Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spikeri (42/100)

This weekend we tried to go see what's new in the Riga art world by going to a bunch of galleries. Between closed galleries and less-than-thrilling art, it was not a rousing success. But it did get us out to the warehouse district "Spikeri" where they are trying to develop a sort of artsy gallery scene, with moderate success. The buildings there are all made of brick, and sometimes built with crazy angles that follow the diagonal intersections of streets.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Oriental Oriental (41/100)

The photo department was looking for a hockey picture to put up, in honor of the Latvian hockey team's valiant, if ill-fated, Olympic efforts. I think in the end, they basically came in last in the Olympics. But they took the Czechs to overtime when it mattered, in the elimination part of the tournament. That game was at 5:00 in the morning here, and I saw the last bit of it at the gym in the morning. All the treadmills and stationary bikes facing the televisions were unusually full at 7:00 AM as the Latvians tied it up and sent it to overtime. The Czechs scored at six minutes into overtime, maybe about 7:26 local time. And at perhaps 7:27, all the treadmills and stationary bikes were empty. In fact, the whole gym felt kind of quiet and empty. This country loves its hockey team.

This picture, in any case, was from a Riga Dinamo game - they're the local participants in the mostly-Russian Continental Hockey League. The staff photographer merely wanted to document the fact that the Riga hockey arena has a food vendor called "Oriental Oriental," where if you look at the posted menu, the three items for sale are all beer. But then my colleague for some reason decided that I was trying to take a picture of his potato chips. And then some random guy walked into the middle of the picture, and decided if he leaned back a few inches, he might not wind up in the middle of it.

It's past 11:00 PM here and we haven't posted anything yet, so here we are. I hope and pray that this is the worst picture we wind up presenting in this "100 Days of Latvia" effort. If we wind up with another one like this, we may have to call it off for the safety of our few readers.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bonus Coverage - Chamonix!

Keeping alive our "mo' better pictures on Friday" philosophy, we offer today some extra pictures from France on top of the standard fare from Latvia. Check out a slide show of some selections from Chamonix, which is amazing. We skied for three days, including one day on the Vallee Blanche, a 13-mile, all-day trip down from a peak near Mont Blanc to the village of Chamonix, including long stretches on the Mer de Glace ("sea of ice") glacier. We could write a lot about it, but for now I'll just say it was awesome, and we really considered quitting our jobs to stay there.

Lielais Kristaps (40/100)

This is a statue on the bank of the right bank of the Daugava, where Old Riga is. It commemorates the totally goofy legend of the founding of Riga. Supposedly, once upon a time Giant Kristaps (Christopher) lived in a hut at this spot and worked as a ferryman taking people back and forth across the river. One day, he heard a baby crying on the other side of the river, and decided for circumstances that may be explained in the story but maybe not, that the solution was to carry the baby across the river. Being giant and all, he could do that. But as he was carrying the baby across the river, said baby turned out to be really, really heavy. Kristaps almost collapsed and drowned, the baby was so heavy. But Kristaps made it back to his side of the river, and was exhausted, and immediately fell asleep. When he woke up, the baby was gone, but had left Kristaps a big pot of gold. No, the baby was not a baby leprechaun. It turns out (and I'm pretty sure this isn't explained in any version of the story) that it was Baby Jesus, and he was so heavy because he carried the weight of the world's sins on his shoulders. And also, because he had a hidden pot of gold with him. And if you were Baby Jesus and you found yourself wandering around Latvia, and then came to a river, wouldn't you just lie down and cry until some giant came and carried you across the river? Anyway, Kristaps realized that this miracle Baby Jesus gold should not be spent on just anything, so he naturally decided to use it to build a city. And then apparently used the rest to pay people to live in the city.

And that's how Riga came to be. It's a fact; you can look it up.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In a Van Down by the River (39/100)

The best camera is the one you have with you, they say. Even, I suppose, if it's the camera in your bargain-basement Embassy-issue Nokia phone. And that was all your correspondent had with him when he accompanied his day-job boss on a trip to scenic Jelgava, home of (among other things) an industrial park at a site once occupied by a Soviet minibus factory.

This is a not-well-framed picture of a fully restored (or perhaps never damaged) Latvija-brand minibus, once the pride of Jelgava, driven by Soviet residents needing to transport eight or nine friends from Vilnius to Vladivostok. Now there is an industrial park there, working hard to clean out the horribly contaminated and corroded factory and warehouse spaces left behind and rent them to producers of something more modern. They use a vintage Latvija van to drive visitors around the park from one warehouse to another. Perhaps luckily for all of us, they don't make 'em like they used to.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I.M. Pei Was Here (38/100)

These vaguely Pei-esque glass pyramids do not cover the entrance to a world-class art museum, but rather, the entrances to an underground parking lot. Not every city can have the Louvre.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In Which Your Correspondents Take the First Step to Olympic Glory (37/100)

Your correspondents, checking off one of the must-do activities in Latvia, did a run down the bobsled (or "bobsleigh" if you must) track in Sigulda, Latvia. This is the home track to the 2010 Olympic silver medalists in skeleton and two-man luge. Word is that this is one of only ten tracks in the world where the sporting public can pay a ridiculous sum to go down a real bobsled track in a real bobsled.

The whole thing lasted about a minute, and on average tourist bobsleds hit 100 kilometers an hour. It's not cheap - over a dollar a second, to be honest -- but it's definitely worth it. Video of the ride above, until the point when the camera gave out due to either the cold or the vibrations. (I hope Sean Paul doesn't mind the incidental inclusion of his classic "Get Busy" which was playing at the starter's gate. If you are Sean Paul's lawyer, please let us know and we'll take it down.) Other than the video, the most lasting effect of the ride was a very sore neck. Those Olympic bobsled guys must have the strongest neck muscles in the world.

If you didn't guess that yesterday's picture was a bobsled track, covered with a tarp to keep the snow off, here's a wider view of the last bit of the track from the finish line.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Think Olympic (36/100)

Anyone care to guess what is pictured in this photo? Feel free to post a guess in the comments, which are still open to all even though nine out of ten comments these days are from spam-bots with advertising ploys obvious and obscure. Anyway, if you want a hint, it's in Sigulda, Latvia. Check back tomorrow for the answer.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Snow, now featuring wind (35/100)

I'm sure for anyone who checks in on this blog regularly, the recent posts and pictures about snow are perhaps getting a little repetitive. But it really has been a constant fixture here for the last couple months. Washington may have gotten more snow all at once than we have here, but the snow in Riga has been relentless. A few inches, every few days, without fail. It sort of makes it tough to get pictures of much else some days. Or, more accurately, makes it tough to motivate to go outside and take pictures of anything else some days.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Aizver Muti! (34/100)

Somehow, this quote has gone viral in Latvia. Basically it means "Shut your trap!" In this incarnation, it's a quote from the floor of the Latvian Parliament, when the pictured guy, with his distinctive walrus mustache, told his political opponents to quiet down with a little less dignified calm than one normally expects in the Saeima. Now it's on t-shirts and graffiti stencils and a million youtube parodies featuring a clip of, well, just about anything, and then cut to this guy angrily yelling, "Aizver muti!" For me, it doesn't quite have the resonance of the previous "Nothing Special" meme, but they can't all be home runs.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bus Stop (33/100)

For this Friday, a little street photography from the frozen tundra of the Big Bus Stop Across from the Train Station.

Some of these people would have made really great portrait subjects if the staff photographer had the guts to walk up to them and ask to take their picture. Or they might have just sworn at him in Russian. We'll never know.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stalin's Gift to Latvia (32/100)

On the scale of horrible things Stalin did, consigning Eastern European cities to look at these ugly buildings is not too high on the list. But still, this tower, the Latvian Academy of Sciences, is not the favorite piece of architecture of many Rigans. It is sometimes known as "the Kremlin" and is a little smaller but very similar to seven such towers in Moscow, as well as others in Warsaw and Kiev (we hear). This picture doesn't really give a sense of how big it is, but does give a sense of how out-of-place it is. There are no other skyscrapers in this neighborhood, or any other skyscrapers from this era in the whole city.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One Guy Didn't Get the Memo (31/100)

Women's fashions in Riga are an area of great interest to observers. There are a lot of provocatively dressed young women, with a predictable set of reactions from observers of various ages and genders. But the men of Riga can also make some sartorial decisions that may strike outsiders as odd. In this case, one can only presume that three of these four guys were preparing to go to a wedding, although one doesn't see a lot of matching-groomsmen sets here - usually it's just the groom in a flashy velour tuxedo or some such.

This is from the same fall day as a couple previous posts... but we're back in Riga today and ready to get back to the up-to-date, gray, gloomy pictures soon!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Color (30/100)

We've had a lot of gray pictures lately, whether intentionally presented in black-and-white or just because there's a lot of gray happening in Riga these days. This is another one from autumn. Riga's Old Town has some trees, but the ring immediately around it has lots of parks, and the fall color there is impressive.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Coffee Time (29/100)

Your correspondent doesn't recall seeing these coffee carts last winter. But maybe he's just forgetful. The whole concept of "take-away coffee" has yet to really take off in Latvia. Street food in general is not very popular here, maybe in some part because there are a good six months each year when not many people want to be on the streets. In larger part, it's just a cultural difference. People don't see why you would be in such a rush that you couldn't sit down and enjoy a meal, or they think of it as sort of dirty to be eating on a public street, or they just don't really like sandwiches and other foods that are easy to eat on the run - no meal is complete without soup, and it's hard to walk and eat soup. It's good to see inroads developing on the coffee front - an obvious and basic first step.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spider Sense Tingling! (28/100)

I have no idea what this sign is actually supposed to mean, but every time I see it, I assume it means to warn passers-by that Doctor Octopus may be lurking in the canal 3.5 meters to the right. (The leaves on the trees may alert clever readers that this picture is from a few months ago. Sorry, we're out of town at the moment.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Under the Stairs (27/100)

In urban spaces, you can always squeeze in a little shop selling candies and newspapers somewhere. This is attached to the front of the building that houses the Riga Circus. What a crummy little space to have to work in. We have about a million other pictures of newsstands, and if you don't behave, we're going to post them all here one day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winter Flowers (26/100)

Risking to end our unanticipated Friday tradition of presenting more/better pictures as part of this 100 days project, here are a few pictures from the Tērbatas street flower market.

Most of the length of a city block along one side of the Vermanes Park is given over to flower shops. During the summer, their colorful bouquets spill out onto the sidewalk, creating a long wall of flowers. Latvians, of course, cannot just go without flowers through the winter, so the flower shops move their products into the cramped little indoor spaces they are allotted.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Train Station Clock Tower (25/100)

This is the clock tower at the central train station in Riga. The train station itself is obviously a relic of the Soviet era. It's kind of dingy, with low ceilings and retail outlets crammed into odd little spaces in the cave-like passageways. Then again, it has been expanded with a modern shopping mall.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Crosswalk (24/100)

There's not much insight to share on this one, other than that it's a picture of two women waiting to cross the street. A less cautious observer might make some guesses as to the Baltic or Slavic origin of people on the street based on their sartorial selections. But you'll have to find a different photo-blog on Latvia if that's what you're hoping for. And if that is what you're hoping for, let us know, because that's really odd.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

3 Plavnieki (23/100)

I can't decide which window I like better: The light on the left window is really nice, with city lights and the bus lights filtered through the condensation on the windows; or the right, because that guy's got a funny hat on.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Kobe Clock (22/100)

Apparently Riga and Kobe, Japan are sister cities. The people of Kobe put this stainless steel obelisk up on a street corner not far from the Holla offices in Riga, showing the time in each of the two cities and providing an irresistible spot for stickers.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Snow Removal (21/100)

An odd site all over town yesterday - workmen on roofs, whether single-story shops or five-story hotels, or this five-or-so story apartment/office building visible from the Holla Latvia Bureau office. As previously mentioned, snow and ice falling from roofs is a serious hazard in the winter. And given the well-above average snowfall this year, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of building owners were worried about the weight or leaks forming as it melts or some such. In any case, it's suddenly common to see workers in harnesses roped in on icy rooftops, shovel in hand, flinging snow onto the street below. I guess if this is planned, it might be safer than just letting it fall on its own.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

This way probably the best (20/100)

Guest photographer The Lovely Katherine checks in with this demonstration that while the level of English in Latvia is excellent in general, that doesn't preclude the occasional odd construction.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Ice Fishing (19/100)

I've asked a few people and nobody has any idea what the ice fishermen are after. "Some small fish, maybe to feed their cats," was one guess. Some days, the rivers are covered with them, and pockmarked with holes. Other times, there are only a couple die-hards, sitting by themselves for hours.

In any case, there were ice fishermen out last year when it was a lot less cold than this year. These guys are out there even when the ice is probably not totally reliable, risking their lives for some cat food.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Burn Down the Children's Railway! (18/100)

Found in Mežaparks while cross-country skiing. If the sign were all there, we presume it would read "Latvian Children's Railway." I don't think the kiddie train stops there any more. Mežaparks is generally pretty well cared for. It's a mystery why the this hasn't been removed - it seems ready to collapse on some unsuspecting vagrant.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I Love You, Bars (17/100)

"I Love You Bars" could be an English-language statement of dedication to drinking establishments, and one that your correspondents could imagine themselves saying and meaning it, if we thought bars could love us back. But "bārs" is the Latvianized version of the word "bar." ("Bars" without the line over the "a" means "crowd", in a fun coincidence). And "I Love You" is not Latvianized at all, it's just a funny thing to call a bar. Anyway, we'd never been there in our time here, but while strolling by we happened to glimpse through a window a live band playing in what could be described as the incredibly intimate space of the I Love You Bars basement. We couldn't actually squeeze in during the show and just enjoyed a beer and listened from the top of the stairs, then popped downstairs to check out the space once the crowd was dispersing.

One of the ways that Riga is swell is that one can run into events like this randomly. It's not a scene that's going to take over the world, but it's nice none-the-less.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

More Soviet Architecture (16/100)

For a city coming off a big real estate boom, there are a lot of buildings in Riga that have been derelict for years. Your correspondent has passed this structure a hundred times and never noticed it until out on a photo mission this weekend. It's weird, and looks abandoned. I took some pictures, went around to the other side, took some more. To the best of my discernment, this was built to be a public toilet. It certainly is now, whether it was originally meant to be or not.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Daugava (15/100)

The Baltic isn't the only thing that's frozen. The mighty Daugava has been frozen for a while, criss-crossed with trails of people walking across. It had a new layer of snow on it today, and then the temperature got close enough to the freezing (or, rather, melting) point to keep most people off it.