Originally, I had decided to come to Latvia to learn about this small, Baltic country while spending time with my dear friend Anna, a Riga local, and some others while there. Well, I told my best friend Joseph, and then we were soon a group of four guys heading to this northern portion of Europe.
Leaving New York City on Friday evening (Oct. 11, 2013) from John F. Kennedy Airport, we took an overnight Aeroflot flight to Moscow, landing there around noon. What seemed like a frugal deal at first, this soon had us realize our first (of many) instance of sleep deprivation; we had an 8-hour layover in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, and three of the four of us didn’t apply for a Russian visa so that we could leave it. The fourth, Gian, a Chilean resident and diplomat, used his visa-free opportunity to go into the city while the rest of us tried to sleep.
In terminal D, there’s what appears to be an inviting, empty, dimly-lit, gray-carpeted area where travelers of the same fate can snooze for a few hours without being bothered. However, the jet lag and time change, in addition to the hard floor, wouldn’t allow any of us to catch any semblance of real sleep; we tossed and turned for hours until it was time to head to the gate for our evening flight to Riga, Latvia. Luckily for me, they had numerous designated smoking areas throughout the airside secure area in Moscow Airport. We also found out that Moscow Airport has some fucking expensive prices for food.
Gian arrived literally a minute before the gates closed, fortunate as usual. An hour and a bit later, we were in Riga. My good friend, Anna, was there to pick the four of us up and take us to our first accommodations, the lovely Primo Hotel in Riga. After checking in and showering, it was off again to have the first of many drinks, and the second of many more sleepless nights; it was Saturday night, after all!
We were hungry, so we were taken to a great burger joint not far away, called Fontaine DeliSnack, an American-style affair with some tasty meat combinations. While stuffing ourselves and drinking some sweet cider, we met Anita, who was sent to meet us by another local mutual friend and who would quickly become a fun and amazing companion during our stay.
Upon finishing, it was time to hit up the first of many bars for the night. And we were in luck – our first stop was right next door, the Piens bar (meaning “Milk” in Latvian), a popular hipster venue with an amazingly warm interior and lively patrons. The six of us grabbed a table in the sunroom in the rear, and we soon downed enough beer and traditional Latvian balsam (Balzams – a Latvian mix of pure vodka and a variety of herbs and spices) to chase away the October Baltic nighttime chill.
It was soon time for Anna to retire for the night, but these four New York City boys were not done yet. Anna dropped the five of us off at the beginning of Vecrīga (Riga’s Old Town), and we hit up bar after bar until finally heading home around 5:30 am; first Omas Briljants, then Shot Cafe, then Radio Bar – I lost track after that.