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A hangover worthy of a any good British tourist to the Baltics; Russian classes

May 5, 2013

I’m writing this on a coach as it travels along the bumpy Russian highway to St. Petersburg, cutting through pine forests and vast open spaces. We’ve just passed a village of wooden houses, some of the older ones looking like they are straight out of fairytale. I’ve been stuck on the coach for knocking on for ten hours now, all the way from Riga, via Tallinn, with a revolting on-board toilet and only disembarking to go through Russian passport control, which was nowhere near as scary as I thought it would be.

My Baltic sojourn started in Vilnius, Lithuania. I would say it’s a quaint little

The constitution of Užupis

The constitution of Užupis

city but one of the guys who was staying in my hostel got pepper-sprayed and robbed when coming home from a club one night, so it’s not that quaint. Still, they a little area of artists, bohemians and other open-minded types that has discovered has declared itself a republic. The Republic of Užupis has it’s own quirky constitution and a plethora of small art galleries of varying quality. They also have a street dedicated to writers, which I think everywhere should have. Oh yes, and then there is the very quaint Museum of Genocide Victims, set in the old KGB-HQ. After the Museum of Terror in Budapest, the Stasi exhibition and the Third Reich tour in Berlin and Auschwitz I wasn’t sure I could hack any more of the Twentieth century’s bloody violence, but it started raining so I thought I’d give it ago. The museum mainly focused on the story of those who were sent to labour camps in the USSR but you could also go down to the prison cells and into the old execution chamber where a very explicit video reconstructing of what happened there was playing.

Absinthe... just say no

Absinthe… just say no

After that I needed a drink and fortunately, on returning to the hostel, found that everyone else in my dorm did as well: Denis from Italy, Niklas and Daniel from Germany and Jerry from Hong Kong, yes, all guys but I’ve always thought I can keep up with the boys when it comes to drinking. We ended up in some club that fitted every stereotype of an Eastern European nightclub, and then a bar where we did some very nice tasting absinthe. After that, it’s all a bit of blur and the last thing I remember was chewing poor Niklas’ ear off back at the hostel, lamenting why people are so evil.
I was supposed to be getting the twelve o’clock bus to Riga, but I set my alarm wrong and woke up at twenty to twelve with a sore head, around which that Carly Rae Jepson song was firmly circulating. Way after that twelve o’clock coach had gone, when I finally got to the coach station and went to buy a new ticket, I found my purse was full of Euros. How the hell did they get there? Must have happened when I was drunk and I couldn’t work out if I’d been scammed out of Lithuanian Litas. I was too hungover to think about it. Having experienced severe ‘coach sickness’ numerous times on the rail replacement bus back to Runcorn the morning after wild nights out in Manchester I dared eat nothing but a few Tuc biscuits and so the several hours long, hot, stuffy journey was somewhat painful. I was so grateful to discover, upon reaching Riga, that there was a branch of Latvia’s version of Pizza Express just over the (admittedly very wide) road from my hostel.

And then the Russian classes started. This was why I’d come to Riga, to brush up on my ‘nemenoga’/ not-very-much-at-all Russian. By a coincidence as huge as the one towards the end of The Place Beyond the Pines (which I went to see at Riga’s multiplex), my hostel was in the very same building as the Russian school, and my room was one floor below. What a result. Not that there was any need to stay in bed until ten minutes before class… there was no partying at this hostel. Thank god. Trying to learn Russian would be excruciating with a hangover. I only had one classmate, Maria, and she was German so had learn it in school a bit. Most of my knowledge came form a textbook I picked up from a charity shop with dated from the days of the USSR and instructed you to call everyone ‘comrade’. I struggled with those pesky, and may I say, nonsensical adverb and article endings.

But Riga, wow, who would have thought it would be such a fabulous city for vegetarian food? The first day Maria and I went for lunch to Double Coffee, a sort of Latvian Starbucks, I was shocked to find the whole lunch menu featured not a single scrap of flesh. There was bean soup, pancakes with vegetarian toppings, and all sorts of other delights. I found the nicest hummus ever in the supermarket and there was a really cheap Hare Krishna café, serving wonderful vegetarian Indian food.

Riga... veggie capital of the Western world?

Riga… veggie capital of the Western world?

I have to commend Riga as well on having the most impressive Indian restaurant of my trip so far. Yola, a girl I met off couchsurfing, and I sampled this one evening and my vegetable Jalfrazi was genuinely spicy. Later we sampled the local drink – Black Balzam. It’s some kind of spirit made with lots of herbs and spices. I had some with hot blackcurrant and it tasted like Lemsip. Better was the a drink called Green Day I had in a coffee shop – gin, warm apple juice, honey and a stick of cinnamon and fruit: really, really delicious. I declare that warm cocktails are the way forward!

With that revelation I shall finish, tune in for the next installment to find out whether my Russian is proving good enough for navigating the mean streets of Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Transport so far:

63 bus from East Dulwich to Kings Cross, Eurostar to Paris, Paris metro to Odeon, bus to Gare du Lyon, overnight train to Florence, train to Assisi, car up the winding roads to the artist residency.

4×4 back down the mountain, Assisi to Rome train, the notorious number 64 bus, number 23 bus.

Train from Rome to Ancona, overnight ferry to Split, coach from Split to Mostar, coach from Mostar to Sarajevo, coach from Sarajevo to Belgrade.

Train from Belgrade to Budapest, overnight train from Budapest to Berlin, lots of travels on the Sbahn and Ubahn and numerous trams.

Night train to Krakow, day train to Warsaw and then too many long, long coach journies through the Baltic States. Missed this off the last post… is any actually bothered??

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2013 9:49 pm

    Great reading, Heather!
    Linda

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