Friday, September 5, 2008

Riga; Monday 1st September

Riga, Monday 1st September.

Hey, it’s spring in Canberra which makes it autumn here, I expect the autumn weather in Riga is warmer than Canberra temperatures.. I hope I’m wrong though. It’s been a balmy 18 degrees today, sunny with a light (and, it must be said, slightly chilly) breeze. We’ve had a very romantic day.. what with the miracle of M wanting to go shopping, and the weather, and the wonderful closeness we’ve had all day. Could this be because we’ve engaged in the ultimate relationship intimacy??? - no need to blush, I mean the shopping, for heaven’s sake!

First stop, breakfast. I had a good sleep, but was still terribly bleary. I struggled into my jeans (I LOVE MY JEANS) and tottered out with M. The breakfast room is outside the hotel, across the alleyway, and into another room via a door which BANGS closed. It opens and closes a lot, and the BANGS drive me mad all through the meal. No, I don’t have a hangover, it’s just too damn early for noise. I was partly mollified by finding porridge, very creamy porridge, and salted but no so much that I couldn’t cope. Yes, I am a weirdo who eats porridge (and eggs, and even chips, I hope this confession doesn’t mean I lose half my readers!) without salt. Prefers these things without salt. Finds the salty versions anything from somewhat unpleasant to downright inedibly horrid.

No muesli or fresh fruit in this buffet. There’s salad and cottage cheese but that’s lunch food. You see my problem, I have these funny ideas about what gets eaten when. With what. And whom, definitely with whom. One can’t show one’s morning, or even early afternoon, face to just anyone. Seeing anyones running off shuddering is so lowering... yeah, I can’t pay attention to myself tonight. Hang on, I’ll try a bit harder...

Erm.. oh yes, breakfast. We fiddled around in the room writing our shopping list and getting the princess vertical and purrfumed and laces tied and eyes open with brain somewhat connected.. and leave at 12ish. Doesn’t matter, the shops are all open until 6pm at least. We leave the hotel, walk about 20 steps, and we’re in a store selling Latvian linen, a stupendously low-priced speciality. And in the SALE box is a loose weave linen table cloth that we fall for totally; immediately; quick as a flash. Out with the Visa card to limber it up ready for a busy day... next stop is the amber shop. Darling A, my Latvian angel, has given us more information about Riga and its environs and shops and attractions than we can do justice to in a month, never mind our attenuated visit of only three days. One of the items she’s given us is a card for a particular amber business, which is perhaps 250 metres from our hotel. However this branch of the shop is now closed and the other is further away than we want to go, today. We’re shopping while walking around the northern side of the Old City, so we return to another amber business nearby. I like this shop’s wares, they have modern settings of the stones, and they have a huge range of the different colours and styles of amber. In we go!

M tells me that in Latvia, amber is traditionally worn in three forms: beads, brooches and blouse fasteners. I’m not sure what a blouse fastener is compared to a brooch, and I can’t see in the shelves of goodies anything which differentiates between the two. I quickly rule out necklaces, because I want to see the amber too. I don’t wear earrings, so that’s two big lots of stuff we can pass by... I’m drawn to bangles and rings. M finds brooches, and they are a mixture of engraved pieces - very traditional styles - and huge circles and butterflies. I don’t like them much, and they’re very expensive. Nup. Let’s look at bangles. There are some styles I like a lot, butter yellow rectangles of amber strung on elastic.. elastic doesn’t seem posh enough for a flash birdy present. The bracelets made of pieces of amber set in silver and linked into a chain are even more expensive, and although we both like them a lot, we do need to eat on the rest of this trip!

We end up focussing on the rings, which are every shape and colour of amber, and of course a range of sizes.. I bought a beautiful tear-drop shaped piece of honey-coloured amber in St Petersburg, to wear on a chain. The rings which catch my eye are butter yellow. The rings M prefers are a glassy olive green with amber highlights. We look around a bit more and I see a small yellow amber heart. So a decision is reached - I’ll get the heart for myself, to wear on my arctic silver fox pendant chain, and M will choose a green amber set in silver ring. So, dear patient readers who wade through my long descriptions, I have now a humungously beautiful and large gorgeousness of a ring, which I may not take off for several years. All day, since we bought it, we’ve been holding my hand up to the light to admire it. Shall I try to describe the design?.. hmm... it’s a sort of rounded-edge triangle, an isosceles triangle, set in a flat band of silver about 4mm wide. The stone is not flat but ground into a rounded but bumpy surface... and it’s kinda big. Kinda.. as big as .. half a large marble? As big as .. bigger than I thought we could afford, bigger than I deserve and certainly bigger than I’d have the nerve to buy for myself. It’s LOVELY. It’s a very special gift and I feel much better about the nought* now!

* I mean the nought on the end of my age...

I also had a fun time in a ‘beauty’ shop - just skin care, hair stuff and makeup. But it’s fun re-stocking things like soap and shampoo by inspecting brands I’ve never seen before, and trying to translate the Latvian words for ‘sensitive skin’ or ‘mild mint’. I end up with a big bag of loot; olive oil soap and tea tree oil - this more for the smell than any practical purpose, although I know it’s an excellent mild anti-bacterial - and new hair clips and a real sea sponge for the shower and a third lipstick!!! Profligate consumerism. Heh.

Our next stop is an internet cafe so M can do some money stuff. No laughing. This is not irony but a check on our money-management dudes in Australia, to see if a transfer has happened. Yes! Then M finds a little ‘milk bar’ which has, oh bliss, a half-decent American newspaper (The Noo Yawk Herald Tribune), and some more trashy mags in English. Maybe all I really wanted for my birdy was a bunch of mags! [And speaking of which, last night I was thinking to myself, in a wakeful patch, that I might ask me mum to post me two things which would make the last few weeks of this trip super-fabbo - a tube of my preferred toothpaste, which is not available Over Here, and a few bits of the Sydney Morning Herald for general marital consumption. No, not Vegemite, I can manage without that. But having the right taste in me gob after scrubbing would be kinda good. It is the littlest things, when you’re travelling...]

My next triumph is finding a store called New Yorker, which sells women’s clothes. For young, slim, trendy women. Chicks, if you must. There’s nothing for me in there, but I find some cute things for my teenage nieces, my darling dorter (hi dollink!), and a friend who has hoped for fabric but alas I have not found anything for her. At the counter I find tights in mad colours and patterns and grab a handful, they can go in the ‘general gifts’ box along with the silly socks I bought in the beauty shop. Yellow fishnet ankle socks anyone?

After this we need lunch. We return to the Double Coffee cafe, because we know they have actual sandwiches. And good coffee, and freshly-squeezed juice, and comfy chairs. Easy.. then the happy spenders return to the hotel for a siesta. I fall into bed surrounded by plastic bags of goodies, but still wearing my new fabbo gorgeous spiffy and love-given ring. Lucky, lucky me...

At 6-ish we’re refreshed, I’ve squeezed out another lot of shirts and such to dry all over the room, and M has identified a walking tour around more of the northern are of the Old City.

It’s a lovely two hours we spend here - passing through the streets of graceful old buildings; churches; romantic laneways; the Swedish gate and Jacob’s Park; sculptures (probably) of martyrs; Parliament House; the Danish Embassy; a small part of the river embankment... I took zillions of photos and some film; M was very patient when I kept stopping to snap close-ups of bits of building. I like old doors and fancy ironwork and cherubs and columns, and peeling old walls and bits of ancient woodwork and mossy bricks with trees growing out of them three floors up; and uneven stone steps and huge doorknobs and dates carved into mantels. And shots of M when he doesn’t know I’m taking them; and steeples against the dusk clouds; and any cat, live or handmade, that I can find.

M’s leggies are falling off as we return to the square where we started. We stop in the Four Rooms cafe, which is housed in a building dating back to, truly, 1207. Jaw drops to floor... I took a few pics of the stone walls, the beams and the rafters. They didn’t come out too well, the flash bleached-out details, and the natural-light shots may be too shady.. we’ll see.

The meal is delightful - I’ve opted for darling A’s recommendation of potato cakes with salmon and sour cream. This restaurant serves the dish with large pearls of red caviar.. double nom. Our waiter is very friendly; when we get chatting we discover he’s emigrating to Australia in a month, hoping to enrol at Canberra University! We’re suitably amazed; even more so when he produces some Canberra contact info for his course and the lecturer is a colleague well-known to M. The world is indeed very small. Of course we invite him to contact us; M produces his name card (I MUST make a name card for myself; I’ve been mulling over what I’d say about my ‘work’ - a source of great amusement to me. Like, how to describe a life filled with optional activities? I totally refuse to say Home Duties or even Domestic Manager; I don’t do anything particularly more than anything else. It’s far easier to describe myself when travelling, thus: A Dag; Abroad; Again. I must work out how to translate THAT into a life/work description!) and we make sure that he understands that we mean it when we say please contact us. His name, it deserves to be recorded, is Dmitri Stroganov. This stroganoff is following me around!

Now, I’ve opened all the goodie bags and played with the contents. I’ve discovered that the new ring sends little glints across the screen as I type, and we’ve had a very magical day. With luck, more of the same tomorrow - magic I mean, not all that shopping!

Today brought to you by Prrrrada by the bucketful; overlaid by Chanel No. 5 ditto; the aroma of the real, propurrly made cuppa tea at the Four Rooms place; and Essence de Hubby, a peerless and powerful nice thing.

Goodnights to you all! And please pat your cats.f

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