Shrimp fries!

Actually I only ate one shrimp fry (or shrimp chip as the company that makes them seems to want to call them - they look like fries) but was thrilled that they were on the table. Austin, William, Lyla Tracy and I headed to Arlington to have dinner with Ellen and Sam. Ellen and Austin did all the cooking and Sam played bartender.

Ellen and Sam's friend Arthur joined us as well. And it was during dinner when Lyla and I were explaining to Sam about how our mother was Latvian and our father was Irish that Arthur stood up and quietly walked around the table to where Lyla and I were sitting, stood between us and asked if we said Latvian. After we turned, gave him a puzzled look and said "yes" he kissed us both on the cheek and said "Sveiks". As you can imagine we were amazed that someone knew the official Latvian greeting. It turns out Arthur used to date a Latvian girl. Alas it did not work out but he gained a clear understanding of what is important to Latvians. It also turns out that Sam and Arthur know another Latvian that swims at their pool.

After dinner we stood around and re-arranged T-shirts on the floor to help Tracy plan his Grateful Dead quilt that Austin is making. We also watched Apolo Ohno win a another medal. Ellen and Sam have a big rottweiler named Pepper who was very friendly and joined in the fun while we were there but started growling when we left. This was quite odd. I can only think that as a rescued dog he has abandonment issues, even with relative strangers.

But it was another wonderful event with Sam and Ellen.

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Shrimp fries!

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Ellen knitting and William taking a photo for his contacts list

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Sam serving a nice bottle of wine. Lyla and Tracy with tulips.

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Austin's veggie dish. Lyla points her chopsticks at Arthur.

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Planning Tracy's Grateful Dead T-Shirt quilt. Pepper the friendly rottweiler with a pal

Ellen's frog collection.

An Afternoon in Snickersville

This week I was taking antibiotics for an infection and I thought I was going to die. Since Tuesday I have had a headache, nausea, backaches - no fun. I was not supposed to drink caffiene or alcohol - the coffee withdrawal was the worst. This morning I finally felt better after sleeping 11 hours. I had my appetite back so we had veggie rueben sandwiches this evening and I treated myself to a Rob Roy for happy hour. I drank it while enjoying the wonderful sunset Hurricane Hanna left in its less than spectacular wake.

So here are the last set of pictures from Latvia. The last day we spent at Maris' place, which was owned by grandfather and inherited by my mother and Aunt Zita and sold to Maris. He is renovating the house and has several renters. He has made a great office for his home computer business. He has kept the wonderful old shacks that he uses for storage and for aging the wonderful wines he makes from the fruit he grows. He has even kept the out houses and says that one of his tenants prefers them to the indoor version.

His rotweiler nicknamed Rosa is a bit scary looking but is very sweet. We were fast friends when I played her favorite game which involved turning on a high-powered garden faucet so she could try to bite the water.

Elma who was my mother's childhood friend still lives across the street. It was good to see her again.

We had a great feast cooked by Maris. His red currant wine is wonderful and somehow Paula managed to score a bottle as she and Lenore were video chatting in the kitchen.

Click for some pictures:

The street Maris lives on is hard to pronounce. It is Sniķeres Iela and is pronounced something like snitcheras ee-el-a. We just dubbed it Snickersville.

Saturday at the Ethnographic Museum

Saturday we took the tram and a bus to the Ethnographic museum - a large park where historical homes, churches, windmills and other structures have been transported to from all regions of Latvia. It provides a good sense of what life was like in the olden days. Some buildings date back to the 17th century. On this day there were many groups from all over Latvia singing, dancing, etc. It took a lot of walking to see it all but I think we did.

There was one great moment when my dad was resting on a bench and a lady tried to get her friend to sit in the small space next to him. My dad was a bit confused so he got up which made the woman ordering her friend to sit down feel guilty. In the midst of the guilt and confusion my mother came by and said "That's my husband" which just made everybody laugh. It was an exchange that was both uncomfortable and friendly. One thing I did notice in the stores and elsewhere is that the clerks were stern but helpful - a strange mixture.

We attended the final choral concert that night. It started at 10:00pm so we had time to go to the Pancake House for dinner where the best pancakes in Riga are served. We had been promising Lenore we would go there all week. We had been there at least 3 times when we were in Riga in 2005 and it is still good and cheap

The concert was lovely. We managed to find Ilze among the 10,000+ singers on stage. Her bright red roses helped.

Click image to see from out day at the outdoor museum and choral concert:
interior of an old home

TGIF in Riga

Friday Graeme went with Sandra, Gustavs, and Gunta to the Water Park in Jurmala where Maris's son Ansis works as a lifegaurd. Apparently they had tons of fun. I hung out at Maris's place (the house which my grandfather owned and was inhereted by my mother and aunt Zita and then sold to Maris ). He has done a lot of renovating and runs his own computer business with 3 employees from one of the renovated rooms. I talked shop with his web designer. He showed me what he was doing with Maris's business website and I showed him the NASA sites I work on and Dana's site.

After returning to the hotel I found Gunta and Graeme up on the roof, which they found through an open emergency door. I had to go up too. The sights were not as spectacular as they were from St. Peter's but they were still cool. And Miss Safety Lenore joined us too. It was a "if you can't beat them join them" situation. Our hotel Hotel Centra was very nice, friendly and clean but there were safety violations every 10 steps.

Later Gunta, Lenore, Graeme and I went to a restaurant called Dada where you fit as many veggie, meat, seafood bits in a bowl as you can and then hand it over for stir frying with your choice of sauce. It was good but probably the least amount of food/Lat that we had in any restaurant. Not complaining. It was a nice outdoor cafe and a nice little break from the heavier Latvian food.

By the way there is a TGIFriday's in VecRiga and Lenore checked the menu. It is exactly the same menu as in the US.

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More Singing and Dancing

Thursday we took the claustrophobic elevator up to the top of St. Peter's church to see the bird's eye view of the city. What a beautiful site!
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On the left you can see the four zeppelin hangers that now house the central market. On the right is Dome Cathedral and that wonderful bridge over the Daugava River.
That's our hotel - the light colored building with the red roof.

Before we went up to the steeple I picked out a birthday present at Galerija Tornis. Thanks, guys. I love it.

In the afternoon we took the bus to Sandra's house where we were greeted by Gunta who travelled from Stockholm where she is getting her masters degree. It was great to see her. Sandra and Ilze put on a great spread which has been documented in pictures over at Paula's blog. My favorite dish was the wonderfully named "herring in a fur coat". We also drank Maris' red currant wine, another special treat. We even had singing as entertainment. Graeme sang They Might Be Giants' "Little Birdhouse In Your Soul" and Sandra, Gunta and Ilze sang Latvian Folk songs.

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We left Sandra's and headed to the arena for the Folk Dance performance. Because it stays light so late it started at 10:00pm so it would be dark for the big finale. The performance was so amazing - 16,000 dancers moving in and off the field so seamlessly.
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Here's Graeme and Ilze on the way. We were greeting by these dancing cell phones at the arena. He was doing this little dance just for me.

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Into the Latvian Woods

I had told my mother that I would like to get out of Riga and experience the Latvian forests, maybe something mystical or at the least one with mushrooms. My mother mentioned it to Sandra and Maris and they decided on a historical manor and forest near the sea in the Vidzeme Region. Sandra, Maris, Gustavs, Ilze, Graeme, Lenore, my parents and I visited the manor and then walked over an hour mostly along a nice wooden plank path to the Bay of Riga and back. The wildflowers and ferns were amazing and the sea was refreshing and calm. After our long walk we rewarded ourselves at a nearby tavern. It was a great and beautiful day.

Here are a boatload of pictures:


Monday and Tuesday in Riga

Monday Ilze offered to show us around and we were happy to take her up on it. We went to the Central Market housed in 4 old zeppelin hangers - one for milk products, one for vegetables, one for meat and one for fish. It seems a little less busy and varied as in previous years but it was still fun to visit. The flower market outside is still hoppin'. We also visited that jewelry shop that I like. They really have the most unique jewelry that I have seen in Riga - Galerija Tornis.

In the evening we took a long walk to Staburags, a traditional Latvian restaurant where Dad ordered a beer bigger than his head. I had two small beers, one flavored with honey. I had beet soup again and sausages. On the way home we saw a large sign with the latvian word apdrošināšana which means insurance, a word we have always found funny - it has almost a thousand syllables.

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(first 3 photos from Lenore)

Tuesday we went back to the crafts market to visit any booths we missed and then met Ilze and Sandra at the University of Latvia to listen to Janis, Ilze's father, sing in a competition. The singers were in traditional costume, of course. We then went to Melnais Kaķis (Black Cat) for a late lunch - more potato pancakes for me!

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Arts and Crafts fair

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Singers in the hall and arriving

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On the steps of the university. We also met Janina, Janis' wife, who is also a singer and dancer. Sandra and Lenore sat across from me at the Black Cat - I think Lenore was eyeing my pancakes.

Graeme and Ilze under Sandra's watchful eye.

Later my mother and Graeme went to a symphony concert with Ilze and Sandra that they said was excellent. My father, Lenore and I went to Dome Square just missing the Seniors Dance Performance. We then went for soup, salad and beer. We caught Lenore with beer foam on her lips. Sandra and Ilze dropped off the best strawberries and sweet cherries that I have ever eaten. They have a garden at Janis' mothers place just outside of Riga.

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Markets, Parades, and Choirs: Could We Be Any Busier?

Sunday July 6 after our breakfast we went to Festival Arts and Crafts market where vendors from all over Latvia and some from Lithuania set up shop. It was amber, jewelry, books, toys, pottery, textiles, etc. There was also some singing and dancing. I bought a couple of souvenirs. Over the next couple of days I found these items in other stores, some for more money some for less so I guess it evened out. My favorite jewelry store had a booth and the best part was that their goods at the market were discounted. Score!



We then walked a couple of blocks to the parade, where ALL the singers and dancers walked, skipped, danced, waved flowers, yelped, sang. The parade had started at 11:00 but we knew the people we wanted to see would not be walking past until at least 1:00. We got their at 12:30 and left tired, sunburnt and hungry after 5:00. We saw my godfather from Chicago but Ilze, who was walking with her choir from Riga, we never saw her. When we saw her later that night at the choral concert, where she sang, said they started walking about 5:30.

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After the parade I had potato pancakes and beer at Ciao, Rasma!, a traditional Latvian restaurant. We then took the tram to the choral concert where we met up with Sandra, Ilze, Ansis, my godfather and 30,000 others who were there to sing or spectate. The tram was filled with singing teenagers on the way home. We got to bed at around 2:00am.

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Riga Bound

I thought that after the 15 hour flight to India this 7 hour flight to Amsterdam would be a piece of cake. Not so. I got no sleep and although I could drown out the screaming babies with music I could not drown out the unpleasantness of several screaming babies with unchanged diapers. But I have had no complaints since then (well, except for the internet service in the hotel room). I got a bit of sleep on the plane from Amsterdam to Riga. And while I was asleep Graeme tore his pants on a seat and I woke up to the KLM stewardess telling us we would be getting a goodie bag of small liquor bottles, champagne and juices as reparation. Score!

Our Latvian friends Maris, Ilze, Aina and Gustavs picked us up at the airport welcoming us with flowers from Maris' and Ilze's garden.



The first thing we did was head to the bank and grocery store. At the store I took some picture of the beer section and a young security guard sipping on a can of coke with a straw told me that no photographs were allowed. It was hard to take him seriously but I did. After Lenore arrived we headed out to walk around VecRiga (old Riga) and find a place to eat. We ended up eating a half block from the hotel under the clock tower of St Peter's church. The meal was great.

Spring/Latvian Pig Man

Spring is not quite here but we did encounter some early spring flowers on our walk this weekend. The college campus across the street has many Japanese cherry trees only just starting to bud but we found one that seems to have jumped the gun.

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Near this tree we found a little patch of wee blue flowers.

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And speaking of Nature I have been doing some research on the Latvian forest preserves in hopes of visiting some of the magical, mystical rural areas outside of Riga when we are there in July. I ran across Cūkmens, the spokesperson for a "Don't Litter" campaign in Latvia.




If you want more here is a fun video

Baking Latvian food

Lyla, Austin, I and guest cook Shelly made Latvian bacon rolls (piragi) and cheese (Jani siers) for Christmas last weekend. We had Latvian cookbooks and various Latvian recipe resources from the internet. It took all day but I think everything turned out well. We'll know next weekend when family and friends stop by for the Holiday Party/Family Christmas Contest Judging.

Take a look at the pictures

Speaking of the Christmas contest I worked on it for several obsessive hours this weekend. I think I should be done on time! No Tardiness Award for me.

Vacation video

Yesterday Joe and I went to Rockville to have lunch and do some shopping. We first went to a pizza/sub place but it was unusually full of diners. We found out later that there was a pizza eating contest going on. We then headed across Rockville Pike where there is a noodle place and a burrito place we like. As we approached the row of restaurants there were fire engines parked nearby and firemen on the sidewalk. The restaurants seemed to be open but we decided it was a no-go since the burrito place was filled with smoke and the noodle place was crowded and the children to adult ratio was just too high.

So we drove back across Rockville Pike to the Chinese restaurant right next to the pizza place. Luckily this worked out for us and it was cool because two ladies speaking Latvian sat down at the table next to us. I had a nice little conversation with them in English. As Joe and I ate I tried to come up with the Latvian words to tell them I was in Latvia last year but I could not remember the past tense of the word "to be" so I gave up. I did say "See you later" in Latvian as we left. As we were eating I also realized that I had unconsciously ordered a Chinese radish pancake-like thing because it reminded me of Latvian food.

Here are two Quicktime videos from the Edisto trip. I am using a Quicktime conversion that may not work on PCs so please let me know if there is a problem and I will try a different conversion method. You gotta see these videos.

Paddling with the Dragon Boat team (4.5MB Quicktime)

Crab Collecting (3.3MB Quicktime)