Tuesday, October 29, 2013

why latvia?

With Jānis and Jon at the British Museum, about to embark on our adventure.
Maybe you're wondering how it was that we decided our trip to Europe should include Latvia and why we were so adamant that we should get there. The seed of this adventure started over a decade ago...

About a dozen years ago, our friend Sage took a job teaching English in a school in Riga. She's a cyclist and has toured through several countries by bicycle. One day she stopped in a bike shop in Riga to inquire about having some repairs made on her bike. The owner didn't speak much English, so he brought out his friend, a fellow bike mechanic, who was more fluent. He was studying translation and interpretation in college. Soon, they became friends. And Sage's new friend, Jānis, really wanted to come to America.

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In case you haven't checked the map.

Sage asked Jon if he would hire Jānis for the summer through a student work program. She assured Jon that Jānis was a good mechanic and a hard worker. He would live at Sage's house and bike to and from work. A little hesitantly, Jon filled out the paperwork and crossed his fingers that it would all work out for everyone. In the summer of 2004, Jānis proved his skills as a bike mechanic and was able to work on his conversational English in the process. At summer's end, everyone was sad to see him go. The next year, the shop was able to bring him back through the same program. This time, he stayed at our house. I remember picking him up at the Anchorage airport, how happy he was to be back in Alaska.

Throughout that summer we shared meals and commutes and hours at work. We biked together, hiked, camped. He taught Jon how to identify mushrooms, introducing us to food that is growing, sometimes literally, in our backyard. He made lots of friends in Anchorage and over that summer we became a close family. When it was time for him to return to Latvia and school, we said our farewells and promised we would visit. That was in 2005. And time does fly. We worked and started a remodel. Did a few trips. Stayed in touch. Meanwhile Jānis finished school and moved to London where he helped start a successful bicycle repair business. When we learned he was about to head back to Latvia, we figured this was the year to go.

And so it was at Gatwick airport that day last month where we reunited and he looked just the same and said we did as well, though all having been through so many experiences since we'd last met. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but together we would figure it all out. So, here's a cheer to friendships that endure over the miles and years. And here's to being able to pick up where we left off and still be friends when the trip is done!

I never asked what they wished for... maybe for a certain suitcase to show up... in Prague.

Shutterbugs, in Italy.
He keeps following me!
Our final evening. Jānis was about to take a photo of Jon and me when the owner/waiter snatched away the camera and took this one. We were caught a little off guard. At Quai 21 in Paris (which I would recommend).


bikesabroad said...


Alaska's Dirt said...

Nice to see! Ken is from Lithuanian roots - grew up in a Chicago neighborhood filled with Eastern Europeans. Glad you got to explore! Katherine