A quick run in seems the least I can do. Fortunately, the airport is small. The pretty woman in blue at the city information desk is incredibly friendly and helpful. But why do that when the city bus is almost as fast and costs one-thirtieth the amount? It leaves over there, from the other side of the parking lot, she points, handing me a card.
I run out the door and into cool straw-yellow Baltic sunshine, me and my backpack bouncing the meters or so to the waiting bus. Sir, she says, smiling, I forgot to give you your second pass. She has run the whole distance behind me, in stilettos, to give me a ticket worth 50 cents. Bus 22 is half-full. Young men in sunglasses, clearly airport workers off-shift, polished leather shoes and pressed shirts, lean against the windows of the bus with their eyes closed and ear buds in. Hipster couples, the men in shorts with deck shoes, the women in red pants with v-necked sweaters, hold swaying baby-carriages in place.
Beside me sits a pair that look for all the world like some younger, Baltic version of Brangelina. He a rougher Brad Pitt in a white tee-shirt, and behind her sunglasses, high heels and fur-lined vest, hers an adolescent Angelina smile. We pass by gaunt old concrete apartment buildings, interspersed with modern concrete homes.
Occasionally there is an old framed cottage, the wood grey with age, fading paint and single-pane glass, old flowerboxes gone to colourful riot. At the next stop three men who appear to be in their late twenties step on to my section.
They move together, a unit of something that seems, from the reactions of the other passengers, foreign. One of them, bare-chested under an open Adidas jacket, turns on music as soon as they sit down. The old women stop talking and turn to stare. The three men seem oblivious, talking loudly, looking only at each other. When the Brangelina couple leave the bus, the woman gets caught in the doorway a second, her one high-heeled leg stuck for a second on the inside of the bus the occasion for great hilarity from the Russians.
A group of pre-schoolers, all dressed in bright tee-shirts, straggle at the hip level of their monitor as they pass under a giant statue of two officers in greatcoats and caps, back to back, looking out over the river. The squares are full of people. A Mexican ship is in port: The products are typically Baltic: The woman managing the stall seems as excited for a chance to practice her English as to show off the wares, which are beautiful, but exactly the same as at the next table.
Further down I notice traditional wooden Russian dolls painted with European soccer players. In one of the shops I come across unique and exquisite ceramic houses like some that I saw coming into town.
The churches are quiet and simple. I take photos of some of the art deco ornamentation that graces the buildings.
The statues and monumental reliefs are…. These are twentieth century work. Big-shouldered men in army uniforms and helmets, carrying rifles. Big shouldered, bare-breasted women, carrying heavy loads.
On top of a granite column high above the street, the two-storey, stylized figure of a woman in a robe thrusts three golden stars up to the heavens. There are fresh flowers on it. Here and there I see testimonies of struggle, pocketed between coffee shops and western fast-food franchises. I think that its compact size, clean lines and wrap-around windows make it look retro, like something from the s, and then realize that it probably is a piece of equipment still in use from then.
On the street nearby, a group of women laugh and talk to each other in Latvian as they take turns releasing arrows at an archery range. I take that as a sign and sit down. The waitress brings me a bowl of ginger-lamb-lentil soup.
The presentation looks like something from a flight magazine: Then I take a bite of the bread.