply keep the tram on the tracks is to sound their horn at anyone who gets in their way, even other trams. One particular driver must have had his own version of Latvian tram road rage because he was just sounding this loud, annoying horn every five seconds. At one stop, another tram was on the tracks, in his way. I think the other driver was taking a smoking break, so our driver just sat there pushing that horn button like there was no tomorrow. God bless that tram driver!

This was likely the same driver who threatened to throw this young woman off the tram for not getting up to let an older woman sit down. I don’t know if that particular case makes him a hero or someone who is overstepping their authority a little bit. What do you think?

But can you imagine sitting in a little cabin for 8 hours a day basically just avoiding accidents? I am glad for them, but I don’t think I could do that job! STRESS!

Data

Graph of trams and frequencies
Old Tram
New Trams

I promised data analysis, but I really am not good with Excel graphs and charts. I don’t know how to make this meaningful. However, over the past few months, I have ridden 63 different numbered trams. The most frequent tram was 35228 with ten rides; however, most of the trams were ridden only one time.

Most of the trams were in 3000 range. Every tram 57xxx or higher is a new model, and these trams are not on my regular commute. I am not sure what all of the numbers mean, but the Riga trams range from 30024 to 35304 and 50574 to 58055. Maybe someone with a better understanding of things can figure it out.

The main mystery for me was whether or not the same trams are used in the same places at the same times. I do not think so, or else I would have been on the same tram more often since I leave at the same time most mornings.

Daugavpils Tram

The one anomaly in the data is the outlier far to the left. This is the dot of the tram in Daugavpils which was number 108. It was a whole different tram line, but I felt like I should include it. It was a completely different experience and about 1/5 the cost of the  Riga trams.

In other news about data, when I look at a map of all the photos I have taken in my library, apparently, I have taken 5700 photos in Latvia over the past several month, and only 6300 in the Nebraska over several years. Maybe there is some study about the meaning behind that?

Side Note

As a teacher, I can ride public transportation as often as I would like for 16 Euro a month. I keep saying, “I am just going to go out one day and ride the trams to every stop… from one end of Riga to the other.” I still have not done this. So at least I have something to look forward to. I think the only tram I have actually been to the end of the line is 7 and it ends near my cousin Bruno’s flat. So the first tram I likely rode on in the summer of 2016 with my sister Susan (when we didn’t know how to pay and were completely clueless) was also the one I would end up riding for most of my days here as a commuter. Harmonious.

Photo Gallery

Note: If you have been accidentally depicted here against your will, I apologize. Let me know and I will take the photo down. I figure that I am seen here at my worst, in the morning, at night, tired and cranky. So if you are somewhere in these photos, sorry!

 

 

Easter: Lieldienas

Priecīgas Lieldienas! Happy Easter!

I love that “lieldienas” literally translates to “Big Day!” I have spent the last few days soaking in some of the traditions of the Latvian version of this Christian holiday with lots of pagan influences.

Let us just break down Holy Week from my perspective. I want to preface this, however, by shamefully admitting that I did not go to any church services during this period. Things happened that are far too complex to explain.

Palm Sunday: pūpolu svētdiena

Because palms are not native to Latvia, they use pūpolu, more commonly known as “pussy willows” to ring in the first day of Holy Week. As I learned, not only are these pūpolu used in churches, but the first person to wake up on Palm Sunday gets to beat the others with the pussy willows! What a wonderful wake up call that was. Let us just say that I am not a morning person.

“Remember to bid your family “apaļš kā pūpols, vesels kā rutks, slimības laukā, veselību iekšā” as you wake them – wishes of good health in the coming year!

We had a nice brunch party with Rita’s oldest friends. I made omelets to order and Anna made the menus. It was a wonderful time!

The next few days went by normally, but there was energy in the air, and it was finally beginning to feel like spring. That would not last. It was my third Spring Break… this time from RTU, so I did not have to work on Tuesday. Latvians officially get Friday and Monday off for Easter weekend, so it was a short work week for everyone.

Zaļā ceturtdiena

Thursday arrived, but instead of the Maunday Thursday I grew up with, it is called Zaļā ceturtdiena or “Green Thursday.” I have no idea where this idea comes from. Two people admitted that it is likely pagan. The only tradition that I could uncover was that you aren’t supposed to bring home anything green from the market on this day. I kind of forgot as I was walking home, and I ended up buying strawberries. They aren’t quite green, so I am not sure if I broke the rule or not. These things are hard to police.

Lielā Piektdiena

Good Friday or rather “Big Friday“, as translated in Latvian, arrived. We all had the day off, and I decided to have a little dinner party with my cousin, Gita. Rita invited her Russian friend (who also studies Latvian and Indian culture), Svetlana, to join us as well. In America, I have tried to have a little Good Friday celebration every year culminating in the observation of the 1970s musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, which is a big Grinvalds’ family favorite. This year, I see that John Legend is doing a live version in America… maybe I will get to see it! I like to see that other people love this show, too!

I decided to try my hand at a roast leg of lamb for supper. I was really feeling like having something roasted in the oven, something to give the evening a special formal feeling. Rita found these cute lamb-shaped cake pans, so we made little lamb cakes for dessert. The dinner started early, and we had wonderful company. Gita brought a photo album with pictures from my father’s time in America including old pictures of me and my siblings, many of which I did not remember at all. We shared food and wine, and then watched a bit of Jesus Christ Superstar. I was so impressed that Rita could sing along with most of the songs. This is something that I do with my family every year! If you’re in the mood, this song just jumped in my head as I was typing:

Holy Saturday

We didn’t really have any big tradition on Holy Saturday, and I didn’t find out if there was a name in Latvian. But we did go to a traditional Latvian market in Kalnciema kvartālā. Anna forgot her e-talon (tram fare card), but we thought we could fake our way there. To our surprise, a controller got on just before we crossed the Daugauva. Luckily, he got into an argument with some other man, so we jumped off at the next stop instead of trying to figure out what to do. We hopped a bus which took us right to the market, and all was well.

The market was mostly made up of local craftspeople selling their wares. There was a lot of delicious food as well as handmade items like wooden tools, ceramics, and clothing. Inside one small pavilion, along with a display of Soviet era posters, were children decorating eggs in the traditional German way with paints and such. In another, separate building, Tatars were having a celebration with their own traditional decorating workshop. It was truly a multicultural experience!

We had a wonderful time bargaining with a ceramic shopkeeper who loved that I was from America. We bought a sort of matching set of mugs, a vase, and large pitcher. All in all, I spent too much money on wonderful food.

Now it was time for the most Latvian tradition of all, EGG COLORING!

Last year, Rita came to visit America and we met in Washington D. C. We spent Easter together coloring eggs the American way with Paas egg coloring kits!  I didn’t understand how novel that was until I got to see how they do it here. All year, Rita had been collecting onion skins. “What are these for?” I would ask. “They are for Easter eggs!” She would reply. I kept trying to imagine how onion skins could be used to color eggs. I was so naive.

Step 1: Find white eggs

 

I hadn’t really noticed, but all the eggs I had bought since I had come to Latvia were brown. They don’t really have white eggs except at Easter time. So we had to go out of our way to buy 30 white eggs, and sadly, they all come with red ink on them to designate some kind of code that they are not radioactive or something.

Step 2: Buy more onion skins

Rita was afraid that she had not collected enough onion skins, so she asked a shopkeeper for some, and she was able to get them. When we went to the market, we saw them selling bags of onion skins for a Euro or so. Can you imagine? Capitalism is awesome!

Step 3: String, lots of string

So, the trick is that you wrap each egg individually with onion skins. In addition, you can put other leaves and flowers inside the skin to create a negative effect when they are boiling. I had no idea how this worked until after it was all over, so I was just guessing. The hardest part, however, is that you have to wrap the egg with thread to keep the skin in place while they cook. You have no idea what a challenge this is until you try!

Only two eggs were harmed in the making of this blog post, so please do not report us to the egg-cruelty police.

Step 4: Boil

After binding all the eggs, they go into a pot with all the extra onion skins. Then they boil. We added vinegar while they were boiling. This seemed to be a part of all the recipes I found online. I don’t know if it did anything or not. I couldn’t believe how the water turned this lovely burgundy color as the skins started to release whatever chemical they have in them that colors eggs.

Today, I have been pondering the origin of this tradition. Who was it who first boiled onion skins and saw how they turned reddish-brown and thought, “I wonder if this will work with eggs?” And so on. Traditions are so cool like that.

Step 5: Cool down

After we finished boiling, then the eggs were carefully removed from the hot water and left to soak in the sink filled with cold water for many minutes. We passed the time by finally watching “The Young Pope” on HBO… little did we know that Cardinal Ozolins, obviously Latvian, makes an appearance.

Step 6: The unveiling

This was the moment I had been waiting for. With Paas, there isn’t much suspense. You can see what color the egg will be. You put in in a cup and wait, and voila, yellow! Blue! Pink! etc. But with this process, each egg is unique and you really don’t know what they will look like until you cut off the thread and take off the strings and skins. This was when it all made sense to me.

If you don’t wrap the eggs in skin, then they will all just turn the burgundy color that the skins release when cooking. This is what I thought we were going to be doing, and I did not understand the appeal. But when you wrap the eggs and put other leaves and such inside, it creates a negative marbling effect that makes each one special and interesting.

We cut each egg open to find that many had cracked, but all of them were beautiful. I just marveled at the variety of shapes and colors that could be produced with only purely natural ingredients. It felt so good to do something so sustainable and authentic!

Now that I fully understand the method, next year, I look forward to trying different shapes and methods of tying to come up with interesting patterns. You can also use different vegetables to produced different colors. Legend has it that red cabbage will turn the eggs blue! Rita wants to try that next time. I am all in!

The final step was to rub a bit of olive oil on them to make them shine… oh, and then, of course to eat them.

Egg Parade

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Easter

Šūpoles (Swing)

Lieldiena arrived without much fanfare. Rita said she heard bells ringing from various churches across town, but with my limited aural senses, I could not hear them. We made coffee together and began the morning with egg fights. I had thought that this was a purely Grinvalds’ tradition, but all Latvians (and many other ethnic groups) are quite aware of the joy of pounding one egg against another to see which is the strongest.

I made an American-style Easter basket for Anna and we hid it before she woke up. Although she is a bit old to show the enthusiasm that I had on Easter morning searching for my basket, it was still a nice time, and we all enjoyed the candy together.

Unfortunately, we missed our church service, and a walk to the newly the newly renamed “Freedom Square” revealed that they had one Easter swing (read about the witches and swings here!) on display… but Anna and Rita admitted that they were too introverted to wait in line and have people watch them swing, so we passed. The weather really wasn’t making us feel very Easterly.

Last night, I saw the full moon rising, and I thought that I would wake up to be greeted by a bright and sunny Sunday morning, but it was cloudy, windy and gloomy all day. I guess it snowed in my part of America, so I shouldn’t feel too bad. And hey, we get Monday off, too!

 

Side Note: Enjoy the Dance of the Egg

 

And a slideshow of the eggs and some other pictures! Enjoy!