Day 37, Riga – Kaunas via Vilnius, February 15th 2012

Tea 37: Not tea, hot chocolate, Emils Gustavs Chocolate Shop, Riga

Today was a travel day, 1040 – 1645 on a bus.  Riga to Kaunas in Lithuania.  This bus was probably the nicest one so far, good leg room, good temperature, though a dubbed version of Fast and the Furious Five was maybe not the ideal ‘in coach entertainment’ choice!

I left the apartment in Riga earlier than I really needed to, but this was because I was determined to leave Riga on a high note.  And, at long last it worked!  I managed to track down the illusive Emil and the holy chocolate grail!  This made me exceedingly happy.  The perfect treat for 9:30am?  A cup of the gorgeous hot liquid chocolate.  This small but perfectly formed little cup provided me with a much needed and much appreciated chocolate high.  This hot chocolate was literally just melted chocolate in a cup, even those little bits that are left in the cup you see began to turn back into solid chocolate.  It was simply wonderful, only cost 1 lat and the lady that served me did so with a lovely smile and a warm bit of broken English conversation.  It was a great ending to a strange few days in Riga.  Thank goodness!  The little shop is in the central train station, and there is even a tea shop too, I think I probably should have just hung out there the whole time I was in Riga!

I got to the bus station, waited a little while then hoped onto the bus, a double decker beast of a thing, but as I said, nice and comfy. The journey didn’t feel too long either, we made a small stop somewhere, then another short stop in Vilnius, which looked, from the bus window, a bit like Riga…  Then I arrived at Kaunas.  I went into the bus station to ask about buses for the next leg of my trip, received friendly and efficient service and then waited for my next host, Lina.  She arrived a little after 5pm and after a quick pop to the supermarket we headed to her flat, which she shares with her husband.  The flat is lovely, on the top of a hill only a few minutes from the bus station and it has the most wonderful view of the city, I will try to get a photo of it in the coming days.  We sat and chatted, ate a little, drank a bit of brandy, which I actually enjoyed even though I didn’t think that it was my sort of drink.  Then  one of Lina’s friends arrived, we ate some dinner, a bit more chat and now it is time to sleep…

Goodnight.

Advertisements

Day 36, Riga, February 14th 2012

Tea 36:  Lemo Mate and Apple Ginger Explosion!, Kristine’s apartment, Riga

Happy Valentine’s Day!

So, today I decided I would have an indulgent day and go get myself something tasty to eat, no matter what the cost.  I had read about this little Hare-Krishna run vegetarian cafe so decided to seek it out.  Walking into the new part of town, North West from the apartment, the snow still falling and the hundreds of cars quickly turning it into dark brown slush, but the weather was much warmer today, I only needed one hat and one pair of gloves on for the first time in a couple of weeks!  Even now the temperature is only around -2’C!  Glorious!

I walked up into the new part of the city.  New meaning ‘not medieval’, still pretty old though.  Rama, the cafe-restaurant is on Krišjāņa Barona iela, a busy-ish shopping street, but one of the more attractive ones, probably caused by the Romanticism of Tramlines and wires…  I kicked my boots free of snow and walked up the little staircase to the front door, inside and another door leads to the cafe, whilst a small shop and what looked to be a room for worship were through other doorways.  Before I had even got my hands on the door handle to the cafe an elderly man, wearing a plastic apron, so I presume someone who worked there, and one of the Hare-Krishna followers began to mutter something in Latvian whilst referencing my boots and the wet floor.  I apologised that I could not understand him, he then muttered something about my ‘being sorry’ in English and disappeared up a staircase.  It seems I can’t even get a break in the Hare-Krishna community of Riga!  Oh well… I went into the cafe, a friendly man who was behind me and had witnessed the little altercation, let me through the door with an encouraging smile.  The food in the place was good.  It is served by weight, and there are loads of options, all are indian inspired.  I had some rice with some marinated and grilled vegetables, as well as a lovely potato vegetable fried thing.  It was very nice and reasonably good value for money.  If you go make sure your boots are pristine, not even a good hard knock on the steps outside will do!

After that lovely meal, just what my body had been asking for, I wandered the streets a little while, going around the new town, around the little shops of Berga Bazārs (not little locally owned shops as I had imagined, but more upper-class boutique places).  I had hoped to find Enihls Gustavs Chocolate shop there, but it would seem my guidebook is already a little behind the times, and unfortunately the shop is no longer there (there is one in the Central Train Station though, I am told).  I wandered down into the old town, got myself a cup of coffee in a little ice cream parlour.  The coffee was good, certainly sorting my energy levels out, and then I decided to go to the Central Market.  These four huge arched buildings, that look like aircraft hangers, are located opposite the coach station and adjacent to the train station.  There are various stalls outside of the buildings, selling everything from handicrafts and leather to fruit and flowers.  Inside the buildings is everything you could imagine in a food market, meat, cheese, cake, bread, tea, chocolate, sweets.  Its a pretty cool place, lots of atmosphere and life.  I just spent a while looking around the place, didn’t buy anything, not even cake today!  I’ve decided to start a bit of a health kick and try to eat a bit of a better diet, as much as possible.  Traveling isn’t ideal for gourmet dining though!

After that I headed back towards home, through little side streets and an artsy warehouse district with bars, a concert hall, a gallery called ‘kim?’ and restaurants.  The gallery is currently showing an installation by american artist Nick Mauss, if you are around on the 24th of February the artist Karl Holmqvist will be presenting his new reading series A WORD TEXT VORTEX.  There will also be a compilation of films, video and audio selected by Nick Mauss, presented at the cinema K. Suns (amongst them films by Yvonne Rainer, Robert Breer, Nina Könnemann and Megan Sullivan)

After that little bit I made sure I went home via Stalin’s Birthday Cake, the Latvian Academy of Sciences building, so that I could get a photo before I leave for Lithuania tomorrow.  That said, tomorrow involves around 6 hours of travel, so a decent, or in fact existent, posting tomorrow is a slim possibility.


Day 35, Riga, February 13th 2012

Tea 35:  Green Tea, Black Magic Cafe, Riga.

Today was a bit of a grey day, in many senses.  The clouds were low and heavily laden, though not snowing.  I didn’t leave the flat until later today, around lunch time.  Instead of going directly into town I decided to head south to the river.  I found my way there, walking past old wooden buildings, barely habitable in some cases, but definitely still in use.  The little park I found, called Maskavas darzs, was simple and peaceful, old women walking in twos slowly supporting each other across the the snow and ice covered paths, people walking their dogs, a few children playing.  The usual park type stuff.  I made it to the riverside, the huge Riga Radio and TV Tower looming up in front of me from across the river.  This is apparently the second tallest structure in the EU and the tallest in the Baltic Countries, though I don’t know whether this wikipedia entry is in time with The Shard, so it could be the third…  It is sort of peachy pink in colour and is like the old images of radio towers beaming out signals you got in the 60’s and 70’s.  It started broadcasting in 1986, so it must have beamed out some very interesting stuff in it’s early life, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Latvian occupation.

I wandered along the riverside / motorway towards the town centre, passing car showrooms, shopping centres, and eventually into town by the Academy of Sciences Building, or as it apparently nicknamed ‘Stalin‘s Birthday Cake’, potentially in reference to it being built on a cemetery.  The building is pretty impressive, but for some reason I haven’t taken a photograph of it yet…

I carried on along the riverside, past more industrial feeling areas, decaying buildings and car mechanics until I made it up to Riga Castle, the original castle of the old town, and now the President’s workplace.  I went back into the old town, more aimless wandering.  The weather, though grey, was much warmer today and so wandering was much more comfortable.  My head was full of thoughts today, so I couldn’t seem to concentrate so much on the touristy things, preferring instead to lose myself in my own brain, thinking about teas, the next few bits of travel, consideration for how and where I go.

After a while I spotted this little cafe that seemed promising from the outside.  It’s window display drawing me in.  This is the Black Magic Cafe / Bar.  I entered and three ladies in traditional dress were at the counter.  It was a bit of a surprise, from the outside this little place looks just like a small independent place, but it turns out it is the centre for the ‘Black Magic Balsam’.  A traditional Latvian liquor.  I should have realised what I was walking into, after all the shop is named after the stuff, but I’d walked in semi-blindly, still lost in my thoughts.  I ordered a pot of Green Tea and a ‘chocolate cupcake’.  What I got was a pot of simple, loose leaf Green Tea, nothing special, a nice enough flavour with the sort of seaweedyness that I enjoy.  A little disappointing.  But if the Green Tea was a little disappointing then the Chocolate Cupcake was definitely a complete anticlimax.  What I got was, to be blunt, not a ‘cupcake’, as can be seen in the picture above, I got some ‘cake’.  And the chocolate part of the chocolate cupcake was basically just the occasional chocolate chip.  Needless to say that the cake was not what it was billed to be, so much so that I even asked the waitress whether it was the right cake at all; her reply was short and blunt telling me that yes, that was the ‘cupcake’.  She had been abrupt when I first entered the cafe, but seeing as she was dressed up in ‘traditional’ costume I thought that it was going to be the same idea as in the Krug Inn in Estonia, a medieval sharp and blunt act, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case.  Maybe it was just my mood…

I do not know what it is about Riga, but I just can’t get into the place.  It just doesn’t feel like my sort of place.  I have been trying to like Riga, but I came to the conclusion today that if you have to try to like a place you are probably never going to like it.  I’m sorry Riga, it’s nothing personal, I just don’t think you are the place for me.  Maybe you can prove me wrong on my last day… it is Valentine’s Day after all…


Tea 34, Riga, February 12th 2012

Tea 34:  Milk Oolong, Aspara Tea House, Riga

I started to like Riga a little more today.  I went into the city centre, by foot once again, and headed straight for Aspara Tea House.  This was one of the ones I hadn’t managed to find yesterday, I think it is because the internet seems to think it is in two different places, but today I picked the right one!  The Tea House is a circular building, with glass windows all around, almost as though it is built on an old bandstand or something similar.  There are two floors, the upper is a full circle with loads of cushions and a view out over the park in which the tea house sits.  I chose to sit downstairs though, in a comfy arm chair.  I ordered a Milk Oolong tea.  This doesn’t involve any milk for any of you who are wondering.  The tea leaves come in a pearl form which then unravel with the addition of water.  This was served to me in a semi-traditional style, with kettle / thermos, teapot, fair cup and drinking cup.  The tea can be steeped between 5 and 7 times, with moderate increases in the steeping time with each new round.  The waitress told me to leave the second steep for around 1 minute, which I considered much too long, so I left the second steep for just about 40 seconds, this was still too long, in my opinion.  The first steep gave a refreshing, smooth and delicate taste, and yes, sort of milky, creamy sensation.  The second steep, which was far too long gave a much deeper, more bitter flavour, with far too many tannins attacking the sides of my tongue.  The flavour had become much dirtier, almost alcoholic in it’s sensation, with the flavour flooding the front of my mouth.  The third steep was better, this time I gave the tea only 25 seconds.  This was still a little long, but the flavour was much better, the smoothness and milky sensation returning though still a slight tang.  The flavour of the tea improved a lot as it cooled, becoming sweeter and more fragrant.  The fourth steep was for 25 seconds once more, this time the flavour was much more balanced, the dustiness and bitterness was totally gone now and there was much more clarity in the flavour.  The tea hadn’t become more delicate, but purer in flavour and fragrance.  Steep 5 and the colour had become beautifully golden now, the flavour was deeper, at the base of the tongue and the sweetness had begun to dissipate.  Steep 6, the final steep and the tea finished with a flourish, the floral notes in the tea coming out, super refreshing and clear in flavour.  The tea had seemed to come alive.  That’s why I decided to stop it there, there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing…

A couple of hours had passed now so I got up and went wandering through the lovely, peaceful parks.  The city was sleepier today, less people and traffic, the snow was falling again, covering up the brown-grey piles of old snow and ice, making it a little prettier.  I wandered past the congress building, various consulates, that line the Kronvalda Parks.  People walked their dogs, a guy had his girlfriend filming his snowy Parkour tricks.  Ducks splashed around in the few bits of unfrozen river.  The city felt a lot more inviting today.  I kept wandering like this, around the North-East of the city centre, past museums, official buildings, shopping malls for a good long while.  Then I met up with my host for more walking.  This time much farther North, along Brivibas Bulvaris.  The architecture along this road is pretty amazing, huge Gothic and Baroque style buildings lining the streets. Busts and faces staring out at you from the Facades.

We found ourselves on Miera Street, another one I had failed to find yesterday.  There is a nice mixture of traditional wooden houses and the more Baroque styled stone built buildings.  Miera apparently means ‘peace’, and we found this small, beautiful cafe there with the same name.  At number 9 Miera Street this little cafe is beautiful, with French music playing gently throughout the cafe, handmade hats, candles and teapots in the window.  I had a really, really good Chili Latte, with a beautiful syrupy decoration on the top.  We sat there and warmed up for a while, the chili doing the perfect job, then we decided it was dark and getting colder so we are both home.  More couchsurfers have arrived so the flat is getting full, but it is good to meet some more people.


Day 32 & 33, Pärnu – Riga & Jelgava, February 10th / 11th 2012

Tea 33: Green tea with Ginger and Lemon, Silva, Jelgava.

(Tea 32: Estonian Herbal tea, Liis & Ivo’s Apartment, Pärnu)

Many apologies for a two day in one day blog… I feel genuinely guilty.  Yesterday was another travel day, and so I didn’t get chance to take many photos or to document my tea, but needless to say it was another lovely Estonian Herbal tea, brewed to perfection by my wonderful Pärnu hosts.  I took the bus from Pärnu to my current location, Riga, Latvia.  The bus was luxury compared to the bus from Tartu to Pärnu, a good few inches of leg room beyond my knee caps, and a comfortable seat, and even some sporadic internet access.  I arrived in Riga, met my new host and we went to her apartment to the East of Riga city centre.  After a sit down and a little bit of relaxation we headed into Riga, myself, my host Kristine, and her flatmate Linda.  We wandered around for a while, showing me a few of the sites, mostly around the old town and the Latvia Statue of Liberty / Liberty monument.  We then stopped in a cafe for a coffee and a small but glorious slice of nutty, praline type cake.  VERY good stuff!  I had a coffee instead of a tea, mostly because I needed a caffeine boost, but also because their tea selection wasn’t up to much, doubt me if you will, but a cup of ‘Hot Love‘ tea certainly wasn’t my, well, cup of tea!  We then headed back to the apartment, got some food and I went to bed.

So, day 33.  Today I woke up around 9 and spent the morning Skype-ing family and doing internet stuff.  By lunchtime I had finished catching up with modern life stuff and headed into the city centre.  The weather was still cold, but not as bad as it has been, probably helped by being in a massively busy, bustling and somewhat polluted city.  I wandered to central station then up towards the north-east of the city, just to wander around streets and get my bearings mostly but also in search of tea.  Unfortunately this search was a little fruitless.  I had had some suggestions but had forgotten their names and was hoping that they would jump out at me, but, today, they did not.  Fingers crossed for tomorrow…

After a wander around this district, with it’s pretty little parks offering some peace from the traffic-filled streets, I went back towards the old town.  More wandering around these cobbled, higgledy piggledy streets, souvenir shops and tourist trapping restaurants.  Then I got a call from Linda, to meet her at central station.  I headed there and met up with her and her boyfriend and we hopped on a train to a little town called Jelgava.  There we met up with Kristine.  The plan was to visit the Ice Sculpture Festival.  This is an annual event, apparently run in tandem with a Sand Sculpture Festival in the summer months.  Before we got there though we went for a tea and a bit of cake to warm up and give us a bit of energy.  The weather in Jelgava was palpably colder than in Riga and it didn’t take long for us all to cool down much too much.  We stopped in a little cafe / restaurant called Silva.  I had a lovely cup of Green tea with fresh lemon and ginger, not an amazing tea but a great cold weather tea.  I also had some kind of layered cake that tasted a little bit like a mild lemon meringue pie.  Warmed up once more we headed for the festival ground.  In the site are loads of ice sculptures that have been created by many different people from all over the world.  There had been a judging contest and the winning one was this huge spire of ice with a figure reclining half way up the spire.  It was very impressive, they all were.  The time and effort stuff like that must take is unimaginable.  It has to be a full time careers for some of these guys who have honed their skills so well.  Seahorses, pocket watches, an amazing Chinese New Year Dragon, an Owl, a Dinosaur Skeleton, all things imaginable, and not.  Wandering around we took in all we could with the cold biting heavily at our toes, a short but sweet firework display and then we decided to head back towards home.  We stopped off in Silva once more to warm up and then made for the train station.  We hopped on the train, got back into Riga, and the rest, as they say, is history, or the future…

P.S. You get extra pictures today to make up for the lack of yesterday’s posting…