Friday, May 29, 2009

Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets: Le Jetee

Out at the mouth of the Daugava, there is a long breakwater or jetty or seawall (growing up in Colorado, your correspondent has no idea which, if any, of these is correct) sticking out into the Gulf of Riga. It's surprising that after miles of industrial decay, and then some miles of pretty much nothing, all of a sudden this structure boasts hundreds of yards packed with fishermen. I never saw anyone catch anything, but this many fishermen can't be wrong.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets: Estonian Pride

This is an add on the ship-board duty-free store for Vana Tallinn, which is a supposedly traditional Estonian liqueur. We haven't tried it, but we hear it is not too different from Rigas Balsams, in that it is "traditional," and doesn't "taste good," and is marketed at tourists. Astute readers probably figured all of that out from the advertisement, which couldn't come up with any better selling point than: you might as well give it a try because - what the hell! - "It's Estonian!"

And maybe they sold some: It seemed that one of the primary pastimes among the ship's passengers was "waiting for the duty-free store to hit international waters."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Revenge of Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets

More things spotted from the Daugava: A rainbow of rail cars that probably haven't moved in years.

The cruise scene was a bit odd. The boat was not big enough or spectacular enough to be a real cruise ship, but it was definitely too loaded with amenities to be simply a "ferry." There were overpriced restaurants, a duty free shop, and some modest on-board entertainment. Actually, our friends' young ones seemed to enjoy Pepe, the Ship's Clown. The Ship's Acoustic Troubadour and the Ship's Violin-and-Piano Duo seemed to draw somewhat less intense followings. And by that I mean that they played to basically empty rooms. I'm sure they got paid either way, but there is something really sad about relatively talented and skilled musicians trying their best and not finding anyone who cares. It might have been better for overall spirits if they had just played recorded music in these locations.

In part, the ship was not all that packed - it's early in the season and your correspondent estimates that the money is in ferrying cars and big rigs across the Baltic - and if they can con a few extra people into renting a cabin for the night, that's all gravy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets

The Daugava is, in general, an attractive river. It's wide, it has tree-lined banks, etc. But in the fifteen miles or so from Riga to its mouth on the Bay, there are a lot of cranes and a lot of apparently abandoned factories.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets

We went on a cruise! Sort of.

Your correspondents, as always tirelessly seeking the most essential and authentic cultural experiences, sailed on the SS Romantika across the Baltic Sea and back. The journey takes 15 hours or so each way, so basically, one sails from Riga overnight on a Friday, has six hours in Stockholm, and then an overnight return.

The ship is big and has lots of amenities, but it's not all-inclusive or decked out with a climbing wall, so I guess it's not like a true full-service cruise. This lovely shot taken from the deck as we sailed down the Daugava from Riga.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Last of the Pride Pictures

Tail end of the parade. It's hard to refrain from editorializing further about relative merits of the parade participants and the anti-parade protesters, but such is diplomacy. I guess. Thus, I will say: I like this picture even though it's not sharp. If you want to see a few more from the parade, check out the set on Flickr.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Fuzz

Like any event in the modern world where people of divergent opinions gathered, there lurked the potential for one of those groups of people to beat the crap out of those with the divergent opinions. And so, you get your riot police. The police actually did a great job of respecting everyone's rights to free speech while keeping the two combatant sides separated. They haven't always. In any case, riot police in full gear are a striking sight. The greatest highlight for lovers of irony may be the sign on the left in Latvian, one of several that accuses the Pride parade of sticking the Latvian people with a huge bill for the security costs incurred. Finding the irony involved is left as a basic exercise for the reader.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More from Baltic Pride

A little more from Saturday's Riga Gay Pride parade, which your faithful correspondent covered for his day job. Homosexuality is still controversial enough in Latvia that the city council tried to ban the gay pride parade, and though they were not successful there were still plenty of opponents there to hurl epithets.
As a highly politically charged event, we can't really say a whole lot about it since we were there in our official capacity.

Most of the anti-parade protesters, who outnumbered the participants in the gay pride parade itself, were kept outside the parade grounds by riot police. For some reason unclear to your correspondent, this woman was allowed in, wearing a quasi-habit and a cross tied to her chest. She stood silently blocking the parade route for long stretches, as above, where the marchers to the right have been standing still long enough for the press to conduct an interview. At one point when the parade people decided to just go around her, she feigned that they had knocked her to the ground and wounded her, much to the delight of the gathered press. It was quite a scene.

P.s. We're going on leave for a few days, which would have meant more pictures than words coming up anyway.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

21 km

Your correspondent is pictured above, making an ass of himself while running the Riga Half Marathon on Sunday, presented here in perhaps some sort of mental compensation for posting that picture of an anonymous staffer eating a giant steak last week.

The half marathon was a good time, although it's a less festive event than similar occasions might be in the U.S. Thousands showed up for the 5k mini-marathon. Hundreds participated in the half-marathon. Maybe hundreds* took place in the full marathon, which involved multiple laps of a course in Riga's center, and was flat but probably pretty boring. There were a few spectators here and there, and a few brass bands to liven things up. But mostly, there isn't a real culture around running here. It is very rare to see a Latvian running on city streets, as you see in any American city on any morning of the year - exercise here is something you do inside at a gym, if you must. I thought maybe this concept would bring out spectators interested in seeing the freaks out sweating in public, but apparently that would be more sad than fascinating. Then again, they may not have known there would be participants like your correspondent above, going above and beyond to look like idiots.

* editors note: It turns out that several hundred ran the marathon. Our correspondent is not so good at estimating the size of a crowd strung out along 26 miles of road.

Monday, May 18, 2009


This is your faithful correspondent, making small talk with the Canadian Ambassador prior to the Baltic Pride parade in Riga this weekend. Featured (well, buried, but findable) on Delfi, a pretty well-read Latvian web portal. (Do they still call websites with headlines and various general-interest stuff "portals"? Even if they're dead in the U.S., they still have them here.)

Anyway, a busy weekend: more stuff coming soon.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Of Florence: Last bits

Ok, so here's a tourist-style picture of the famous Ponte Vecchio. For some possibly quasi-OCD reason, the publisher feels that upon having four posts in a week about Florence, we ought to round out the week with more Florence, even if there's not much left in that well. And while we're throwing around generally pleasant pictures, the photo editor is quite fond of this picture of The Lovely Katherine waiting in line at the Uffizi, even if (because) she decided not to sit still.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Of Florence: Steak Florentine

We had some delicious food in Florence. On a couple occasions, this involved rare steak, in the Florentine manner. In one of these occasions, it involved a steak so large, they had to warn us that it was a stupid amount of steak for two people, but that was the only size they serve. The anonymous Holla staffer above was maybe not thrilled to have her picture taken with this cut of meat that looked kind of like that big thing of ribs they put on Fred Flintstone's car, tipping it over (if we recall the Flintstones' title sequence correctly). This was, in fact, one half serving, with the staff photographer enjoying the other half. Anyway, the photo has been altered to protect the identities of the innocent.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Of Florence: The Mighty Vespa

The Vespa is a classic of Italian design, and still frequently used in Florence. And probably in Rome, but we don't remember.

There are a lot of other motor scooters out there, and while the staff photographer sat on the side of the bridge trying to get some good panning shots of the traffic zipping by, he captured all variety from tiny scooters to full on touring motorcycles. But sorting through the pictures, the Vespas stand out, even when the blurry pictures reveal the staff photog's limited ability to pull off a panning shot. (For the non-photographers out there, the idea is to move the camera to keep a moving object in focus with the background blurry.)

The other side of things is array of fashions on display. Those scooter riders of Florence wear some colorful shoes. I guess none of the colorful shoes made the cut this time, but there were a lot. Of course, maybe it's just that everyone looks stylish when zipping along on a Vespa.

Because we did not exactly do a lot of planning ahead on this trip, we failed to reserve a timed ticket for the Uffizi gallery before they were sold out. Which, over May Day weekend, meant a three-hour wait in line. We took turns, but the staff photographer definitely came out ahead with a lot of time sitting out on this bridge shooting scooters.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Of Florence: Restraint, or, Unforeseen Budgetary Problems

Your correspondent found these churches, of which there are at least a couple in Florence, striking. This is Italy, home of the Renaissance and the counter-reformation and various soaring cathedrals dedicated to various saints. And yet in Florence, there were some of these churches that, at least from the outside, seem as humble and unadorned as any back-to-basics Protestant church you could find. I suppose the vaulted stone is not as humble as simple clapboard, but there is no towering steeple here.

The Duomo, it turns out, had its original decorations torn down because they were out of fashion. It then took them hundreds of years to finally get around to putting anything new up there. Maybe the same happened here - a grand architectural redesign that is still waiting the money needed for completion. I suspect something of the sort is at play here, but it would be nicer to think that they decided they'd had enough of all the Marys and John the Baptists on their churches and went for something different.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Of Florence: The Duomo

Like a lot of tourists, we took some pictures of the Duomo. And like a lot of tourists, we wound up with a bunch of boring pictures of the Duomo. It's a crazy building and all, but sometimes a picture of a building is just a picture of a building.

The photo editor's favorite is the picture above. As in many matters of aesthetics, it's hard to put a finger on why. I suppose we could say something about the contrast between the static and moving elements, or the surprise of an unexpected element in an otherwise predictable picture. Or maybe we just like old guys on bicycles. And if you're looking for somewhat more predictable or traditional or what have you, see below.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Of Florence: A Picture of a Carousel

I really think it's great that there are some people who apparently have subscribed to the Holla feed or otherwise check in regularly. Maybe even a couple who aren't related to me. Really, thanks. I'm trying to put something interesting here every weekday. But sometimes I just can't (or maybe just don't) keep up with it. If only each of you regular readers would agree to pay me one-tenth of my regular salary, I could quit my day job.

In any case, here is a picture from the Piazza della Repubblica in Florence that turned out actually pretty well given that it was taken with a handheld point-and-shoot camera. But it ain't art. Sorry; it's past the editor-in-cheif's bedtime already.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Of Florence: Mosaics Great and Small

Did you know there is some famous art in Florence? It is true. One can barely walk without stepping on something famous by Michelangelo or Raphael or Donatello or Leonardo and maybe even some decent artist who never had a Ninja Turtle named after him.

Some of the famous pieces are cool to behold in person, and some less so. But it is the editorial policy of this publication that you can never go wrong with an ancient mosaic. Below is a mosaic as big as a house, and above is one as small as a matchbox. Both were awesome.

The Lovely Katherine, for her part, points out that approximately half of all paintings in Florence, whether Gothic or Renaissance, feature a beheading -- which was apparently all the rage back then.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The King of Spain

Hey, look, it's the King of Spain (left)! And the President of Latvia (right)! And some security police guy (center)! King Juan Carlos was in Riga today, spotted at a ceremony opening a Latvian-run, Spanish-built power station today on the outskirts of the city. Your correspondent never got closer than twenty yards or so, but the staff photographer is about to turn in his resignation and give it a go as a freelance paparazzo.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Of Florence!

No time to say more for now. We'll be publishing late again tomorrow, but hopefully with something interesting from Florence other than a hip dude on a tiny bicycle. We can't promise it will be better, but since this is the only dude on a tiny bicycle that was captured on film, we can promise it will be something different.

Monday, May 04, 2009


After Latvia beat Switzerland in the World Hockey Championships, your correspondent followed the crowd to witness a local tradition. After an international hockey victory, Latvian hockey fans gather in front of their vanquished foe's embassy in Riga, where they lay flowers as if in condolences or mourning. The staff photographer tried to get some pictures, but it was dark, and nobody was very interested in standing still. There was a lot of jumping around and shouting and general celebrating, and a lot fewer flowers than we expected, although upon our departure there were still plenty of people just arriving, like the two pictured above. I guess people don't buy entire bouquets just to throw at an office tower that happens to have the Swiss Embassy as a tenant, but things might be different if they win a quarterfinal game this week.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Hockey Night in Rezekne

Your correspondent and a local guide were dispatched for a research trip to beautiful Latgale, in eastern Latvia, along the Russian border. It was actually a very interesting trip and we met some great people and learned a lot, which is kind of the point of your correspondent's day job.

In the evening, the trusty local guide was dedicated to finding a decent television to watch the World Championships of Hockey. I'm not talking about the NHL: Although you wouldn't know it by reading or Yahoo Sports, there is a world-cup tournament happening right now. (If you are interested, the U.S. is doing ok, while Latvia managed to beat the Swedes for the first time ever and advance to the next round.) It's apparently not a big deal in the U.S., which is sort of too bad, because it is clearly a big deal here.

On Monday night in Rezekne, we went searching for a bar where we could watch the (admittedly great) Latvia/Sweden game. Unfortunately many of the bars within walking distance had mirrored windows, were open 24 hours a day, and advertised slot machines prominently on the outside. Not being interested in these places where gambling or some other unsavory activity would happen, we made our way to Rezekne's other major hotel, which had a bar with a TV, pictured above. That is your correspondent using the table as a tripod to capture the scene. And yes, to the right, that is a pole of the variety that might be used by an exotic dancer. Not that there were any strippers working that night: It didn't seem to be laid out such that there ever would be; maybe the pole is there for the convenience of patrons? In any case, even if we didn't really find a U.S.-style "sports bar," the game was entertaining enough to carry the evening, and the pole was never put to use.