“Nobody puts pictures of themselves crying on Facebook.”
I try to teach this lesson to my high school students. It’s true. I think it can be difficult for older generations to imagine what it’s like to be in their early twenties these days. Where their competitiveness and anxiety about how far they had come in life could be contained to high school reunions, my peers and I can see constant updates on other people’s lives. We know who is in a relationship, who is on vacation, who just got a promotion. We can envy the buff body a former classmate achieved as she prepared for her wedding and smirk at the others who have “let themselves go.” The twenties are often a time of anxiety anyway, as people figure out what career they want to pursue and whether or not to settle down, but the constant information we have about our peers can make those decisions much more rife with anxiety. Seeing pictures of a peer’s second child or the seemingly millionth engagement announcement in a row can make anyone question her decisions or her path. I can’t imagine having facebook in middle and high school when those comparisons and questions could be that much more hurtful. Seeing pictures of my friends’ parties on facebook bothers me a lot less now than it might have in my younger years.
I constantly need to remind myself that no one puts pictures of themselves crying on Facebook. We can all carefully edit our lives to include only the happiest moments and the most flattering photos. My Facebook albums are of my trips. I don’t have an album called “Lonely Nights in Wilmington, DE.” And when I look at friends’ beautiful wedding photos, I know that behind the seeming perfection is months of preparation, difficult conversations, and probably even fighting.
Therefore, I have decided to share a “crying on Facebook” moment on this blog. Sharing my mistakes is incredibly hard for me because I am very tough on myself. When I make a mistake, I dwell on it, beat myself up, condemn aspects of my character. It’s hard for me to take a deep breath and move on, but that’s what I’m going to do on this one.
I’ve traveled a fair amount, and I know all the tips. Call your bank. Carry cash. Always have money in a separate location that you can rely on if something happens. And honestly, I’ve never done any of these things, and it’s never come back to bite me… until this weekend.
When we last met, I was getting on the bus to Riga. I had about twenty Euros in my pocket, but I was unconcerned. I knew I could get some more cash in Riga. In the bus station, I met a Canadian guy who was on his way home after visiting his girlfriend in Estonia. We were both fighting to stay awake, and when the bus arrived at 12:30, we meandered over to the throng of people depositing their suitcases below the bus. When we got on the bus, I handed my ticket to the driver and walked to my seat (of course, I was sitting next to the girl who didn’t want to check her bags…oh well). He, on the other hand, didn’t have such an easy time. The ticket agent had accidently booked him on a bus for the following Sunday morning, which would, of course, make him a week late for his plane. He also didn’t have any money to buy a new ticket.
Knowing how stressed I would be in a similar situation, I lent/gave him the money. He took down my information and promised to pay me back, but honestly, it didn’t matter. After five hours of driving, I got to Riga Central Station at about 5:30AM. There were ATMs on every corner. This would eventually haunt me. Honestly, I have never seen so many ATMs anywhere! I walked up to the first one, stuck in my card, and got the “Error” message. I strolled to another one, and this ATM gave me more advice, “Call your bank.” I guess my bank had suspected suspicious activity because I hadn’t called them before I left. Okay, deep breath, learn the lesson. Now, I have my bank account at a small bank in Delaware, so when I turned the card over, I noticed that the hours on Saturday were limited (9-1) and the hours on Sunday were nonexistant. I tried calling the number anyway, but got the answering machine, which had an announcement about the Monday Labor Day Holiday.
Knowing there was little I could do, I went to my hostel. I happened to get to the door as some other people were walking up, and they let me in. The hostel was very nice but very small. Their website said they had 24/7 reception, but it looked like everyone was sleeping, so it was fortuitous! I called my credit card company (24/7 service) and they said I could take my credit card to any bank with my passport and get a cash advance. Simple as that. Knowing there was nothing else I could do, I had a cup of coffee…
When the hostel owner got up, she assured me that there were definitely banks open on Sunday. So, after a few more cups of coffee, I set out.
Riga is beautiful on a cool Sunday morning, but the people at the banks do not appreciate this beauty because they have the day off.
I actually like the way Latvians indicate their opening hours. Notice the seven squares and how their coloring shows when the bank is open. Notice also that the square for Sunday is completely red.
I actually did find some open banks, but they were smaller branches that didn’t have the facilities to provide a cash advance. In fact, the tellers were often confused, “Go use the ATM.” Sigh…. Knowing that I was fighting a losing battle, I would look for an open bank all day but meet with failure every single time. I had other options open to me, of course. I could have called my parents (or any friend) to wire me money, but I didn’t think that was yet necessary. I just had to make it to Monday and hopefully a bigger bank branch could help me. Or, worst case scenario, I had to make it to the bus and to Sasha in Ukraine. He could help me out until my bank opened up on Tuesday at 9AM. (Which was 4PM in Ukraine. Not that I stressed about this possibility.)
I would just live on a budget for the day. I would spend time walking around and doing activities as cheaply (free-ly!) as possible. I had granola bars in my bag.
I also had this little guy:
which turned into these little guys:
I decided to go for a stroll over to the central markets for breakfast. These are some of Europe’s biggest markets and there are lots of deals. For one of my big silver coin, I got a pizza-like pastry and some huuuuge peaches (not native to Latvia, but I couldn’t resist)
Plus, walking around the markets was good, free fun!
I also joined in the Riga Free Tour, my third free tour of the trip. I felt bad about this because I wouldn’t be able to tip the guide, but the group was pretty big, so I think she did okay. (I apologized to her at the end, and she was very nice about it…)
She has the little yellow suitcase to help us find her. Our guide took us right out of the old city and into the less-seen parts of Riga. We talked a little bit about Latvia’s current reputation as a place for Stag nights (bachelor parties) and worse, and she said the goals of these tours are to help tourists realize that Riga has more to offer than sex shows and prostitution. Part of the objective is to get out of the touristy areas and into real Latvia. The older city is beautiful but very German. Like Tallin, Riga was a Hanse city-Hanse is the old German sea trade, so the buildings have a similar style.
We went back over to the Central Markets, but I learned a bit more.
Some of the markets are outside but most of it is inside in these huge facilities.
During WWI, the Germans used Zeppelins and built huge Zeppelin hangars in Riga. After the war, the Latvians wanted to repurpose the study German work, so they built these huge buildings and moved the roofs over from the Zeppelin hangars. The market is so full of little old Latvian ladies, pushing past you on their way to the best deal. Because I was in a huge group, I could hear them mutter an annoyed “tourists” (in Latvian) under their breath.
We also made our way to the Russian section of town. Latvia is 60% Latvian, 30% ethnic Russian-Latvian, and 10% other. Some people of Russian descent would like to live as though they are still in Russia. They speak completely in Russian and want to educate their children in Russian; however, the Latvian government recently issued laws that require a certain percentage of classes to be in Latvian.
In “Little Moscow,” we saw a building known as “Stalin’s Birthday Cake” and a flea market where you can find almost anything, old books, technology gadgets, bikes, Soviet stuff. This area in general is pretty dangerous at night, and our guide cautioned us to stay away from it.
We went over to see a former synagogue and a monument to the people who helped Jews escape Nazi persecution. The symbolism of the monument is beautiful. Even when the world is falling down, some brave people can help keep it propped up.
Our tour through the city continued. We walked around a lot of the more local areas and then ended the day at the former location of the KGB. This is a historically evil building. It began its life as housing for the Russian czar’s military (during one of the periods of Russian rule) and later became a KGB building. It was most recently a police building, but now it sits empty and foreboding.
Again, the symbolism here is fascinating. If you open the door, you can get a glimpse of the dark activity taking place within.
After the tour’s end, my lack of money forced some creativity upon me. I think this was fortuitous as well. Where normally I might retreat for a coffee and a book, instead I wandered around the city and saw some local life. The most interesting activity I happened upon was taking place in a park. After I asked a woman if I could photograph her meal (yup, I’m that awkward) she explained to me that the fair was a showcase of clubs. Latvian children have amazing amounts of choices for how to spend their afterschool hours. I saw singers, dancers, clowns (robot clowns?), a cooking school plate (that I photographed!), art classes, billiards, race car driving… Here’s a smattering:
Wandering done, I headed back to the hostel for a nap. After a night with little sleep, I was stressed out about my money situation, and napping seemed like a free activity. Again, my low-low-low budget status led me into some fun! I met a group of Belgium guys getting set for a walk to the other side of the river that runs through Riga. I actually met them while they were watching American football on the hostel’s tv. I tried to explain the rules to them (“The team has four chances to get the ball over that yellow line.”) but I think they realized how I barely knew any more about the sport than they did, and they suggested a walk.
Above are my new friends posing in a tree. I guess men from any country never grow up. They laughed when I told them that my cousin and I had been to Belgium. Well, we chose to take a long-ish layover in Belgium because we wanted to try the waffles! We had waffles and chocolate, but apparently we missed out on the french fries, which are the best in the world. I guess I’ll have to go back.
Our final destination was the Soviet Victory monument. Apparently, the locals have nicknamed it the “raping monument” because statue of the woman makes it look like she could be running away from the incoming Russian soldiers rather than leading her men into victory.
On our walk, I was really excited to see this:
Latvians have a lot of traditions. One of their wedding traditions is for the man to carry his bride over some bridges before they get married—at least seven. On their wedding day, they put a lock with their initials on one of the bridges to signify their marriage. Once in awhile, the police come and cut all the locks off, which apparently accounts for the high divorce rate here!
Exhausted from walking all day, I needed to find some dinner, but I only had 1.60lats.
Yes! For 1.26 I got a biiiig bowl of soup and 2 slices of bread! I collapsed into bed—it had been a loooong day!
Don’t tell me that’s not a future profile pic!