Sunday, January 31, 2010
The neighborhood around the Holla offices is lousy with this kind of sight: A sort of shadow left behind where one building, formerly adjacent to another, is torn down, leaving a marked difference in the plaster or paint on the wall. This one was once a small one-story structure, but that's not the case for all of them. Whatever once stood there, it's now a parking lot.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
The women of Latvia (or at least a certain subset of them) wear high heels everywhere. Going to the beach for a stroll on the frozen waves? You might want to scale back from the towering stilettos to something slightly shorter. She's on the smooth ice now, but the frozen water alternated between skating-rink smooth and seriously uneven in the shape of ripples and waves. Insane and amazing (whether we refer here to the ice or the footwear selections of some beach-goers is left up to the reader).
Friday, January 29, 2010
It has been chilly of late. Cold enough for the Baltic Sea to freeze. Technically, I guess this picture is from the Gulf of Riga, which is shallow and fairly well protected from waves. But it's still salt water, and it's still very much subject to tides and therefore always ebbing and flowing, even if the waves aren't exactly surf-able. The staff photographer went out to see it near sunset and took pictures until he couldn't adjust the camera settings anymore because he literally couldn't feel his fingers. That's usually a pretty good sign that it's time to head home.
In this epic effort, we think we got a lot of good pictures. But we asked the judges and they decided it would sort of violate the spirit of our 100 days project to just publish pictures from the frozen sea every day for the next couple weeks. So, we invite readers to kill the last few minutes of their workday on Friday checking out this slideshow of 20 or so images of people and landscape on the ice of the Baltic (or Gulf of Riga if you insist).
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Daylight is threatening to encroach on my walk to work already. Today is the day the sun is technically out before I (am supposed to) get to work. And it's still January! This winter is definitely colder than last, but for some reason your correspondent remember the dark being more oppressive last year. Maybe because I wasn't thinking about the cold so much, or maybe because it was rainier, cloudier, and therefore, darker.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
There is still some terrible Soviet architecture extant in Latvia. Not that we don't have some bad 60's and 70's public buildings in the States, but there are a few buildings here that add an extra dimension to the bad old architecture front. This is the train station in Majori, one of several stops in the seaside town of Jurmala. It's a small one-room station with a cafe off the side. I took this picture and then the ticket-seller woman told me I wasn't allowed to take pictures. Maybe due to some security regulation, but maybe because she didn't want word to get out on just how ugly the Majori train station is.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The Lovely Katherine is fond of the theory that it can get "too cold to snow." Yesterday Riga did its best to disprove her. Unlike the weekend, it broke through the zero-degrees Fahrenheit barrier, but it was still pretty chilly. The snow that it did manage in this very cold and very dry air was super-fluffy, falling in huge, perfect snowflakes.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Last week was the anniversary of the 1991 Riga Barricades, when Soviet forces tried to suppress Latvian efforts to assert its independence. Latvians had set up makeshift barricades to defend public institutions of the independent Latvian government, manned by thousands of Latvian citizens. On January 20th, Soviet forces tried to take the Interior Ministry, resulting in five casualties in the Canal Park. The spot of each of those deaths is now marked with a stone memorial, and an honor guard stands by as various Latvian officials and foreign Ambassadors lay flowers at the Freedom Monument and at each of the memorial sites each year on the 20th. If you're interested, you can read all about it and even see a few photos at www.barikades.lv, although the English translation is a little rough.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
The shopping carts at the grocery stores require a deposit. At the everyday grocery store, you put in 20 Latvian cents, which releases the cart. Return the cart and get your 20 cents back. The snazzy German grocery chain requires a full lat, which is about two dollars. It is not clear if they had a bigger problem with cart theft than we do in the States, but people certainly don't leave carts floating around the parking lot denting up cars.
Friday, January 22, 2010
The park across the street from the Embassy, which features a canal that once protected Old Riga from invaders. This park must have a name other than "the park with the canal in it," but we've somehow never picked it up despite walking through said park pretty much every day.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
It was cold enough last week to coat all the trees in Riga with (unfortunately named) hoar frost. It was gorgeous. These pictures are from the office window at your correspondent's day job, where he has the best view from his office that he will ever have.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Riga is a great town for walking. We rarely use our car other than for trips to the grocery store. But one of the oddities of such a great walking town is that following a snowstorm, this red-and-white caution tape comes out, blocking off large swaths of sidewalks -- not because the icy sidewalks are too slippery, but because there have reportedly been fatalities due to chunks of ice falling on passers-by from the eaves of the multi-story buildings abutting the sidewalk. Not that it could possibly be safer to drive on the unplowed roads. Maybe we deserve danger pay.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
They might not have the Alps, or the Rockies, or even really "mountains" in any commonly used sense of the word. But during a cold and snowy winter like this one, the Latvians find a way to ski on the modest slopes their country offers. Your correspondents first foray into Latvian skiing was at Milzkalns, pictured above, which - no kidding - translates as "Huge Mountain." That's the name of the ski area, not the geographic feature, so marketing reasons may have entered into the decision on a name. If you want to get a sense of the adrenaline rush of racing down Mount Humongous, you can ride along with your correspondent below, all the way to the embarrassing conclusion.
Monday, January 18, 2010
When this journal started, we mostly reported on what was happening in Guatemala, in large part because we left Guatemala somewhat less frequently than we leave Latvia. There was a lot to see in Guatemala, while here it's easy to hop around Europe and see big new cities and such. But there's a lot to see in Latvia, too. It's a pretty place, and our time here is running out. While we certainly have a couple more out-of-country trips in the cards, we're going to try to give those a little less attention here and post at least one item from Latvia for each of the next 100 days. Sometimes it will just be pictures the photography department likes, sometimes just illustrations of something borderline noteworthy about living in Riga.
And since we're starting this in one of the coldest Januaries in several years, there may be quite a few pictures that aren't too different from the one above. This one was taken in Mezaparks ("Forest Park"), which is a big wooded park, crisscrossed with walking trails - or snowshoe/cross-country ski trails when there is enough snow.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
We already did a week of Barcelona pictures and didn't even talk about these crazy sandbag sculptures that Gaudi used to make an upside-down model of his designs...
Or the Basque tapas bars...
Or drinking wine by gothic cathedrals...
Or the jamon...
Or the woman dressed all in red to match the decor at the fast-food doner kebab shop on Las Ramblas...
Or the pictures of New Year's Eve where we ate at a French restaurant, cheek-to-jowl with two friendly Italian dudes who kept buying mojitos for anyone who would accept them and a buxom blonde tax lawyer from Laguna Beach, of which scene there are some fantastic photos that the Lovely Katherine was not interested in seeing published.
Needless to say, we could go on. But we're moving on to something new tomorrow.
Friday, January 15, 2010
More Gaudi. He cleverly put a spotlight right where The Lovely Katherine was standing! Genius!
The exterior is neat, the roof is worth the price of admission, the interior is boring.
We don't know these people, but with the dramatic lighting and their all-black outfits, we thought this looked like some pretentious avant-garde theater production.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
One of the impressive private buildings Gaudi designed.
Most elaborate interior of any of the Gaudi sites we saw.
Nice roof, too. (This last photo by the Lovely Katherine who spends a lot less time taking pictures than the staff photog and yet is getting published here with increasing frequency.)
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Your correspondents received a snazzy book for Christmas in which the fine people of National Geographic tell you the best places in the world to eat various things. Some items were obscure. If you love clams, by the way, you must go to Ipswich. But on a list claiming to detail the ten best markets in the world, Barcelona's Boqueria made the cut. Setting aside what an insane claim it is to rank the best markets in the world, given that every city of any size in the whole world has one, your corrspondents have to say the Boqueria was pretty impressive. For example, it features opportunities to both eat delicious grilled squid and to admire artfully arrayed squids on ice. The best of both worlds.
Oh, and all the other fruits of the sea!
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
A lot of European cities have at least one church of great renown. Some have quite a few. Barcelona's is Gaudi's "Sagrada Familia." Perhaps you've heard of it. (Photo credit above to The Lovely Katherine who said the staff photographer was facing the wrong way when the light was best. -ed.)
It's not finished. Your correspondent hadn't realized until visiting just how not finished it is. It's supposed to get a lot taller.
It's an impressive piece of architecture on the outside. On the inside, it's a construction site that you pay $20 to see. I mean, it's an impressive construction site, but it's not as nice as the outside. The museum in the basement is the best part.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Your correspondents decamped from Gloucester and eventually made it to Barcelona. We rented an small apartment in what was surely a very historic building because there was exposed brick everywhere. We saw some crazy architecture, we ate, we drank, we slept late. Our jet-lag and the late-dinner culture of Catalunya were sort of a perfect storm for staying out all night and then sleeping until noon. We did manage see a few sights and take a few pictures, which we'll be sharing this week.
Friday, January 08, 2010
We totally started publishing this week on Sunday and so we ran through our plan for the week and there is still a day left. We could have even scraped a day out of the bonus post about matkatavarat and got through it, if we weren't so jetlagged. We regret the error.
Here are two pictures of the house(s) on the other side of Good Harbor Beach. Sorry, we like Gloucester, but we're out of things to say about it for now.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
We went to Good Harbor Beach several times.
The light was different each time, and often slanted and dramatic.
This prominent building on one side of the beach is apparently a private residence. It is huge, and gorgeously placed out on a rocky outcropping away from other buildings, and kind of nicely designed for the spot.
Sorry to our gracious hosts if the title of this post had them hoping for four pictures of their house.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Sorry we dissed the weather in Gloucester yesterday. This photo shows that we did get some sunshine. And they even have a nice little beach.
While it looks weird, the photo editor was trying to capture how strange the scene looked with some bright golden-hour sunshine on the houses and ominous dark clouds behind. Maybe we overdid it a little with the colors, but it was also pretty crazy live and in person.
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Eventually your correspondents made it to our destination. Gloucester, MA is a real New England-y kind of town. It's got a charming downtown shopping street and a harbor and a bunch of clapboard houses and multiple Dunkin' Donuts. You may know it from such films as The Perfect Storm starring Marky Mark (or the Marky Mark-less book of the same name).
And speaking of the tragic events described in that book, did you know that 10,000 Gloucester fisherman have died at sea since the town was founded? That's a lot. A poster in The Lovely Katherine's parents' home made a similar claim, which your correspondent thought was hyperbole. But this memorial and various press support a figure somewhere in that ballpark. Think about that next time you have a Gorton's fishstick.
Also, did you know that coastal New England really is this gray in December? Well, not all the time, but on this day it was -- the staff photographer has done no fidgeting with the color in this picture, it's just a kind of gray place some days.
Monday, January 04, 2010
Helsinki may not be on a real direct line between Riga and Boston, but it didn't seem too terribly far out of the way. Minnesota, on the other hand, is terribly far out of the way. But, that's where we went. Our Helsinki-Amsterdam flight was delayed, we missed the connection, and the only remaining flight across the Atlantic that day was heading to "The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul," as Northwest Airlines (now part of the Delta family) is apparently required to call what the rest of us call "Minneapolis." Anyway, we have some good friends there that we got to visit briefly and unexpectedly. That was actually really nice. Maybe, maybe even four-extra-hours-on-airplanes nice.
More importantly, your correspondent claims to have visited all 48 of the contiguous United States, but his claim to Minnesota was limited to speeding across I-90 and stopping for PB&J from the trunk at a highway rest stop. Now having slept in Minnesota, having eaten a genuine Minneapolis burrito (Tacqueria El Farolito in the Mission can breathe easy, the Minnesota competition is not close), and having seen this goofy movie theater in whatever Latino immigrant neighborhood our friends live in, we feel much more firmly grounded in our claim to having visited Minnesota. We can perhaps continue this trend if our next re-routed flight lands us in Little Rock.
The word for "baggage" in Finnish is "matkatavarat." I'll concede that it might not actually sound ridiculous if you pronounce it in the Finnish manner, however that might go. But if you pronounce all those A's like an American, it is no end of fun when you're stuck in the Helsinki airport. In Swedish "baggage" is apparently "bagage" which is just no fun at all.
Sunday, January 03, 2010
We're back in freezing Riga after stops in freezing Massachusetts and not-so-freezing Spain, and some unexpected detours. I might have to start a campaign making Easter the official holiday for traveling home to visit family, because the odds of a miserable snowstorm are significantly lower then. We've had some rough ones in recent years, and this year was no exception - thanks in part to this storm in northern Europe, as seen from the Helsinki airport. Not that one would expect a smooth travel experience in Helsinki in December, or that Helsinki was really the most direct route. But either due to government bureaucracy in arranging our tickets, or our own lack of planning, or both, that's where we were. A few pictures from our travels coming over the next few days.