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.

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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…


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…


Day 30, Tartu – Pärnu, February 8th 2012

Tea 30: Meliss (Lemon Balm), Liis & Ivo’s loft, Parnu

Two belated posts in a row…  oops.  Yesterday was another travel day mostly.  I spent the morning packing and relaxing on the sofa in Tartu, trying to gather a bit of energy back.  A huge breakfast of chocolate pancakes and toastie sandwiches was made for me so that was really good.  So after a little bit of zombifying in front of the TV I went down to Tartu bus station bought my ticket for Parnu and left.  The bus was really full and possibly the least leg room I have ever experienced.  Luckily the bus had quite an early stop and a large chunk of the people got off at that first stop, so that was a bit better, but i still had my legs stuck out into the aisle, wedged between my rucksack and the armrest.  Traveling by bus shows you just how much of Estonia is covered by thick dense forest.  60% apparentely, it’s no wonder they burn so much of it to heat their homes.  But I am assured it is all sustainably done.  Arriving in Parnu at about 5:30pm, I was met at the bus station by Liis, who is kindly putting me up for two nights before I make for the border and into Latvia.

We went straight away to her husband’s car and the three of us drove, picked a fourth person up, and headed out into the countryside, to one of their friends houses. I had been kindly invited to join their dinner party.  A weekly occurance they pick a ‘theme’, or vegetable, that will be cooked into as many different options as possible.  Last night was one of my favourites, Sweet Potato.  We had it as salad, baked, and ‘caramelised’ crisp/chip style.  It was good food, and followed by a documentary film, The Living Matrix.  Basically this is about energy fields that may, or may not, exist around the human body, and how holistic medicine can engage with these fields to heal.  It was very interesting, though the characters and scientists were all quite extreme and intense, which can be a little off putting for some people.  If you are into, or just curious about the ideas of holistic medication, healing, acupuncture, the placebo effect, and such things it is worth a look.

We all left after the film, and headed to Liis and Ivo’s apartment, which is a roof space apartment near the centre of Parnu.  They keep insisting it is unfinished, but it is a really lovely space, nice decor, nice environment, really lovely.  I am certainly jealous, it is one of those places you always wish you could live in, and the decor you always strive for but never feel you achieve.  I’m pretty sure these two have achieved it.  It is really lovely, especially the ‘rocket stove’, which I am currently sitting on typing this.  We drank tea, ate apples from Liis’ Gran’s Garden, and chatted for a while about what I am ‘planning’ and where the two of them have travelled and what their plans are.  They seem very happy here.

So, no Parnu photos yet, but here are some more of Tartu, including the rather dazed looking face of the pig sculpture that stands outside of the Tartu meat market…