A smiling face is half the meal – Latvian Proverb.
I normally try to write each post when we are leaving a city or country as it kills time while we wait around but I wasn’t able to write about Riga when we were leaving Latvia, not because we didn’t have time but because I didn’t know what to write. When we first arrived we were so impressed. The airport was so clean and new, our bags were waiting for us when we walked through to the baggage point and getting a taxi was super easy. We met our host from Airbnb about 30 minutes later and walked up 6 flights of stairs to their apartment. They were such a lovely couple with a small 3 year old daughter who reminded us of our friends back home and that made me miss home. Because we had arrived at about 10pm she had stayed awake and didn’t want to go to sleep until she could see us. We stayed up quite late that night talking and speaking about life in Australia compared to life in Latvia. Surprisingly there were actually quite a few similarities although Australia just doesn’t have the same history as any country in Europe.
The best way to describe Riga is like a capital city with a country lifestyle. Everything is so clean and relatively quite. People spend a lot of time outside when the sun is out just walking around or sitting in the parks. We did this on both of our days in Riga, and on the second day, after going to the biggest market in Europe we sat in the park and made our own lunch with the food we had just bought. It was so calming just sitting on the grass. It doesn’t get dark in Riga until about 10.30pm so we always made sure we stayed out until the sun had gone down.
Music and busking is really popular in Riga. There was always someone playing an instrument or singing on every street in the Old Town but the songs always had a melancholy feel to them. On our walk back to our apartment one night we walked past a young band playing. They had a relatively large crowd – mostly people the same age – watching them so we kept walking up to an older man playing a small instrument. There was no one standing by watching him so we stood for a while and listened. After a little bit, Mark walked up and put some money in his hat and the smile on the mans face almost broke my heart. When Mark turned around to walk back to me the man wipe a tear from his eye and started playing a new song for us. That was it for me and Mark knew it. I couldn’t speak the entire walk back. The next night he was there again and at first I don’t think he recognised us but we went and spoke to him this time hoping that he spoke English. He did of course (everyone in Europe seems to speak English) and he told us the instrument he was playing was a banjolele and he was Latvian and 76 years old. Quick maths in my head told me that he would have been born during WWII and subsequently lived through the occupation of Latvia. Not wanting to make him uncomfortable and disturb him any long we stood back and listened to him play another song before going back to our apartment for our last night in Riga.
When I think of Latvia and our few days there I picture an old quiet town and an old man with white hair and a sad smile playing a banjolele. Whether his life has been difficult or not, I don’t know, but I do know a lot of people have had difficult lives in Latvia so for whatever reason it is I want to smile and cry at the same time and hope that I’ll be back there one day to watch more of the buskers, singing happier songs.