Almost every week the municipal police of Riga reports happy news that yet another pisser has been court pissing near or on the Freedom monument in Riga. It almost sounds like there is some mafia or network of organized pissing crime. Yet no-one questions why so often people choose to urinate there? Some local nazies think that tourists do so to “shit into soul of Latvians”. Actually the answer is pretty simple. First, they do so to experience a little moment of fame – they are filmed on CCTV cameras, immediately being court by bored police guys and after that most likely they will make headlines in local media. The fine for urinating is much cheaper than if they would decide to buy air time on TV or in press. Also, having done that perhaps turns the pisshead into some sort of a hero in the eyes of greedy friends as besides the sight-viewing in relatively boring city they have done something adventurous to tell their friends back home. Secondly, and this hasn’t been brought up yet, is to look at it from psychoanalytic approach – to think how the Freedom monument works at unconscious level for passers-by. What does the photo from google remind you? Yes, you are right – an urinal or a toilet seat. We believe that there is some sort of way how architecture and its shape can influence behavior of people.
Riga city has a brand new image and slogan – Live Riga. Developed by unknown German agency Embassy which is rumored to have some connection with advertising guru Ēriks Stendzenieks and his German office of Mooz – a company that for the past years is doing all political ad campaigns for the party of vice-mayor of Riga and oligarh Ainars Šlesers. The new logo and the “original” Live Riga slogan which resembles airBaltic logo or low-cost grocery chain Supernetto cost 1 million lats (1,5 mil euros) of tax-payers money. The mayor Nils Ušakovs is saying that this money was paid by airBaltic company, however he had forgotten that 51% of airBaltic shares belong to the state. The competition was restricted to foreign companies only while the newly launched Riga tourism development agency by City council that was officially ordering the logo is chaired by airBaltic boss Bertolt Flick. Can you spot a weird connection there? Next year the city plans to spend 5 million lats in public relations and advertising and it seems that none of this money will stay in Latvia. It would be fine as tourism has a total downfall in Latvia, however it rather sounds like it is again only a routine money laundering project of Ainars Šlesers. And everyone will be happy – Bertolt Flick will promote his own jet company with this airBaltic-ish logo, vice-mayor Šlesers would have distributed a big piece of cake of city’s budget to his loyal business partners, while the mayor Niks Ušakovs will tempt foreign tourists by shouting “this is how we Live Riga”..
For a better understanding for all potential tourists and perhaps also for locals here’s a selection of things that really suck in Latvia at the moment. Please note that they have been written from a visitor’s point of view, not a local Latvians, because in that case the list would be a bit different. Feel free to add your suggestions as comments.
* Lack of modern culture
Perhaps the Riga city can feed tourists with just Jugendstil (Art nouveau) architecture for ever, but there are a lot of other tourists that don’t find Riga attractive as there is no contemporary culture. People usually go to Paris, London and New York not just to watch buildings but also to go to museums and galleries, whenever it’s Louvre, Pompidou, Tate or MOMA. However, in Latvia there is no major museum for contemporary art. Do Latvians really think that tourism can be motivated only with Jugenstil and folk songs? Latvians shouldn’t be surprised that most tourists to Latvia are either pensioners from Germany to whom Jugenstil reflect some sort of colonial nostalgia (Latvia used to be under Germans for many centuries), or either bachelors from Great Britain that do stag parties and enjoy relatively cheap booze and company of naive girls. Riga city and the country should really consider a major contemporary art museum, invest more money in contemporary art and music. And of course, in advertising it later.
* Confusing public transport system
Let’s admit the public transport system in Riga sucks and if we compare it to Soviet times, except new cars, the system itself hasn’t changed. Quite opposite – quite a few routes have been shut down, the prices have increased inadequately. Ok, in Riga there is now the e-talon but it does suck as well as there is no “pay-as-you-go” system, you can add “trips” and not “money” on the talon and you really need to buy a lot (over 20 trips) to save some money. What is even worst is complete lack of route information. Not just in English, but even in Latvian. At bus/tram/trolleybus stops you can’t find information of the route that the transport takes, what kind of stops it makes on the way. It means if you know the stop where you want to go but don’t know what kind of transport goes there, you are stucked! Well, you can just try your luck – get on any transport and expect that such stop will be announced at some point. And one more thing. In Soviet times there was only one bus that brought people to the airport, making about 20 stops on the way and doing the 10 km route in 40 minutes. Today nothing has changed despite the fact that the airport turnout of passengers has perhaps increased at least ten times. Riga lucks a proper coach to the centre that would bring passengers from the airport to the centre making just one or two stops on the way. Every half and hour. It would be also benefit if there would be at least a couple more buses to other suburbs – in this case some of existing lines could be extended to the airport, so that people from, for instance, Zolitude or Ziepniekkalns instead of going backwards to the centre to take the coach could save the time and go straight to the airport with local bus. The city could get much more money that now goes to corrupt taxi companies.
* Still overpriced food&drinks
The economical crisis has stimulated the drop in prices and a lot of shops now run 60-70% discounts on clothes and shoes, but many cafes, bars and restaurants haven’t done the same. There are many average places that still charge 1.99 Ls for a cafe latte or cappuccino making it more expensive than in Berlin or London. Some places now run a business lunch offers at reasonable prices (even 2 Ls) but outside of lunch hours drinks and food is still pretty expensive in Riga. Even in Soviet style canteens the prices are too high. Perhaps it has to do with rent prices of these premises – landlords are not keen to follow the deflation and decrease the rent. Also major supermarkets keep high prices on food, well, perhaps except for bread that is now lower and a few other things that sometimes have a label “sale” on them. For instance, Cido orange juice (just a simple juice) costs beween 0.79-1.19 Ls depending on the shop. That’s about 1.10-1.50 euro per litre of juice. In Berlin you can buy an orange juice as cheap as 0.60 Euro, while in London – for 0.56 pounds. And actually a few months ago my friend saw a Cido juice in Lithuania, he said it was cheaper there than in our own country where it is produced.
* Unprofessional marketing
Well, there is no weekly magazine or newspaper in English that would inform about the current events, respectively what is going on in the city and country. InYourPocket and Riga This Week are mainly just a selection of addresses that don’t publish what is going on at the moment. Most major cities in the world have such guides where tourists can find information about current exhibitions, performances, movies, concerts and other activities. If you search on internet, most things what you get about Riga is fucking boring – just some historical facts and uninspiring photos. Even if you look at the “official Latvia tourism portal – http://www.latviatourism.lv” – it is complete disaster from a marketing point of view. Waste of tax-payers money and visitors time.
* Dirty suburbs
We agree that most tourists that come to Riga don’t leave the Old city. Perhaps because it’s not on their program, perhaps they are scared or perhaps they just don’t know how (see above about transport). But there are tourists that want to see something besides the centre. So if they go to Agenskalns, Maskavas forstrate or even Bolderaja or Jugla the city will look much more different from the sort of clean and touristic centre. They will find shit and rubbish in the streets or small green squares, ugly houses and dirty alcoholics. The thing is that also street cleaning happens much less in suburbs than in the centre.
Among Latvians the second biggest town in Latvia – Daugavpils is considered a shithole. It is the place where even Latvians speak Russian (occasionally even better than Latvian), because most people are Russians. It is also known for Daugavpils fortress, Grīvas prison, trams (besides Riga and Liepāja) and collapsed heavy industry – in Soviet times it was a massive industrial town, there’s not much left from that, just abandoned factories. Daugavpils was also the birthplace for Mark Rothko, a famous American painter (for unknown reason some Latvians consider him Latvian).
First of all, if you are a typical tourist who is looking for beautiful sights, there’s nothing much for you to do in Daugavpils. You can probably just stop over for a night in order to explore Latgale’s region later, for instance, many lakes or churches. However, if you are looking for some weird staff, Daugavpils is the right choice. If you take the bus to arrive to the town, you might be surrounded by some gypsies that try to sell black-market cigarettes at the bus station, so better use the train if you arrive from Riga, it’s also cheaper. There are a couple per day. In Daugavpils it’s quite hard to find a nice place to eat for a reasonable price unless you like cool food (bistro Vēsma), kebab (in front of the bus station) or Hesburger (on Riga street). To spend a day, you can go to the fortress to see the abandoned buildings of Russian army. In some of the areas people still live today. Try to ride there a tram as it is different than in other towns in Latvia. In the center you can explore a few shopping malls that have taken the best spots of the town or browse through the shabby looking areas such as Ķīmiķu ciems (village of Chemistry people) – a place for factory workers used to live. In general, Daugavpils can be explored within a few hours. Many roads of the town are still with sand (perhaps due to lack of money for asphalt), so remember to take extra shoes or a bottle of water to wash your feet if you don’t stay in a hotel or guest house.
Daugavpils is Russians’ town
People are experiencing economical crisis also in Daugavpils
Tram in Daugavpils. They are actually of different design and colours
If you arrive at Riga airport and consider taking the public bus Nr. 22, be very careful. It is cheap option to get into centre – 0,40/0,50 Ls only, while airBaltic city shuttle costs 3 Ls. Taxi could cost around 10 Ls or even more because you are foreigner. But the bus Nr. 22 is being watched by ticket controllers. The scenario is a but like pirates robbing a ship. Controllers stop the bus (it can be anywhere on the route and usually it’s not a stop of the bus) and get in and demand tickets. The bus will continue its route only when penalty fees are collected. They are usually at least 5, but can be even 10 controllers at the same time. The thing is that obviously most people have tickets, cos you can buy one from a bus driver, however, how the hell foreigners would know that they also need to purchase extra tickets for their luggage?! There is no indications in English in the bus about that. And controllers don’t take it for excuse that you didn’t know. So this is a honey for bees, a typical Soviet time attitude towards foreigners – to fuck them hard. And then the city council, who owns the public transport, will say that they are working with profit. And that profit will go towards promotional leaflets of Riga city. How stupid is that, cos such attitude from controllers at the bus is the best “advertising” for Riga. How dumb.
Let me write one more post on economical crisis. As to the response to one comment, I have to admit that in Latvia it is a criminal offence to rumour or spread lies about the country’s economical situation. Two cases already had been open that were publicly criticized, but probably there are more and papers don’t know about them. At the same time many politicians with power can make rumors or lies, such as the prime minister, but no charges are brought against him. The first case was when a professor at a seminar expressed his views on crisis, the second – when a singer of a band on stage made a joke about the infamous Parex bank. And of course it was not that the security police was patrolling there but people who were present at those events (seminar, concert) denounced them, just like in good old KGB times.
On 13 January there will be a mass protest meeting at Dome square. Some youngsters made a website (it’s already been shut down) where they called to subvert the government with violent methods, for instance, to go to the parliament with molotov cocktails and bricks. Of course, secret police has started the investigation.
This country centrainly lacks a sense of humor which would be especially needed in such hard times, and in a lot of cases you can notice the signs of totalitarian legacy – the old-fashioned laws, denouncements, actions of secret police, indolence of society etc. People don’t change, capitalism has brought new houses and cars but our mentality is still the same…