Saturday, November 2, 2013

business first

Europe Trip, Part 4.
Across the Daugava is the Latvian National Library designed by Gunnar Birkerts. Beyond that, the embassy.
There were times I felt I was in some crazy film where just as the adventure was about to take off, something would happen to complicate things. Each step we needed to take required several other steps just to prepare. On Monday, when it was time to catch the bus for our 10:30 appointment, Janis remembered we needed to get our tickets first (buses don't take cash the way they do in many American cities and tickets are sold in little shops that sell tobacco and newspapers). After about a 15 or 20-minute ride, we stepped off the bus and hurried to the shopping center where we could get our passport photos taken. The morning was blustery, with clouds racing across the sky, threatening rain. When we got to the center, the building wasn't yet open! (Tell me, why was I hurrying? Oh, yes, I hate being late for appointments.) Photos taken, we had time to grab a bite to eat while waiting for them to be printed, then backtracked across the busy street to the new embassy. Did you know there's a new American Embassy in Riga? I guess the old one was in the central city, but the new one sits on a large piece of land, mostly hidden from the main road by a fenced-in wooded area.

We left all our electronics: cameras, iPads, etc. in the security building and then walked down a path to a larger building where we again went through security. We filled out paperwork and submitted it. Paid for our temporary passports (which for no extra charge we can renew for the full 10 years). We waited again, then were called for an interview. Finally, we could meet the man who got us out of the airport. Evan, the consul.

Our interview was conducted from opposite sides of a glass barrier, like what you'd experience when visiting a prisoner, except with a slot to pass paperwork back and forth. Evan told us that ours wasn't an unusual situation for a traveler to be in. Lots of people don't know about the 90-day rule. What was out of the ordinary was that we were allowed into the country. Why? He said it largely had to do with the fact that after being ignored by the airline and then bringing attention to the airline and airport in a way that didn't reflect their images in a positive way, the people running things must have decided they should find a way to let us leave (not to mention the weather).

Evan wasn't the first person to tell us that if we were from another country trying to get into the United States and didn't meet the requirements, we would have never been allowed in. After spending just over a day in Riga, we were even more grateful that people in the Latvian border security and Evan had made it happen. We had a good chat with Evan who has served at embassies in more difficult outposts, including Tajikistan. (I would have liked to hear more about that!) Finally, with new passports signed and Important Paperwork (which I carried with me at all times during the remainder of the trip) in hand, we thanked Evan and the guards and then left the compound.

We had another couple days to explore the city before heading to the countryside. As wind continued to blow and large raindrops fell, we climbed on a bus headed back toward Old Riga and the Central Market.
The five arch-shaped buildings make up Riga's Central Market (the one of the far left is perpendicular to the others). They are made from old German zeppelin hangars.
The buildings that make up the Central Market are enormous and filled with stalls where merchants sell cheese, bread, produce, meat, seafood (seafood has its own building and is pretty aromatic). Some vendors sold clothes, artwork, jewelry, crafts. Everything, really. We bought some food: dark rye bread, cheese, smoked meat, apples and found an unused stall where we could eat. I could have spent the entire day in the Central Market but we had other things to explore in Old Riga. We wanted to visit Alberta Iela.
It's easy to get turned around in Old Riga.
Sunny in Old Riga.
The column in the center is the Freedom Monument. Left of the tall building is the Russian Orthodox church (notice the covering over the dome) and right of the tall building is Old St. Gertrude's, mentioned in an earlier post. (That tall hotel looks really out of place!)
These photos were taken from the steeple in St Peter's church on Kungu Iela. For a small fee we took a tiny elevator to the top to get these views of the area. I recommend it.

(Sept 23, 2013)

No comments: