Saturday, July 21, 2018

EuRoad Trip 2018: Lithuania to Latvia Baltic Boogaloo

We woke up in Lithuania certain that the 2 hours we spent there last night was sufficient and that surely Latvia was the Baltic for us.

We were not attacked by Lithuanian burglars because our Airbnb door had a set of the deadest dead bolts you ever saw.

I'd been torturing Lydia by stopping at every grocery store I came across, searching for the Holy Grail.

And then I found it. In several countries in Europe the King of Beers is just "Bud" due to a trademark dispute with Budweiser Budvar, a Czech brewery located in Budweis, Czech Republic. The beers were double cool with that World Cup label. I bought a pile of them to bring back to my work buds in St. Louis.

There's a whole convoluted story about the name Budweiser. Budweis is the German name for the Czech city that now goes by the catchy Polish České Budějovice. Long story short there were two Czech Budweisers, one of which the good guys bought to make them shut up. The other won't sell because it's owned by the state and the issue has turned into a national pride thing. Despite the fact that it's a German name... don't ask me. Anheuser-Busch Budweiser goes by Bud in their territory and over here the bad guys go by "Czechvar".

Now if you're like me you are ready to write a nasty letter to the US distributor of this imposter product to get it off the shelves. You can go ahead and address that letter to Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, MO.

In Europe you can just mainline Twix bars. 

We mailed off a few postcards to our frenemies then headed back on the ol' dusty trail. Oh man was it dusty.

The Skoda's cruise control was annoying the crap out of me. It didn't just go. When it approached another car it slowed down. Cool. Well the distance from the car ahead of you that you could get before it started slowing was a setting that you could control with a button. This setting seemed to change itself at will. It was really stupid. If you got too close to a car it would really freak out, which I guess is nice to prevent accidents. Like car, if you want to drive and I can take a damn nap then be my guest.

Things got real rural on the road. At one point the highway was under construction so we ended up crossing the border on nasty dirt roads. I hoped Europcar would never find out about my crimes.

The car developed a lovely patina. European dirt is just classier than American dirt.

When we arrived at Rundāle Palace there was a nice lady selling black currants in little containers. Selling berries and other produce on the side of the road is super common in this part of the world. I think it's really nice and quaint.

Some of them were pretty tart so Lydia was hate-eating them. I had the majority.

Rundāle Palace was built in the early 1700s. We visited a few palaces on this trip. I found it kind of difficult to interact with them. They're often so large that I don't know what I'm supposed to do when I enter room #17 full of paintings and statues. It was nice but I didn't come away with much more of an understanding of Latvian history or anything.

The set up was kind of amusing. There would be a fancy room full of fancy things. Then there'd be a sign with pictures of the things describing each, but it wouldn't be in English. Then there'd be a stack of laminated cards in other languages that corresponded to the sign which corresponded to the room. It was a lot of work to go through this process if the room was empty. If there were a lot of people it became quite a chore.

This main room was really cool. I think it's funny how different the esthetic was back then. This was like "cover every inch of the place in cherubs" style.

"Artist!! I see a spot with no angels!!"

My favorite part of the whole experience was the heating system housed in these giant ornate stove things.

For all the vase fans in the house:

"The Porcelain Room at the White Hall

The stucco decorations were finished by J. M. Graff's team in 1768. On 45 stucco consoles there are Chinese and Japanese c 17 - 19 porcelain vases. Chinese vases are with under-glaze cobalt painting; Japanese vases c 18 (two vases on the floor and five on the consoles) have under-glaze cobalt and over-glaze red enamel and gilding."

There was an interesting room where they showed before and after restoration photos of the different rooms.

"The problem with this cherub is I can't lick it."


Back then it took about 20 minutes to get into your pajamas.

We stopped for a snack in the cafe in the basement of the palace. Café “Ozollāde” translates in Latvian as “Oak chest”.

On this traipse through Europe we were only in each place for a limited time, so I felt a little pressure to order like 8 things every meal in order to taste everything. Sacrifices must be made for science. This beer tasted like honey. I'll let their website do the talking:

This beer is based on the original lager recipe with adding of natural flower honey which results in a gentle sweet savour. From the old days beer with honey was called “Heady Honey” or mead.

Initially mead was made of honey fermented in buried oak barrel. It was a traditional drink for celebrations. In the middle ages (14th-15th century) honey beer even affected the social and political situation in Riga as it was an export product with high added value.

The product is not a competitor to classic beer! It’s rather a competitor to ciders, alcoholic cocktails and sweet wines.

Medalus (Honey Beer) contains no colouring agents of preservatives.
The Honey Beer is produced of water from a 170-metre deep artesian well.
Medalus (Honey Beer) is highly valuated by wholesale dealers such as pubs and restaurants."

Lydia never saw a food that she didn't want to put honey on so this beer was a good choice.

Well I couldn't let Lydia get away with such a delicious, normal beer. So I was happy to see that this cafe was serving Riga Black Balsam. Per website:

"A pharmacist named Kunze crafted the famous Riga Black Balsam recipe in 1752. It is an amazing blend of 24 all-natural ingredients including extracts of carefully selected grasses, roots, berries and buds."

It tasted a lot like a Ricola cough drop or a Jagermeister without the sugar.

Everybody knows pharmacists make the best tasting drinks.

I want to say this was "Potato pancakes with cranberry jam".

I went for the "butter-fried pasta with avocado, cherry tomatoes and green beans".

"Oven baked banana filled with white and black chocolate served with vanilla ice-cream and berry sauce."

Man, the roads there. No bueno.

Miraculously both our bodies and the car all survived the trip to Riga, capital city of Latvia.

Our Airbnb in Riga was maybe my favorite. The outside of the building was classily weathered to point that it seemed to be built out of driftwood.

Inside it was well decorated.

There was free black balsam flavored candy in case Lydia missed the flavor of all those roots and grasses.

And lastly the place had a great view of the Daugava river.

I thought Warsaw was special but it seems that these Soviet palaces were built all over the communist world. The Academy of Sciences building is know locally as "Stalin's birthday cake".

People think I'm fancy for traveling so much but what they don't know is I'm 50% doing this to try new McDonald's sandwiches.

The National Library of Latvia is an... interesting building. Notice on the bottom right there that Latvia is also celebrating 100 years. Like Lithuania.

This is amusingly called the House of the Blackheads. The Brotherhood of Blackheads seems sort of like a Knights Templar organization that started off militaristic but gradually turned into a social organization. It was an association of local unmarried merchants, ship owners, and foreigners.

We walked straight to a little bicycle shop/tour center to meet our tour guide for the beautiful city of Riga. I had to stifle a giggle when I asked our guide's name and he replied "Arsony". I asked if he knew what the word arson meant in English and he replied "Yes. You'll be ok."

You could tell that Riga was a trading port city by all of the cargo pulley elevator things on the buildings. Just like in Amsterdam. On some of the old buildings you could see a big tile in the wall with a picture on it. A fish or a sun or something. This was what served as an address for the illiterate townspeople.

There's a statue depicting a Brothers Grimm fairy tale the "Town Musicians of Bremen". The troop of misfit animals stacked up like this and scared off robbers in the night. What fun.

I don't think I got a close up picture of it but on top of all the churches was a metal rooster. I've done a little reading about it and although our guide said it was a protestant thing I don't think that that is the case. There's about 300 explanations about the meaning of the rooster symbol but one of them I've seen multiple times is that it is a symbol of St. Peter. Jesus said that Peter would denounce him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning. It seems like maybe it's another pagan symbol that the church stole because they were jealous.

This was a cool street market between two buildings that was sealed up with glass. So it's kind of outside and inside at the same time.

They were doing that thing that apparently every city has to do where they paint a bunch of metal things and sprinkle them all over the city. I think St. Louis has done birthday cakes and arches, Spain had bulls, and Berlin had bears. Well now Riga has bears too. Each country had its own themed bear.


Our time with Arsony was drawing to a close but there was one last place that he really wanted to take us: Riga Central Market. It's awesomely housed in a row of old German Zeppelin hangars.

Arsony was very passionate about fresh produce and went on and on about the different berries and mushrooms. People seem really big on forest foraging around these parts.

Somehow Arsony managed to give Lydia berry fever. She bought a crazy amount of blueberries that I kept kidding her were probably shipped in from Michigan. Later on she said she bought so many because she was thirsty.

We had our guide take us to a local restaurant before we finally said goodbye.

Lido was a traditional cafeteria style place where you pointed to the mysterious foods and they plopped them on your tray. We of course had to go with the Latvian Tasting Menu. It caused quite a ruckus so I think it's safe to say this is not a thing that locals order.

It was enough food for a basketball team. That red thing was like a wheel of pork.

By the end of the day my neck was hurting from looking up at all the cool buildings. I think that means that Riga was a success.

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