Hola from Riga.

Actually, hola from a cramped minibus tearing through the roads between Ventspils and Riga at a pace indicative of the driver's dream of Formula 1. Lucky for the other racing drivers, but to our dismay, he never made it. I spent the last three days in Ventspils, and I wasn’t quite off the map, but I could see the legend and the neat trim on the outer parts of the paper from there. It was possibly the strangest town I’ve ever been seen. It's an industrial port city, very industrial,

coal loading onto ships

but at the same time, they obviously want very badly to be considered a hip vacation spot. There is a gorgeous beach that’s only fault is  that the Baltic Sea is really far north, and even in August, is cold as shit. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why there was no one on this fantastic sandy beach,

empty beaches

it was a sunny, sunny day, there are tons of things there for the kids – Ventspils has also taken playground equipment to an entirely new level throughout the city – and the water is a lovely dark blue. Then I stepped into the edges of the surf. Yikes! Now, I swim in Barton Springs, which is 68 degrees year round, and too frigid for many souls in Austin. I’ve also rafted on whitewater in West Virginia that comes out of the Dam at around 58 degrees and stings like crazy when it slaps you in the face. I’m just guessing, and I’m going to try to look it up later, but I suspect that the water here was around that temperature. Standing in it literally hurt. The entire time I was there and another day when I was there for about an hour, I only saw two people run into the water up to their waist, then run back out. The only other person I saw in it at all, other than ankle deep, was a kiteboarder who was a complete lunatic to start with, evidenced by the wind and surf in which he was out. Other than hypothermic surf, it has the potential of a great resort town.

The other thing notable about the city is their fondness for abstract sculpture.

head shaped fountain

You’ve never seen so many simply odd things sitting around. I don’t think I actually saw any pieces of people or historical monuments, which Riga is full of, but everywhere you turn there was some blob with two poles sticking out of it, or green neon trees, or a shape vaguely resembling a head with water spouting out of it from three dozen different places. And cows.

colorful cow

They love their cow sculptures here in Ventspils. I think there was some sort of cow sculpture event that happened a few years ago. I’ve seen life size cows painted in all sorts of colors and styles in other cities. I can only guess that Ventspils was the sponsor of that event.

cow with a gas pipe

 They have about 5 – 6 of them spread around the city, that I saw, and at least two, maybe more, that are huge. Think 4 meters tall, 6 – 8 meters long, you can walk under the cow and reach up to touch its stomach if you jump. Huge. One of those had a handle and stickers as though it had been traveling around. I think it might have been a statement on leather luggage. That’s my best guess anyway.

really big cow

cow with a car 

Wait. Oh lord... Yes, the driver of the minibus really did just answer his cell phone and talk too someone for about five minutes. There has to be some sort of law against that.

Other than the cows, and the sculpture in general, and the numerous playground innovations, and the fantastic beach with water that will turn your tan blue, it was really a pretty sleepy town. Finding food after 9:45 is impossible as even the supermarkets stop letting people in then and close at 10. There probably was bar that stayed open past then, perhaps midnight, but I didn’t find it. In fact, I only found one true bar at all, and it wasn’t interesting enough to make me want to stay. Some of the shops were nice enough, but I didn’t buy anything, and in fact, I’ve spent hardly any money in all of Latvia. I take that back – I bought a watch band and a swiss army knife. My old watchband suffered a premature death, thanks to my stupidity, and I was looking around for a nice watch. I nearly bought one for $160 that looked good and had a couple sweet features on it, including a compass, but I decided at the last minute to save the money. Then walking back to the hotel from that very store, I found a place selling watches, and low and behold, found a new band for the watch that I already had – with a small compass in it! – for the equivalent of $1.50. They also had a knife, which I’ve been needing, but haven’t bought (I couldn't bring any of my many knives on the airplane, of course), and since they had a good one for a reasonable price (nothing special – about the same as home, I think) I went ahead and grabbed it. Now, finally, two weeks into the trip, I am finally fully outfitted.

fish made out of flowers

I forgot to mention that in addition to regular - well, irregular - sculpture, Ventspils really, really loves flower sculptures as well. My favorite was a bobsled  and the four person bobsled team, but I forgot to take a photo of that. Also, I didn't mention that they have an entire outdoor museum dedicated to boat anchors. Well, technically I think they were ship anchors.

the walking path at the anchor museum

Some of them were really, really big, and some not as much, but the thing that struck me most is how they all looked exactly the same. Really. I grew up with a boat on the Ohio river, and for small ski boats and things, there are actually a variety of anchors for them, all shapes and sizes. Pretty much all of the anchors at the museum were of exactly the same classic anchor shape.

So, I'm headed back to Riga, as that’s the only city where you can travel internationally from Latvia, and tomorrow I’m catching a bus to Siauliai, Lithuania. I’m going there to see a place called the hill of crosses, which is just what it sounds like, and then I’ll move on to the capital, Vilnius, on Sunday. From there I will either take a bus through Balarus to Kiev, Ukraine, or I’ll head to Warsaw, Poland, depending on how long I stay in Vilnius. I’m going to meet Sean somewhere in Ukraine around the 28th, so my schedule now is about timing that so that it works out. I would like to see Warsaw, and I’m definitely going to Krakow, to visit Aushwitz, but it’s convenient to do those either before or after I spend a few days in Ukraine. Sean and I haven't had any luck catching up with one another on the phone, but he's been able to check his email frequently enough the past two weeks for us to sort of get our schedules together. Best of all, I know a bit better how to get to his town, or at least, how to get closer. Eventually I'll find it, I'm sure.

I’ve been trying hard to get my design website to accept some new pages, with these journals and photos, but for some reason I’m having a lot of trouble getting it to take. The FTP says that the pages are there, but the site isn’t updating. I’m going to make another attempt tonight, from Riga, hoping that the wifi there will let me sort out the problem, but really, I have no idea what’s up. My knowledge of web design limits me to making more attempts to upload the new pages and make sure they are all named and referenced properly. If that doesn’t work, then I’m puzzled about what is wrong. This will probably get sent out at the same time I’m online doing that, so I’ll update you all on how it goes at the end.

Okay, it's Thursday night in Riga, and once again it is raining, though it is just spritzing a little. That's all its every really done here. Unlike Ventspils, where it was raining cats and dogs for about twenty four hours straight. I'm sitting in the Latvian version of Starbuck's, though they play better music and have a way better menu. The pay wifi here is a better deal than Starbuck's as well, but unfortunately you can only get it by buying a card and scratching off a user name and password, rather than signing on online with a credit card. That wouldn't be a problem except that they only have one card here for an hours time, which isn't much to trouble shoot the website, write everyone I want to write and also research and book hotels for Siauliai and Vilnius.

Okay, turns out the company that runs my web server changed some stuff on me, so the place my website is working from is different than the one I've been updating. That means I should be able to update the right place now. With any luck, you'll be seeing the pics and all. I'll send out a short email to my big list (as opposed to the people who don't cringe when they see my name in their inbox - probably the ones who are reading this) and let everyone know. If not, then you'll probably be getting this as an email, sans photos, or at least sans all the photos.

Much love,