I don’t think I’ve been this far north in Europe before. Yes, I’ve dipped my toes in the Arctic Ocean but that was in Alaska. The furthest north I’ve been until today was Lithuania. Now I’m in Latvia. In Riga. We left behind a steaming 28+ degrees in Budapest and landed in a rather balmier 10 degrees this evening – but I’m not complaining. I’m already dreading the summer in BP.
About 30 minutes out of Riga, the ground beneath us was partially frozen. It looked a lot like tundra, with a few houses pitted here and there. As we got closer to the city, there were trees, and more trees, and more trees. Most peculiar. Add this to the towering concrete blocks, the expansive harbour, and the fishing boats and trawlers bobbing the bay and you’d have little trouble conjuring up Kurt Wallander and his Dogs of Riga.
Our apartment is smack in the middle of the old town looking out over the river but this evening, tourists were scarce enough and it would seem that the locals give it a wide berth. We did pass some interesting-looking Russian-type enclaves on the way in from the airport but when we asked our driver where we were, we were told it wasn’t a place that tourists wanted to see. When we asked about a flea market, we were told that it wasn’t a place tourists could safely go. And when I asked about the concentration camp, they’d never heard of it. The next few days should be interesting. In the old town, at 8pm, there was little sign of any action with waiters in near-empty restaurants dancing attendance on a couple of diners – no more.
We had spotted Ezítis Miglá at the beginning of our first quick look-see and on the way home took our appetites inside. It literally translates to the hedgehog in the fog, a Soviet-era cartoon character. Cosmopolitan? Would that be the word I’d use? Or has Budapest spoiled me and what came to mind was an upholstered version of Szimpla Kert on a smaller scale. What distinguished it though was the orderly queue at the bar where you order what you want, pay the bill, take your drinks, and then sit and wait for your food. The wait staff were there to deliver food and bus tables. Nothing more. It’s quite the system and the queue moves quickly.
From my shameless bout of people watching (quite a young studenty crowd mixed with some young professional types armed with smart phones, iPads, and laptops, all together yet all apart) it would seem a popular spot with some great 80s music on the turntable. The menu didn’t seem to know what part of the world it was in with a mix of pasta, tortillas, and the Russian/Ukranian solyanka. I was in hog heaven. I ate solyanka for a week once and never got sick of it. What we didn’t realise though is that the portions this far north are huge. They obviously have long, cold winters in mind and with 10 degrees outside, spring hasn’t quite arrived. And, thankfully, while the women I’ve seen so far are rather lovely, a sizeable proportion of them are in the double digits size-wise. Comforting to see.
With eyes bigger than our bellies, we had also ordered the Mexican platter. About the only thing remotely Mexican about it was the tortilla chips. Gives taking culinary license a whole new meaning. But at least we left with the makings of a good omelet for the morning. A full ten out of ten to the staff who were pleasant, helpful, and seemed to really enjoy what they’re doing. I’m already giving thanks that we have what has the makings of a ‘local’ practically on our doorstep. Sometimes, things do go according to plan.