Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stork Season

Like the Canada Geese returning to crap all over Greeley for another year, except somehow better (maybe because the don't crap in Riga's parks), the storks have returned to Latvia.

All year round, one can see stork nests dotting the countryside. As I have heard it, it is illegal to damage or knock down a stork nest. And apparently, Storks love nothing more than putting their nests on top of telephone poles. Perhaps more accurately, they loved to put their nests on telephone poles thirty years ago. As progress put up new, somehow better telephone poles and knocked down the old ones, progress was prevented from knocking down those poles with stork nests. As a result, there are random, lonely poles along the roadsides all over Latvia, solitarily holding up storks' nests.

On a recent trip to the East of Latvia, this nest was spotted with a pair of storks apparently mating. Violently. They kept falling out of the nest, and then would fly off in a big circle and land back in the nest and wrestle some more and then fall out again. Eventually they fell out and I guess they were done because they just sat there on the ground. Maybe if they didn't put the nest on the top of a telephone pole, it would be a little easier.

P.s. Sorry we messed up some of the pictures earlier this week. They're fixed now if you want to go back and look.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Red, Yellow

We did not partake of either the mysteriously red cabbage or the mysteriously yellow cabbage on offer at the market. Some subtleties of the local cuisine may remain unknown through our entire time here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

He who controls the spice, controls the universe

Kind of a fun way to buy spices, stored loose in rows of little plastic trays. If you want some cumin, for example, you just have to tell the friendly lady how many grams of cumin you want. Which means you have to have some idea in your head of how much one of those little jars' worth of cumin might weigh, and then (for some of us) convert it to metric. It's way better than how they do it in America.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Central Market

Some pictures from a while ago. We may not be ready to do this every-day posting thing, and the Day Job is taking us away from the Holla offices for a couple days.

Anyway, the Riga Central Market is found in a series of huge arched buildings that were originally designed to be zeppelin hangars. No, really. Now they are home to the cheapest vegetables, fish, and cheese to be found in the city.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Of Moscow: Four Scenes from the Metro

The Moscow Metro is maybe the best in the world. It's certainly the best we've been on.

It's beautiful. Most of the central stations are spacious and gorgeously decorated. Some of the art seems a bit silly now; there's a lot of Lenin and a lot of happy workers and farmers being productive. But the craftsmanship is still amazing, and whole stations are cohesively designed. It makes one feel sad about the cruddy, lonely attempts at public art that are dropped into metro stations in the U.S.

It's fast. We took it everywhere and never had to wait more than a couple minutes for a train, any time of day or evening.

It's dangerously crowded at rush hour. One train every two minutes tops, more than 10 lines with stations everywhere, and they're still full. Which is fine, but then a train full of people have to squeeze onto two escalators every minute, which means the whole station fills with a shuffling line for the escalator. So, best in the world, but still not perfect. Did we mention that it's beautiful?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Of Moscow: Best Bar in Town

We tried to find a good bar on our last day in town, to relax for a little bit before sitting in the truly world-class traffic on the way out to the airport. But Moscow doesn't seem to do bars. If you want to go somewhere and buy a beer, you can go to a restaurant and pay too much, or I suppose you can go to a club and pay way, way too much. Luckily, we happened upon what we're sure is the best bar in town. Pictured above is one of the many, many kiosks that offers a broad variety of beers for sale on the street by the single bottle. We bought a couple and enjoyed them hanging out by the entrance to the Metro. As much as we would like to claim credit, your correspondents did not come up with this idea on our own. In fact, there was a great river of people heading down into the Metro, and at any point 25 or 30 of them were taking a break from the commute, just hanging out near the stairway, having a beer. The people watching was fantastic; the sun was shining; the beer was cheap (ridiculously cheap by Moscow standards): It was clearly the best bar in Moscow, and maybe the world.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Of Moscow: Matrushkas

We sort of thought we would get an authentic Russian matrushka or nesting doll as a souvenir of Moscow. But they are mostly actually kind of gaudy. Then The Lovely Katherine decided she wanted an icon we found that featured Saint Christopher, who apparently had a horse's head, which is maybe from a Bible story I don't remember so well. But it was too expensive. Oh, well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Of Moscow: Four Seasons

Coming soon to the heart of communism, a new Four Seasons hotel, featuring views of St. Basil's.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Of Mosow: Continued

We are kind of busy right now with non-Holla related issues. So, today, a somewhat behind-schedule photo from Moscow, and probably more Moscow the rest of this week.

There was some sort of memorial or veterans' remembrance going on at their Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, so traffic was closed off on this street leading up to Red Square. We also saw a changing of the guard, which involved some serious goose-stepping, but nothing as goofy as the Greek one.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Of Moscow: Red Square

It's been 17 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it was still a little odd to stand in Red Square, the heart of the one-time "Evil Empire," well-known from movies and as a backdrop for journalists reporting from the darkest heart of communism.

The square is huge and the cathedral is crazy, as expected. The greatest disappointment of our trip was that Lenin's Tomb was closed because Lenin is in the shop getting his oil changed or something.

The communist spirit lives on there, I guess. In the square, at least one side of which should be lined with cafes where you can sit under an umbrella and have a coffee while taking in the scene, there is not much commerce going on. Cross just outside the square, and it's a different story. One side of the square is now a high-end mall, with a Four Seasons hotel under construction. And just outside the main entrance to the square, any number of tchotchke sellers are at work, along with an array of look-alikes who you can have your picture taken with in front of the square. I guess I see the kitsch value in having your picture taken with a guy who looks kind of like Napoleon outside the walls of the Kremlin. And while I don't see why anyone would want to have their picture taken with a faux mass-murderer like Stalin, but given that the guy next to him was dressed as a bear wearing a t-shirt that says "Russia," I guess you could say it's not necessarily a symbol of great respect.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

of Moscow: Crapdogs

A small illustration of yesterday's comment about the fun of being able to sound out Cyrillic and only sometimes know the words. The above picture is The Lovely Katherine chugging a liter carton of apple juice in front of a hot dog stand. But don't worry about that -- just look at the sign on the stand, above the smiley hot-dog monster. It mostly kind of looks like "crapdogs," no? Well, being experts on reading Cyrillic, we can tell it actually says "starbogs." Maybe our cyrillic isn't actually so good. Anyway, I think all in all, they are shooting for "Stardogs," although a quick google of "crapdogs moscow" certainly suggests your correspondents were not the first to tap this comedy goldmine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Of Moscow

They have crazy letters that aren't like the ones you and I are used to. We don't speak Russian, but your correspondents know the Cyrillic alphabet well enough to sound out words. It's fun to sound out some 15-letter-long Russian word, especially on billboards or signs where cognates are more likely, and one gets a little thrill out of realizing that it's a recognizable concept. Soo-pyer-mahr-kiet... supermarket! It must be like what a child learning to read for the first time feels. Of course, most of the words remain cryptic, despite reading them aloud again and again, but that didn't stop us. What can we say -- we're hooked on фоникс.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Of Prague: Port-a-viny

I think this means "Wine Store" in Czech.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Of Prague: Apropos of Nothing

Seen in Prague. We're still celebrating Easter here, office-wise.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Of Prague: Bonus Easter Holla!

There was some sort of Easter festival happening while we were in Prague. There were little markets selling elaborately painted eggs and these delicious pastry things shaped like barrels and baked wrapped around a rolling pin. There was also a stage, where traditional (I presume) Czech dancing and singing happened. A polite observer might say that to a modern observer, there are strong similarities between many of the Central and Eastern European nations' traditional folk dances. At least the Latvian ones don't seem to often feature children attempting to sing.

There was also traditional food, which, not unlike some other parts of Central and Eastern Europe, involved a lot of sausages.

There were also olden days costumes in evidence, which were, in fact, refreshingly not at all like the ones in Latvia.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Of Prague: 20th Century Glass

Happy Good Friday! Here's some religious art to celebrate. But Modern, of course, as befits the Holla's hip contemporary outlook.

Riga is noted as having some of the best Art Nouveau architecture in Europe. Nothing against Riga, but this might be because Prague does so much stuff so well that it's easy to overlook all the Art Nouveau going on there. For example, this Czech fellow Alfons Mucha. Think of a an Art Nouveau picture - I bet you're thinking of something he did. Or you're not thinking of anything, but we'll let that slide. Anyway, the guy was Czech, and after rising to fame in Paris, returned to Prague to create nationalist art in his distinctive style, such as this window in Prague's most prominent cathedral, perhaps since nationalism was also pretty hip in early 20th-century Europe. In any case, I'd seen the guy's art probably about a million times but never knew who he was until now -- another broadening travel experience.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Of Prague: Or at least nearby Plzen

Our friends who we met in Prague had a car with them, spending their vacation driving around Germany mostly. Once the car was parked, it needed to mostly stay parked, so we took but one day trip outside the city. After a few days of mostly sitting olde-style beer halls and drinking delicious Czech beer, there was only one option for a day trip: Go to a small town and drink delicious Czech beer. So it was that we found ourselves in Plzen, town for which Pilsener beer around the world is named, and more specifically home of Pilsner Urquell. We took a tour of their facility, which has some very cool old copper tanks they don't use any more, and some big modern copper tanks they do use, and a big modern bottling facility. And a silly movie about how great their ingredients are and how dedicated to quality their brewmaster is, just like the movie you see at Miller brewery in Milwaukee.

It was fine, but seemed maybe not to have been worth the drive, until the tour went down into the labyrinth of huge cellars where they used to cool the beer in casks in the olden days, before refrigeration was quite so easy. They still make some unfiltered, unpasteurized beer there, using the olden days methods, of which beer paying visitors are allowed a small sample. Surely the atmosphere added a bit, drinking in a hand-dug cavern full of giant barrels of beer and creepy recently added electric lighting and cooling systems, but it was maybe one of the tastiest dixie cups of beer your correspondent has ever tasted. We went out for a meal in the town of Plzen just afterwards, but the Pilsner Urquell tasted about the same there as it did in Prague.

The above picture, by the way, was taken illicitly without flash while the tour guide wasn't looking. Please don't tell on us.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Of Prague: One Million Spanish Teenagers

Yes, one million. Your correspondent lost count at several hundred, but using advanced methods of sampling, can say with 95% certainty that there were one million teenage kids from the Mediterranean in tour groups in Prague the weekend we were there. Some of them might have been Italian. But many of them yelled a lot, and when they did, it was often in Spanish.

This is a picture from a centuries-old Jewish graveyard, packed so tight with headstones that they are leaning up against one another, ancient and crooked and mossy. Fortunately, your correspondent had to share only half of the time he was there with thirty Spanish high-schoolers who seemed to be vaguely interested in Prague and unsurprisingly more interested in each other.

The center of the city was almost unpleasantly full of tourists. No doubt, that's what keeps the city's economy afloat, but given how full it felt in March, I would not want to be there in August, no matter how charming the city may be.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Of Prague

OK, so a week ago or so, we were in Prague. That is one atmospheric city. Have you been? You should. They apparently did a really good job of not getting their stuff blown up over the last hundred years, so they still have lots of old Gothic and baroque stuff. Also: Great beer. Also also: A Foreign Service friend-of-a-friend who let us stay with her and therefore save all that hotel money for more overpriced (for Prague, but still a bargain compared to Washington, where overpriced is standard) beer at sidewalk cafes with views of cool old buildings.

The Lovely Katherine was concerned that today's Prague wouldn't hold up to her mid-1990's memories of it. Maybe it did, and maybe it didn't; but there's certainly something to be said for traveling while at a station in life that the dirt-cheapness of the beer isn't one's primary concern.

Monday, April 06, 2009


Warning: There was no professional camera operator around, so this video may cause motion sickness. Also, the only sound is the wind whistling past the microphone, so you might want to turn the sound down to, say, zero if you're going to watch. It does not have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I think maybe it's really Spring here. We will surely have some more cold days, but we have had several warm days in a row. Your correspondents rode on bicycle to the seaside town of Jurmala, which cleverly means in Latvian "Seaside." It seemed that all of Latvia was there. While I admit that it was still not warm enough for swimsuits and laying out, there were a lot of people wearing a lot of clothes at the beach. The most striking being the shocking number of Latvian women who are apparently so dedicated to looking good wherever they go that they wore spike heels to walk along the beach. Some of them even managed to walk rather than hobble, sort of. We wish you could see more in the video, but I assure you that the woman appearing at the very beginning on the left of the screen was not at all alone or out of place.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Leftover Madona

Race fans.

Editors note: We're trying to go back to hosting things on Flickr, but linking directly, as a service for whatever small fraction of people are interested in clicking on pictures to see them bigger without having to go to Flickr itself and without all the jaggies and low-resolutionizing that Blogger does to things.

Anyway, coming soon: Stuff from Prague! Photographs! Words, maybe!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Stairway to Nothing

The Arsenals Art Museum. It's a long climb to an unknown reward. (In this case, the reward was an exhibit of paintings of Riga's bridges.)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


This is an aspirational photo, in that it is actually from last summer when everything was leafy and green in Riga. We're not there yet. In fact, we're not close. But we have made some steps from daily painful cold to mere daily unpleasant cold. We've even have a couple days that might qualify as merely brisk. Also, we don't have any new pictures ready to post yet. Also also: sorry that half the content here in the last couple weeks has been about the lack of content.