What a difference a day makes! Today was the most gloriously sunny and beautiful day, all of yesterday’s snow had melted away and it was genuinely warm! Today was a day filled with cafes.
The day started with a little trip around town with Ania, for her to do some errands and things like that. We went into the old town, where Ania needed to do some photocopying for her teaching job. whist she did that I explored the little cobbled streets and old buildings and this pretty park with the sun shining down, the back of a grand looking church towering over from the top of the hill. After about 20minutes Ania returned and we decided to go to this cafe called Ogrody, meaning garden in Polish apparently. The cafe is clean and modern with a nice chilled out atmosphere, in the summer time they apparently have tables and chairs out on the little square on which the cafe sits. I had a really tasty salad and a pot of Green Sencha tea with Prickly Pear and Orange Peel and Lemongrass. It was very good, fresh leaves in the pot smelt sweet and fruity whilst the tea itself was delicate and smooth. After a while sitting there enjoying the sunshine we headed back into the old town, then Ania decided we should go back into the city centre to find another place that she enjoys.
We took a bus and then waited for a tram from Centrum which took us to the pretty little roundabout with the white church. There we found another cafe that Ania really likes. Called Charlotte it is another fairly modern place, full of young professionals and mothers-to-be. The staff are all about 12 years old with surfer-waxed hair or bohemian looks in their eyes. The place is very nice though, the bread is all baked fresh, you can see the bakers working away behind the counter, flour filling the air, sun rays pouring through it from the huge windows. We sat in one of the windows, on some bar stools and watched as traffic and people milled about outside, people sitting on the terrace in the sunshine with their coffee and cigarettes. The cafe has all of those classic cafe sounds, spoons clinking the edge of the cups as the sugar is poured in, people chatting and laughing, tearing their bread or crunching their croissant. The sun was warm on our faces, the disbelief at the gloriousness of the day compared to yesterday still the main topic of conversation. We sat there for a while, also stirring our coffee or crunching our croissant. I took some photos of people through the window, of the zebra-crossing which was empty one second and the next being jam packed with people trying to cross the road.
After a while Ania had to head home so I took her to the tram stop and saw her off, then I went to wander around in the sunshine before I met up with Marta. It is mad how much more stuff you notice when you aren’t hunched over yourself trying to keep warm. A straight back means you can look up at all the amazing sculptures that sit atop of all the buildings, staring down at all of the people below. I literally just walked up and down the streets, enjoying the sunshine and noticing things that I hadn’t before. Then it was time to go and meet Marta, she resigned from her job today so wanted to go for a drink after work.
We met at her office and then walked into the centre, taking an elongated route, along Kruzca for a bit, then down onto Mokotowska and along for a while, staring in shop windows and some beautiful entrance halls to tenement apartments. We then got onto Nowy Swiat, walked along a bit and turned off, behind the street is a little area of bars and a few boutique shops. Mostly bars though, all decorated in different styles but more or less doing the same thing. We picked one filled with a mix-match of old furniture and dark decor. We ordered a pitcher of beer for a bargain happy-hour price of 15Zloty, about £3! We sat, drank, chatted for a couple of hours or so and then we left, walked along past the Sheraton Hotel, Parliament buildings, the embassy buildings, and that area of town then I dropped Marta off at her friends apartment, where she was heading for more drinks, and I took the tram home, ate a good helping of the leftovers from yesterdays soup and some Pierogi, then sat for a while doing worky things and went to bed!
Today (yesterday) was a lovely day. Lithuania is definitely a place I will need to go come back to. Unfortunately my time here is almost up and tomorrow (today) I will be leaving for Poland. My day started with another great breakfast, bread and cheese and then banana pancakes and yoghurt.
After this great start to the day I left the house and walked down the huge staircase (210 steps) to the town centre. First stop was the bus ticket office where I bought my ticket to Warsaw for another bargain price of 29litas, about 8.5 Euro. The lady in the ticket office was very friendly and helpful with everything, printed me off my ticket and then I headed into the town centre. I wandered down the long main high street Laisvės alėja, lined with trees and that leads all the way to the old town. The old town starts after you have traveled beneath the main road and come up the other side. Immediately recognisable as an Eastern European / Baltic Old Town, with the building styles and layouts. The first street is still the main street and leads directly to the town square. There are lovely little shops, a tea shop (though not cafe), which I popped in to have a look and a smell, but didn’t buy anything. Then I went to a little glass fronted photography gallery just off the town square. A nice space with some good work on show, though I have totally forgotten by who, and their website isn’t up to date yet. In the town square there were workmen taking down a huge christmas tree made from recycled green plastic bottles. I imagine it must have looked quite cool at night time. Apparently the tree is only just being taken down because some wise fellow decided that the weather had been much too cold for people to work outside at such a job and so it had been left until now, when the weather is reasonably milder. A very good idea! I wandered around and then decided to take a seat next to a sculpture of Maironis, Lithuania’s most celebrated poet, who had studied during his high-school years in Kaunas. While I was sitting there in the peace and quiet a delivery lorry turned up and two young people were, rather unceremoniously left holding a mattress. After a few attempts to lift and carry the thing I decided that I would offer some help to the young couple. So I got up, went over, apologised for my lack of Lithuanian but offered help. We carried the mattress the few hundred yards to their front door, had a little chat about why I was in Lithuania and what they did (students, one studying Music Technology, the other Medicine), and then I went back to the town square.
I then walked a little while north and found myself at Kaunas Castle, an old, semi-ruined, semi-reconstructed (and therefore sort of ruined a little more), building that stands more or less at the point where the two rivers, the Nemunas and the Neris, meet. It also marks the start of a small area of parkland that is the true point of the land where the two rivers meet. The little park is only a few meters higher than the river level, the ice of one river was pretty much mostly frozen, but on the other, the Nemunas the ice was breaking up and shifting. Huge great chunks of glacial blue ice slowly floated down the river, creaking and bobbing about. It was quite an amazing sight.
After that I went back into the Old Town Square, I had spied a place to get a little treat. Chocolaterie, as it is simply named, is a sweet little chocolate and coffee cafe. It isn’t cheap, and especially not by Lithuanian standards, but as a small treat it is ok. I had the above hot chocolate, and espresso sized cup filled with glorious liquid chocolate, I also treated myself to a piece of cake, true gluttony as the chocolate by itself was much more than enough sweetness. But the cake was really good, chocolate, cherries, more chocolate, and not just sponge but a layer of solid chocolate in the middle too. Very, very bad for you, and therefore very, very good for your soul…
I sat there for a while, then wandered through some of the side streets of the Old Town. Taking my life in my hands down the icy narrow, cobbled streets until I reached the Nemunas River again, but this time further up stream, by a large bridge that leads into the heart of the old town. A huge sundial sits on the wall of one building, it’s smiling face greeting all those that arrive. I then met up with Lina’s brother and one of his friends who decided to take me to the Žalgiris Arena, the huge black basketball arena that sits on a small island in the New Town area of Kaunas. Basketball is actually Lithuania’s national sport, and they are very passionate and proud about it. In the arena a competition was on between a lot of Lithuanian schools (though I don’t know if it was just local schools or the whole country). The stadium is mostly black, outside and in, which is actually quite nice to sit in, the focus is really on the basketball court. We sat and watched for a while. Small three person competitions taking up the time between quarters of the main game of the day. Then a small challenge for a member of the audience to throw a basketball from the centre of the court into the basket, but, as if this wasn’t hard enough, they were blindfolded. When they inevitably missed the audience was told to scream and shout as if they had made the shot. The guy throwing was very almost convinced!
After a while I decided I would head back home, so, leaving Lina’s brother and friend I walked across the main bridge back to the mainland, walked past the huge empty unfinished Soviet era hotel. This is an almost solid block of concrete, about 12 stories high and probably the size of a few football pitches. The thing is built so solid that it is apparently near impossible to break it down, the reinforced concrete latticed with steel. No one knows what will happen to the thing, but everyone hopes something will happen to it. It is like a huge, grey, gloomy reminder of the past. Making it back home, through the little park, that was once a graveyard, then a sports arena (another Soviet influence) and now a park with reference to the previous graveyard, and back up the 210 steps, myself, Lina and Algis sat a chatted for a while. Then we ate some traditional Lithuanian dumplings, little parcels of pastry filled with meat or mushrooms which are boiled and served with sour cream and salad. Very satisfying food! Then a couple of Algis’s friends arrived and we sat with some wine and a few card games, and another round of Dixit (the game I failed to explain yesterday). Then by the time all that was over it was time for bed!
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.
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…
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…
So, a belated post! Went out last night and didn’t get chance to write this until this morning. Yesterday was yet another freezing cold day, and I think today is going to be even worse! But the sun still shines and that makes me happy, and I will be heading for Tartu later, hopefully on a warm bus! I headed out around mid day again, this time I wanted to go back to the sea so I went down by the big old concrete Soviet Concert Hall ‘Linnahall‘ and looked out into the mist. The sea is covered by this low lying but dense mist, this is apparently caused when the sea temperature is warmer than the air temperature, and you get this spooky, slow moving mist about 5 feet tall and dense as a cloud. After I totally froze out next to the sea, my hands aching, even my toes through my big boots suffering a bit, AND my scarf freezing to my face!, I more or less ran back into the old town in search of a cup of tea and some warm sanctuary. I went to this cafe called Majasmokk, a fairly old school, traditonal looking cafe selling various cakes and pastries and lots of Kalev chocolate goods (which I actually managed to resist). I had a mushroom and pepper flakey pastry thing, and a cup of China White Monkey tea. This tea is very interesting, quite a strong, nutty flavour comes out from the delicate green leaves. They don’t seem to colour the water much, and so I was expecting a tea more like your standard White tea, but, as I said, it is surprisingly stronger and not like most white teas at all. I thought for a while I was drinking a different tea, or that the filter had another flavour stuck in it, but after a bit of research it seems that is how it should be.
After warming up, and then psyching myself up, I ventured back outside. After walking a little way the mobile phone Ingrid had lent me rang and she was on the other end, she had finished work early and was coming to meet up with me in town. I escaped the cold and went into a shopping mall while I waited. Looking through books and windows and pretending to be shopping. I met Ingrid and we went straight to another cafe, this time the chocolate cafe, Pierre Chocolaterie, tucked away down a little side road in the old town. We both had the same, a rum and raisin hot chocolate! It was very good, warming and tasty, with raisins in the bottom and a decent hit of rum. The cafe itself is nice and cozy, full of cushions and wooden furniture, soft lighting and dark walls. A lovely little place, but for treats only as it is a little expensive.
We then headed back for home, though via the supermarket to buy some food. Another couch surfer and one of Ingrid’s friends were coming for dinner before we all went out to a couch surfing meet. I cooked, the request from Ingrid was a Shepherd’s Pie, but it would seem that it is basically impossible to find any kind of lamb in Estonia, it had to be Cottage Pie. I was quite pleased with the outcome, a nice tasty filling and I did my favourite thing, to put leeks in the mash potato topping, makes a big, yummy, difference! Food eaten, and all of it was, we all hopped in a taxi and went to the Red Emperor, a bar somewhere in Tallinn, it was dark and I was in a car so exactly where it is I could not say. We hung out there for a while, playing giant jenga, and watching people play pool, also laughing at the guy who was asleep on the sofa when we arrived (at about 10) and still there when we left at around midnight! Poor guy! We then went to a club, somewhere nearby the Linnahall again, danced for a few hours, to music that I’m more used to hearing in adverts and in my imaginations of bad mid-nineties clubs, than in today’s clubs. There were a little too many people for what was a very small space, but the little group of us that had gone managed to keep our dancing circle going and the music began to improve eventually. We left at around 3:30 and got in another taxi home.
Today I am traveling to Tartu, hopefully some point soon, though I have to pack, but will try to fill you in later!
Sorry for deviation from the tea topic but this is necessary and essential! Today, as I mentioned yesterday, was the chocolate plan of action, after scoping out Gamla Stan yesterday I returned to Stortorget to try out the chocolate cafe. And I was not disappointed! The chocolate was warm, rich, smooth and gloriously creamy. It was, like yesterday’s tea, perfectly served, not too hot or cold, just right. I also endulged in a Valrhona Chocolate Ball. This was sticky, rich, and wonderfully sweet. It was a great portion too, I was almost defeated, but I made it to the end. It wasn’t cheap, nowhere in Stockholm is cheap, but it was most definitely worth it! If you are visiting Stockholm, or if you live there and haven’t been, GO!
After my bout of pure gluttony, I wandered along the coastline around Gamla Stan, along Strandvägen, past all the beautiful old boats, some seeming to be house boats, and onto Djurgården. This little island has various museums and attractions, it is one of the greener parts of the city, basically one big park. On it is the Nordiska Museet, the Aquarium, Gröna Lund (the theme park), Skansen (an open air museum and zoo), the Vasamuseet. But I just went for a wander around the park areas. The island is very beautiful, and was made more so by the first snowfall of the trip so far. After I’d finished my wandering I headed up to Östermalm, the eastern borough of the city. This end of town is pretty affluent, with a Ferrari and Maserati store, various commercial ‘art galleries’ and, the stalwart of any high-end district….. Laura Ashley! I ended up inside a bookstore specialising in Theology, Zen and Buddhism, albeit briefly as the shop was actually closed for stocktake. After a quick check with her husband the lady invited me in a chatted quietly to me so as not to disturb her husband about Theology and asked me about my trip. I left the store after a short whistle-stop introduction to the notion of Theology and with a number of Theology magazine publications under my arm.
I made my way back into the city centre and onto the T-Bana home. Tonight we are having a traditional Swedish dinner of Meatballs, Potatoes, Lingonsylt and sauce. My stomach is already looking forward to it! Jess and Tiffany are really great hosts!
Dessert is more chocolate balls!