When my longest-standing friend Donna and I were waiting for our flight from snow-topped Riga to just-plain-windy London, I timed how long she would laugh after looking at the front of her own passport. It was 5 minutes 21 seconds. Homegirl is batshit crazy but that’s the kind of comrade I need to see me through -7C temperatures, measure-happy barmen and frostbitten extremities.
I could wax lyrical about how I’ve always wanted to visit Latvia because I know this much about its history and place on the world’s cultural stage, but it’d be a bare-faced lie. And would I lie to you, darling? Absolutely not. The reality was this: it was the day before her birthday, I didn’t know what to get her, and then I thought “HEY. Let’s just book the cheapest flight to a place neither of us has been before and freestyle it.” And freestyle we did.
Navigating our way off a flight full of drunken lunatics of both breeds (beglittered stag-do louts and a tragic alcoholic), Latvia welcomed us with ankle-deep snow. Thanks be to my late grandmere for her enduring fabulousness, cosily manifested in one giant mink coat; without which, I surely would have perished.
But nay; bundle us up in fur and you’ll have a hard job keeping my buddy and me indoors. Almost as soon as we arrived at our (ridiculously stylish) Airbnb flat in central Riga, it was back outside into the snow to find the finest of Latvian cuisine. We opted for Pie Kristapa Kunga, a medieval Latvian experience that leaves subtlty at the door. With waitstaff in period dress, thrones for chairs and holy-mother-of-fuck portion sizes, I have no idea how it didn’t feel cheesy. Perhaps it was something to do with the fact that we arrived during tourist low-season (honestly; the forecast would have been enough to deter the most weather-hardy of travellers). I tipped the cheesy vibes over the edge by ordering a Tequila Sunrise while Donna had the first of the weekend’s many, many Balsams.
What is Balsam, I hear you ask? That’s another tale for another day.
Little tip for first time visitors to the Baltic states: generations of cold has worked them up an appetite. There’ll be no pretty Parisian plates here. Embrace you inner carnivore and go in hard for the meat, though I’d sidestep the “grey peas with smoked bacon sauce and a cup of milk”. Donna made the rookie mistake of ordering a salad, which turned out to be Ox tongue, a huge heap of chips and presumably a lettuce leaf in there somewhere. Quite delicious; but certainly not a salad. I had better luck with my Russian-style meat soup – a winter warmer if ever there was one.
Having recently been told I “look good for my age*,” I was far too much of an old woman to go out on the lash in Riga on the first night, and off to bed we went. The next day was quite an adventure, so hang tight; that story’s coming.
*I’M TWENTY SIX YEARS OF AGE.