It's been several weeks since my last post. For those of you who know me, whether personally or through September Blue, you know that Chris and I have been in the process of moving from Riga back to the United States. With Chris' retirement ceremony, farewell parties and packing our belongings, you could imagine that our last few weeks in Riga were a complete blur. We are now safely back in the good ol' US of A and the craziness continues. Over the next several weeks we will be bouncing back and forth between Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio. We'll be living out of our suitcases for a few months while Chris is job hunting. If we still had kids in the house to deal with during this time, I would be freaking out right now. But so far I am pretty calm about not having a permanent place to live, a closet to hang my clothes in or not being able to go to the gym. I'm a pretty patient person and I know these things take time. It's all part of the journey, right?
So now that it's been 3+ weeks since our return and I've had a chance to slowIy reintegrate back into "the American way of life," I thought I would reflect a bit on what I am really going to miss about Riga and Europe in general. Dont get me wrong! It feels good to be back, but there are a few things that I wish I could have brought with me:
The ability to walk everywhere (with the exception of the embassy or beach!)–We couldn't have lived in a better location in Riga. Our apartment was in an affluent part of town they call "the art nouveau district" because of the architecture there. Nearby buildings housed wonderful restaurants, flower shops, wine bars and corner markets. One of the yoga studios I took classes at was thirty steps from my front door. It was awesome. There was an awesome Turkish kebab restaurant right across the street from us. From our apartment it was only 10 minute walk to Old Town Riga, 15 minutes to the Opera House and 20 minutes to the movie theatre. I loved being able to call a friend at the last minute and meet for coffee and not worry about having to find a parking space. It was a healthy lifestyle. I think it is going to be pretty difficult going back to living in the 'burbs if that is what is in the cards for us!
Pumpura iela-(See that brown door in the white building at the end of the street? That is where one of the yoga studios I took classes at is located. No excuses not to go to class!)
Outdoor seating at bars, cafes & restaurants–Once the snow melted and the sun started to linger in the sky a bit longer, restaurants big and small all over town rolled out their patio seating for customers. Although they only appeared from late April through mid-October, it was something that we really, really looked forward to. After those long winter months of being inside it was wonderful to enjoy a meal, glass of wine, half-liter of beer or a cup of coffee outside, under the sunshine. The weather may still have been cold in April or October but most of your venues had heat lamps and provided their customers with fleece blankets to ward off the chill.
One of our favorite beer gardens-No Problem.
No-rush restaurant service–I have a love/hate relationship with customer service in Latvia when it comes to restaurants. On one hand I love, absolutely love the fact that you are not rushed through your lunch or dinner in restaurants there. It's not about how fast servers can get customers in and out of their establishments like it is in the States. Food and wine are meant to be enjoyed slowly and conversations around the table are engaging & lengthy. They do not bring your main meal 5 minutes after you received your appetizer. Going out for dinner here isn't meant for sprinters. It's more of a leisure activity. But on the other hand...
...trying to flag down a server to take your order, a drink refill (which are not free by the way) or to get the check is another issue. It is rare for a server to check back with you once your food has been served to see if everything is okay. And this lack of attentiveness is not only in Riga, but takes place in many European cities. Just a few days ago Chris and I caught an episode of Rick Steves Europe and he touched on this very subject. After watching it, I realized that it's not that the servers are poorly trained, lazy or just don't care about their customers. It's a cultural thing. Maybe they look at table service as bothersome to the customer and if you wanted something you will get their attention. I don't know. But the next time you are in Europe tapping your fingers on the table waiting for your 1/2 liter of beer. Relax. Take in the scenery. People watch. Remember you are not in the U.S. and savour the culture that is around you.
Independent restaurants–Indulge me while I continue my restaurant rant. There were only two restaurants in Riga that have their roots planted in the U.S.–McDonalds (of course) and TGIF. I am happy to say that we never took our business to MickeyD's but did visit TGIF ocassionally. We really enjoyed the large variety of independent restaurants Riga had to offer. Each one was unique in their menu, decor and atmosphere. This is something that will be hard to find in the American suburbs. Cookie cutter restaurants such as Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Panera Bread are everywhere, each offering the same thing. Although I love these places, they can get a little boring. Both Chris and I look forward to seek out the lesser known, locally owned restaurants in the 'burbs and larger, nearby cities.
One of our favorite restaurants, Koya, located along the Daugava River.
Embassy receptions–Attending receptions hosted by a wide variety of countries was part of the job. During the social season (late summer through December) it wasn't unusual to attend several flower laying ceremonies as well as a few receptions during any given week. It was fun to dress up, meet some very interesting people from all over the world and enjoy a variety food & wine from different countries. The last reception we attended was hosted by Russian Ambassador to Latvia. It was held at his residence in the seaside town of Jurmala. There were several reception tents set up on the grounds that covered a large selection of food, wine & desserts. Two were even set up especially for black caviar and pancakes. Totally decadent. That lifestyle will be missed.
Reception at the residence of the Russian Ambassador to Latvia.
Wine–I know I can find plenty of wine here. But it's different over there-more variety & better taste. There is something satisfying about finding a bottle of wine from a small vineyard that no one has ever heard of. It's like a delicious little secret. There were several that I loved and only certain wine shops carried them. I've been looking various shops here in the States in search of some of my faves from Europe and have only found one so far. Also, a bottle of wine purchased there is not going to taste the same if you were to purchase the same bottle here in the States. Wine being shipped from Europe to the States changes many hands/distributors and temperatures before it gets to your store shelf. It's taste will be different. Trust me on this.
National Pride & Traditions–Whether it's singing the Latvian National Anthem at the top of their lungs at sporting events, folk dancing at local festivals, or celebrating the summer solstice, Latvians are serious about putting their love of country on public display and passing their very, very old traditions on to their children. They have so much pride in their country. I love that.
Latvian Dance Festival 2013. This is only a small fraction of the 15,000+ dancers that took part in the festival. Truly amazing show.
Flower stands and flower shops–You never show up to a friends place for dinner without flowers. On any given street or street corner you can be confident you will find a flower shop or cart where you can purchase fresh flowers for your host. You just don't get than in the 'burbs (white lilies became my favorite). The flowers were always gorgeous and smelled amazing.
A bouquet of flowers from the Chinese DATT given to me in honor of Women's Day back in March.
Friendships made–Most of all I will miss the friends I have made. I can't say enough about the amazing people we met from all over the world. Living in a foreign country can feel isolating. And whether they were Latvian citizens or ex-pats, those we met always made us feel welcome. Our friends only made our experience in Riga richer and one that we will never forget. Many have become life-long friends and not just Facebook friends. I can't say anymore about this otherwise I will burst into tears!
One of our last nights in Riga at Egle (another outdoor beer garden).
While I'm missing certain things in Riga these are a few things that I am sooo grateful for here in the U.S.–
Right hand turns on red.
Left hand turn lanes (left hand turns in general).
Free glasses of water in restaurants.
Free drink refills in restaurants.
Ketchup that is not sweet.
Seagulls that live along the shore and not in the city or suburbs.
Real summer weather.
Bathrooms with cabinets.
Coffee shops that open at 7am instead of 9 or 10am.
Before I close this post, I just wanted to give you a quick update on my progress with my Project Life album. I haven't touched it since Week 21 or Week 22. I had every intention do digital pages during our transition, but it's been really hard to find the time, the place and the right frame of mind to do so. We will be traveling to Florida soon and are planning on spending a few weeks down there with Chris' mom. There, I will be able to settle down, at least for a little while and hopefully crank out a few layouts. I am keeping up with organizing my weekly photos in iPhoto, so at least I got that going for me! Thanks for reading! I hope you are having a relaxing summer!