Day 54, Radom, March 3rd 2012

Tea 54, Green tea with prickly pear and lemon, including Krupnik, Marta’s Mum’s House, Radom

Today was a beautiful day, glorious sunshine beaming down, with real warmth in it.  The shadows were still cold though, and there was the occasional gust of a chilly wind.  We just walked around Radom today, seeing the old town, which is unfortunately in a bit of a state in places, wooden beams literally stopping many buildings from collapsing.  I am told that the old town is going to be renovated and repaired this year though, so hopefully that will happen because it is already charming, and with a bit of TLC could be very beautiful.

We first wandered through a little park, with a sculpture of Chopin and a funny little castle that is now a public toilet in the middle of it.  Next to it is a bizarre little sight, rather than a play ground for kids they have an exercise ground, with a cross trainer / stepper type thing, a bench and chest press thing, all sorts of stuff, including a table tennis table.  It’s quite nice because the kids still have fun playing around and climbing all ovet the stuff, whilst the adults can probably have a good time too, if they aren’t too shy to exercise in front of the whole town, which is small enough for everyone to probably know everyone… There is also a rather large and unusually sculpture of a guy called Kochanowski, I can’t remember exactly what he is famous for, but I think he was a poet, and has a bit of a sad history concerning his daughter, who was apparently some sort of child prodigy but died very young.  The sculpture is good, but the figure is adopting the most bizarre pose I think I’ve ever seen!

Out of the park and down the high street, looking at the people, the entrance ways and arches to some of the old buildings.  We accidently locked ourselves into one of the little courtyards but were rescued a little while later when a lady wanted to come in at the time we were trying to get out!  More explorations found us a little old building that was once a printers shop.  This old brick building had a thing over the door stating 1818, which I presume to be it’s original building date, and it looks it.  It is in semi ruins now, but is a very interesting building and I hope it gets saved by someone.

In to the old town, we wandered into the grounds of a Benedictine church, a few brown robed monks milling about, the sun shining down on the well kept lawn and shrubs.  More meandering brought us past another church, the original church of the old town, and then into the old town square, a vast, empty space, in need of a bit of life and improvement, which will undoubtedly arrive at some point.  At the moment it is a minimalist’s dream.

We then wandered out of the old town, to the Galeria (shopping centre) which has pretty much singlehandedly brought the blight that the town centre is suffering into being.  Despite this we were on a hunt for a gift for Marta’s Mum, for her birthday, which is on Sunday.  We found what she was after, or had been instructed to get by her sister and brother and then wandered back in the sunshine towards home.

We had intended to pop home and then go out again, but when we got back Marta’s Mum had prepared a huge spread of salad and soup and chicken and her Dad had made a wild boar goulash!  He is a hunter, and despite my reservations to this fact and my preference to veg over meat, the goulash was very good.  Mashed Potatoes with Dill, Carrot and Sauerkraut.  It was a proper feast, and for this reason we did not make it back out into the town, the food was so non-stop that we spent the whole afternoon eating and drinking!  The drinking went a fair way, starting with a local (ish) beer and then wine and then onto the spirits…!  Krupnik is a honey liquor, pretty strong and fragrant, but good.  There was also a vodka that Marta’s Dad had infused with quince.  Basically there was A LOT!  To freshen up a little Marta and I took her dog Etna for a walk around the park, then we came home and watched a film, one of my favourites ‘True Romance’, with Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette.


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.


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 29, Tartu, February 7th 2012

Tea 29: Cactus-Fig Green Tea, a cafe, Tartu.

So, a belated post once more.  Had a night out last night, which seems to be becoming a theme with the day before I leave a place, and  I’m quite enjoying that.

Yesterday I met up with Emily, another couch surfer who is currently taking a similar route to me, though with a one or two day time difference.  I met her first at a meal and couch surfing event in Tallinn, and then said I would give her a little guided tour of Tartu, because, after two days here, I’m pretty much an expert…(of the town centre anyway).  We met in the town square at mid-day then went to Tartu’s main church to have a look around and because Emily had heard there was some music being played there.  It turned out to be a short organ rehearsal / recital.  The church is quite interesting, mostly for it’s sparseness.  It’s gone through a lot in it’s time.  Left to go to rack and ruin, burning down, all the usual.  It has only really recently been restored, and it looks as though they still have work to do.  I think it is the 2000 or so terracotta heads and sculptures that are getting the most attention.  They have all been hand sculpted and fired.  Many of the figures are unknown, and are thought to be representations of the residents of Tartu at the time of the church’s building.

After that we went back to the apartment where Emily dropped her stuff and then we sat for a while to warm up and have a cup of tea.  Then it was back into town.  We went around the newer end of town for a while, visiting various food markets that we had hoped would be vibrant and colourful and exciting, but they are all pretty simple and normal.  Local markets for local people! By the time we had done that it was about 2pm and I was getting hungry, so we went back into the old town and visited a simple, inexpensive cafe for soup, and then tea and some chocolate…. of course.  The tea was another variety of Cactus tea, this time Cactus-Fig Green Tea.  It was nicer than the last Cactus tea I tried, a bit more delicate and smooth.

After a while chatting and sitting about, a bit of people watching too, we went for a walk.  I finally managed to find the sacrificial stone and we wandered mostly around bits I’ve seen in the past few days. One new thing was the Handicrafts guild building, basically a building with studios for glass making, pottery, hat making, dolls.  All sorts of little things.  In the summer time this place is much more vibrant I am told, with street stalls and activities in the pretty courtyard at the rear of the building.  After cooling down considerably yet again, we went to Werner cafe, my second visit.  We sat there for a couple of hours until around 6 when we were meant to meet up with a couple of other people active in the couch surfing community here.  Unfortunately they were both running a little late, so we decided to go BACK to Werner cafe once again and wait for them there, and also to buy some food.  I went for a lovely seafood ristotto, just the right size portion and a good mix of seafoods.  Tasty.  When the two others had arrived we sat a chatted for a while, before moving on to a bar.  I don’t know the name of the place, but it was a shot bar, and we arrived in time for the happy hour, 25% off all shots.  So we got a few different cocktail mixed shots and the night began.  After happy hour was over we moved on to another bar, Möku.  This is the smallest bar in Tartu, down in a small basement space, it had a good atmosphere and some nice beers on sale.  I went for a good Estonian Chocolate Porter.  It was very good, though not to the liking of the others it seemed.  After that we then headed to THE bar in Tartu, according to one of our group.  This seems to be the sort of student bar, with various deals on beers and, usually a pretty buzzing atmosphere.  Unfortunately this was a Tuesday night, in the winter, and still before midnight.  But it was a good laugh none-the-less and we sat over one last beer chatting and laughing until we all decided that it was getting late, more travel for me today, work for one and Uni for the other.  It was a good night though, and good to meet some more new people.


Day 26, Tallinn – Tartu, February 4th 2012

Tea 26:  Õuna-Ingveri Plahvatus, Heli’s Apartment, Tartu.

Today I travelled to Tartu, in South-East Estonia.  I woke up, packed up, said my goodbyes to Ingrid and made for the bus station.    The bus I took left at 1pm and cost me the princely sum of 5 Euros!  On a Saturday people aged 26 or under can travel for half price!  That was a hugely pleasant surprise!  The coach took 2 and a half hours, in which time I managed to catch up on a little sleep missed the night before and to see a bit more of the Estonian countryside.  The country is pretty flat for the most part, with a few huge lakes, currently covered in snow and a little hard to differentiate from the fields.  But the scenery is beautiful, which chunks of old, fir tree woodland, covered in snow, making the fronds and branches droop under the weight.

I arrived in Tartu at 3:30pm, and was met at the bus station by Heli, my new couch surfing host.  We went straight from there to her apartment, kind of in the north of the city.  My beard froze more or less instantly in the cold -21’C air!  I was introduced to her family, and a brief introduction to the cat.  Then started to make myself at home, chatting all things travel, to art, to card games and liquor.  Some lovely Mandarino Italian liquor Heli brought back with her from a recent trip to Italy, and then a great Lasagne cooked by her sister Evelyn.  It was very good, the perfect food for a cold day and an empty stomach.  We sat a chatted for a while after, played a few card games and I am now sitting in front of the fire drinking a cup of the above-mentioned tea, before I head to bed / couch.  The tea is a fruit tea, with all sorts of lovely chunks of orange, apple, and ginger.  The name actually just means apple-ginger explosion!  It is lovely, not strictly tea, but good none-the-less!

Below is a picture of the fire and a couple more from my time in Tallinn.