Riga started off pleasant enough. I met my upperbunkmate when I woke up, had a jam sandwich or two for breakfast and then headed off into old town to check things out. Again, I’m thinking to get a self-guided tour and show myself the sites.
Everything starts off just fine. I make it into the old town, find the tourist information center (although Riga is like San Francisco for me, I get all turned around thinking east is west and north is south) and head out, guidebook in hand, to learn about the capitol of Latvia.
I don’t get very far.
I’m on stop 8 or 9 (out of 45 or so) when I get approached by a guy dressed in slacks and a sport coat, but
not the kind you’d wear to a meeting. No, he was dressed the way you’d dress if you didn’t want someone to think you were homeless or crazy, you know, almost too careful but shabby. Like a drunk trying to walk a straight line. Even if he can do it, you can tell he’s been drinking. So anyway, this guy comes up and asks if I speak English. I cautiously nod my head and he proceeds to tell me about the buildings I’m looking at – the three brothers. Exactly what it says in my guidebook. Okay, so that’s fine, no big deal. Then he says “do you have a moment? Two moments? Come with me I show you.” Now, as you all know, I’m very fond of saying it’s all about the story. I had no idea what this guy was going to show me, but I knew that I could always come back to my guidebook if I needed to. In the
meantime, I might as well take a “moment” and see what he wanted to show me. These are the moments which make experiences which make stories so I put my guide in my pocket and followed.
He took me into a church and showed me the first women’s cloister in Riga. Then we kept walking. All the while, he was leading me with “one…two moments. First moment here” and he would point out something, a church or a house or the original stone foundation upon which the newer buildings were constructed. And we kept on. At one point, we ended up in a church where a wedding was taking place and we walked down the side of the building (he was Catholic and so
genuflected and used holy water in every sanctified place) to look at the art on the walls. Then we stopped to observe the wedding. When I looked over, my new friend was crying. There were tears running down his face as he watched the bride and groom. It was amazing. We left there and the tour continued. This was his “small excursion” he told me. He’d been in Riga for 47 years (all his life) and sometimes he did small excursions and sometimes big ones (which lasted all day). He showed me the things which moved him and the things he thought were wrong. He told me about renovations (like the synagogue) and the river. At one point, after we’d been going for an hour and a half or so, I offered to buy him a beer of he was thirsty. So we stopped
and had a beer and I finally found out his name was Uris (or Yuris, I’m not sure of the spelling – he wasn’t wearing a name tag or a cowboy belt). Now remember, he had yet to ask me for any money. He did ask me what I liked and if I was enjoying myself and if I wanted to see more, but at no point did he ask for money. Which is why I bought him the beer.
Then he took me to the Tourist Information office (same one where I’d gotten my walking tour guide) and said he was going to get me information. He went through every bit of free materials and grabbed it all. Different languages, multiple copies, didn’t matter. He just handed it all to me with a grin on his face that could have lit
a small medieval village. He was so excited to be helping me out. So we’re walking along, seeing more stuff, and it starts to rain. We happen to be across from the Latvian version of Starbucks and I offer to get us some coffee. He says he doesn’t drink coffee but tea and he would love some, but not from that place, from the next place. So with the rain coming down in buckets and the lightning and thunder crashing around us, we make a break for “the next place.” It turns out he leads us to a little coffee stand where we both have some Earl Gray tea and decide to wait
out the storm. While I’m talking pictures of the rain, he purchases a couple of cookies and brings them over to me. “Traditional Latvian cookies,” he explains. “For you from me. Eat!” So I ate. And they were good, tasty. “You like?” he asked. I told him I did and I finished the six or so he had purchased. Then he bought a bag of them and gave then to me as a present, to “take home to your friends, from me.”
Have I mentioned he still hasn’t asked me for money?
So I’m having a blast, I’m certainly getting a story’s worth of adventure out of the day, but I still don’t completely trust him. I make eye contact when we pass the police. I don’t go into anyplace dark first, I try to be on my guard the whole time, I transfer money so it’s not all in one pocket, but my fears are completely unfounded. As the rain lightens up (not finished yet, though, he starts our tour again. We end up in the park looking at statues and another bridge with locks. For the last half hour or so he keeps telling me “one more moment and then finished” but there were at least ten moments there. At one point we get accosted by a
pan handler and my new best friend Uris shoos him away telling me not to give money to that kind of person. We finally end up at the St. Peter Cathedral, which has an elevator to a second balcony observation deck. Uris helps me buy my ticket then can’t resist showing me just one more thing. All told, we were together about three and a half hours and I ended up giving him 10 Lats, making sure that was okay. He seemed pretty happy with it, we shook hands and he went on his way while I went up and looked at the mist enshrouded city.