Mrs. Kovacs' Class

 Riga Latvia

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 Monday, July 12:  We are back in Riga.  Our trip was smooth sailing.  We left the Minneapolis airport at 7:40 pm Saturday, Jul 10 and flew to Amsterdam which is in the Netherlands.  Our flight was through the night for us but we each only slept a couple of hours.  John and I watched GLEE and The Book of Eli and Vlad watched whatever was on the plane t.v. in the back of the seat ahead of him.  There were card games to play on the tv and many choices of free tv shows and movies so he was entertained. 

On our flight we met a young guy from Canada who played hockey for the University of Nebraska and was now moving to Riga Latvia to play for the professional hockey team here.  I told him I was buying a hockey team jersey for my brother while I was here.  He asked us all about Riga because he'd never been there.  He was very excited to be moving and playing hockey for a professional team.  We call him hockey boy when we talk about him.  Hope he found his way here, he was flying straight here and we were going through Helskinki.  He wanted to know all about languange, food, his new city, and home.  He was blonde and sweet looking--kind of looked like Johnny.  Maybe Matt Greer played against him because he said he played the Bulldogs and the Gophers and Mankato Mavericks and St. Coud.  He talked and talked.  As a side note, Vlad grumbled at me for talking to him because he was a stranger and his teachers in Latvia told him to never talk to strangers.  So funny, so much to learn.  Strategies for kids v. adults v. safe places and people v. scary situations.  Our work with this one is just beginning.

For whatever reason Vlad decided to wear a bright orange hunting baseball style hat on this trip.  Turns out that made him IN.  Holland (NetherlandS) was in the world cup this day and wear bright orange.  He totally fit in.  Also, it made him really easy to see so we didn't ever lose him.

It was almost noon when we arrived in Amsterdam.  There we got our passports stamped and were welcomed to the united European countries. Amsterdam had a friendly airport but it was rather warm.  We bought a luke warm (yep, no more ice cold drinks for a week) Coke Light (ugh!) and waited for our plane.  It was just an hour lay over so really not bad at all.  Our little flight to Helsinki was a couple hours long and we slept through most of that.  There we walked about a mile in a hot hot airport, had to go outside the airport and back in to find the ticketing kiosks to get our boarding passes.  This flight was about an hour delayed and we sweated the whole time waiting for it.  It was a get on the bus and ride to your plane and go up stairs outside plane.  It was not full though so we spread out and slept the whole 40 mintues of that flight. 

We finally arrived in Latvia and it was 8:00 pm.  We really missed a whole day and night.  We caught a cab to our hotel and checked in.  Our room is very clean and neat and upscale but it has 3 single beds in it so we won't be having any parties or dances.  The windows were wide open and it was HOT.  There are no screens on the windows.  There are no bugs here.  It is so weird.  I did see a bird think about flying in--he could have, it really is wide open.

We walked across the street to McDonalds for supper and sat outside because there was a breeze and inside no air.  The world cup was on and it was like the Super Bowl in America.  Restaurants had big tvs outside and everyone was watching and cheering.  I wish I had my camera so I could take pictures of all the long tan legs and high high shoes we saw walk by.  Crazy!  The short skirts certainly emphasize the look.  Lots of bicycles and walkers and motorcyles. 

We all slept badly as it was HOT.  I am going to ask if they have a fan.  If not, I will try to buy one.  I can't not sleep anymore.  I woke up SWEATING!!!

Gotta go now as we need to eat breakfast and Daina is picking us up for our first embassy appointment at 11:00.

I will leave you with this:  at the Helsinki airport there was an woman from India, robes, head hooded over in the traditional style.  She was holding her sleeping baby when her cell phone rang, in the same ring tone my phone has.  Very different yet all so the same.

Later that same day...or Here's what happened in Latvia today:

We had a great breakfast (I am not joking) on the 7th floor of the hotel.  It is included in your room so we went.  They had all kinds of food and it was beautifully displayed on tables with white linens.  The room itself was shades of blue and very fancy and very European king looking.  And, there was air conditioning.  We had scrambled eggs, very runny but very good, wonderful butter on yummy croisants and rolls, breakfast potatoes, fresh fruit, room temperature juices, and hot very strong coffee.  All in all a great experience.

Our attorney, Daina, picked us up at 10:45 am and we went to our first embassy appointment.  We got there before the door opened and there was a long line.  She said most people there were people wanting to extend their visitor visa.  We got in shortly after 11, grabbed a number and went upstairs.  At first it was a bit scary as Vlad's information was not in the system yet.  The worker left for a bit, went to a different area in the building and entered the information and then came back to do the paperwork.  Vlad was very charming and teasing with her and she LOVED him and worked hard to get our stuff ready.  His pictures were taken for the passport (I guess the ones I had done last week are for the Visa) and she promised we could come back after 5 to get it.  John had to write something is Latvian and sign it and according to Diana, this is a very special moment.  VLad tried to take a picture of it with the phone he uses as an ipod.

Next we went to the doctor appointment.  Wow, my brother would be shocked at this office.  It was a two room office and the doctor was the receptionist, the billing clerk, the everything.  She was very nice but Vlad, unpredictable and goofy as always decided to be NOT charming with her.  He gave her 1 word answers and it felt like he was unhappy.  He just told me it felt to him like he was dying.  Funny kid.  He was mad because she wanted him to talk in English but he wanted to talk in Russian or latvian.  We survived, he got his shot, his order for x-rays and we paid her 200 bucs and left.

Now Daina took us back to the hotel.  It was about 3 so we walked over the McDonalds and had a quick lunch.  Vlad went up to the room and John and I went to the bank to exchange money and then walked a few blocks to buy a fan at Elkor (a department store without air).  We found one for 8 lats which is about 16 bucs.  It oscillates but is only a 9" desk fan.  I say it should point on me tonight but the guys are pretty sure it needs to be oscillating so it hits everyone.  That just doesn't seem right to me!  But I digress...

It's still Monday though it now feels for sure like we've been here a week already.  It is HOT.  According to Daina, this is so very rare for Latvia, that's why no one has air conditioning.  It was 90 today.  It is still 84 and it is 9:30 at night.  Vlad just ran outside (no, that makes it sound like he went willingly and he did not)  Vlad just begrudgingly went outside so John could take a picture of him out our hotel window to post.  It's in the column to the right.  Note, this picture was taken at 9:30 at night. It will be a couple more hours until it is dark and then it will get light again around 4 am.  The lack of dark along with the extreme heat makes it kind of hard to sleep.

In the background of Vlad's picture is our new bank--Swede Bank.  That is where we always exchange our money and where today we opened an account.  We didn't know we had opened the account until our attorney looked at our reciept (you see we had to pay for Vlad's new Latvian passport--yea, that's right, another Latvian passport--that's a whole nother story--you have to get a Lavian passport with his new name so he can come to America where you then have to purchase an American passport because now he's an American citizen) for paying for the passport and said, "Wow, they made you open an account and deposited your payment in the account so it can be later transfered to the government to pay for the passport."  I hope they close the account after that and don't charge us account fees for maintaining a minimum balance of some kind.

Anyway, at 6:00 Dai picked us back up, we opened the bank account, and headed over to pick up the passport.  We got it.  Then we went to a different doctor's office (nicer but still no air conditioning) and Vlad had his x-rays.  We were dropped back off by 7:30.  Vlad went up to the room and John and I went on a walk.  We ended up eating at TGIF's.  We had strawberry sulshies (virgin strawberry dagariis-spelling) and that cooled us down.  We brougth some food back for Vlad and that brings you up to the current time and the funny photos.

Tomorrow we have nothing to do with the adoption.  Wednesday we have our Embassy appointment. Tomorrow Vlad will go see his friends and John and I will...tune in tomorrow to find out.    Jamie in Riga

ps--it's hard to believe we are thinking about going to bed soon and you are just done with lunch time in America.  So weird.


Pictures above: (top) A picture of Vlad taking a picture of John taking a picture of Vlad. (2nd from top) A picture of John and Jamie taking a picture of Vlad taking a picture of John and Jamie.

Tuesday, Jul 13  Great news!  It is going to be another record high temperature in Riga, Latvia today.  

It is noon and here's what we've done so far today:

    We had breakfast at the hotel around 10:30 where we got into a discussion with Vlad who had big plans to run off by himself for the entire day and spend time with friends.  We said that is fine as long as he can 1. Write down the friend's full name, 2. Give us a phone number for the friend and 3. Give us the friend's address.  We even said he could call or e-mail the info to us from the friends house.  Apparently, these seemed like impossible, insurmountable requests and he got the stone face "I no go then" attitude and had a million reasons why he couldn't provide us with those things.  It would be impossible.  We no understand, friend's dad not nice, friend not have own e-mail and can't use dad's, he no address just how to get there, bla bla bla excuses excuses excuses.  When he gets like this it is important to avoid getting sucked in to his game and simply say, it doesn't matter what the reasons are for us wanting these things you need to know that you're not going unless we get this information and we don't care if you go or not.  I think I said something like we'd be happy to have him spend the day with us reading at the local library.  John said something like figure it out, you're the one who wants something here. In a bizzare twist he was able to find some information for us and is calling the rest in on the skpe number he is begrudgingly carrying in his pocket.  Hmmm...wierd?  Guess I better go find the library now.  Or maybe the movie theater--another bizzare twist in the making.  Write more when the day is done.  Sleep on Americans, it's the middle of your night.


One more thing...if you are reading this Riga tab (and I know somebody is as the hit counter on the website went from  3959 to 3976 overnight) we would LOVE it if you went to the blog tab and wrote us a note.  Just go to the blog tab, go to the bottom and pick the last page available (91 was it last I checked) and write in.  We will respond, I promise!  Don't be shy, it would be fun to hear from you.


Here are some pictures of the streets in Old Riga.  It is very fun, very European, very cool!! 

 A couple things to notice or let's play where is Waldo: Did you see the bike taxi?  Did you notice all the writing in English on signs and on the bike taxi?

So I'll leave you with the two musicians, dressed in traditional Latvian clothes, playing their insturments for money.  There is no shortage of this kind of fund raising in Latvia.

Good night America, from Latvia with love.

 Tuesday afternoon:

So Vlad took off at noon with $ in his pocket and a smile on his face.  About an hour later he skype called John's ipad with his friends cell number and house address.  Good boy.

It was hot and I finished the book I was reading, John played with his toys, we heard from Vlad and moved on with our day. Because of the heat we decided to go to a movie.  We walked the 5+ blocks to the theater and got the schedule.  On the way to kill time at the mall I used a hand railing and got wet goo all over my hand so as soon as we hit the mall I looked for a bathroom to wash it off.  It was very Urinetown, I had to pay to use the bathroom.  You gave your money to the lady in the booth and she handed you a string of about 5 pieces of toliet paper.  I was just washing my hands so I didn't take the toliet paper and therefore did not get my money's worth.  The mall was HOT so we left and went to our favorite hangout for ice cream.  McDonalds was hopping and selling tons of ice cream.

We saw the movie Knight and Day which was really pretty funny.  We both laughed a lot and thought the movie was able to laugh at itself and at the Mission Impossible movies.  Tom Cruise was funny and Cameron Diaz too.  The bonus was that it was coolish in the theater so we got a reprieve from the heat.

Here's what you need to know about the pictures: 

I decided to show you that I am NOT kidding about the fashion plate girls in Latvia.  Their legs are so long and skinny and now that it's summer, tan.  They must use tan colored lotion as the calves are as tan as the thighs.  They have ditched the tight jeans for mostly nakedness.  Their shorts give new meaning to the word "short" and everything is tight, low cut and see through.  Although the clothes are something else, what is really striking is the SHOES!  They all wear high high heals.  And remember how in March I wrote about how skinny they all are?  Still true.  And the genetics are amazing.  They are all legs!  Their legs stretch from the ground to their neck and give them a Twiggy, Bambi, waife like look.  So I decided to take some shoe pictures.  I could take hundreds more but...  Then so as not to leave the men out, I have snapped some photos of men in capris.  Some of the pictures are a twoffer--men in capris (you can tell their men by the plain flip flops) with women in amazing shoes.  Enjoy and know that this is truly just a snippet of what there is to see in Latvia.  I took these photos today as Vlad was not with us and he flips out when he sees us take picutures of people in Latvia.

Vlad showed back up around 8:00--right on time.  He was hot and dirty and has only eaten chips and had a huge Fanta since he left us but he is all smiles.  We are heading out to eat something and listen to the band we can hear from our window. 

The maid took mercy on us and we found tucked in our room a big fan.  How sweet!  Maybe tongith we will sleep!  By the way, the forecast is for it to remain in the 90s this week and then on Saturday (we leave at 6 am) it will return to more typical 70-75 degree temps.  God is so funny sometimes!

 Wednesday, July 14  Hey, all you editors out there, I have been dating these June, not July.  Maybe it's because teaching Summer Academy kept it from feeling like summer until now so I am just assuming it's June.  I fixed it now!!

Last night we wandered down to the open square and found great restaurants with fun outdoor seating and beautiful lights and live bands and umbrellas and more.  We ate at one.  I had a chicken ceasar salad that was amazing, John had a red sauce pasta that was good and Vlad had a pasta and vegetable and chickn mix that was amazing.  Really good food!  We were so excited.  It was fun and we plan to come back again.  We were eating supper at 10 at night watching the sun set in the courtyard square of beautiful buildings and flowers and seating.  Loved it.  Daina says that this is why Old Riga is called little Paris.

 None of us slept very well last night.  It cooled down but the light and the sounds of the's hard to sleep.  We ate breakfast at the hotel and then we took cold showers and stood in front of the fans.  Fun morning!  John and I dozed off in the comfy chairs in the hall outside our room.  We've sort of taken over and made an indoor patio outside our door where the workers run fans during the day. The halls are quiet and we are the only ones out there and we leave our door open so, it's like a room extention.  It makes for good napping.

We needed to be at the Embassy for our interview with the consulate at 2:00.  We were walking there and I didn't want to be a sweaty mess so we left at 1 so we could take our time and have time to cool down before the appointment.  It is only about 3-4 blocks away, through a beautiful park up past the Freedom Monument.  We told Vlad ahead of time that he was going to need to be charming, funny and show his good side.  I warned him that he would be speaking in English.  I think part of the problem with the attitude at the doctor was that he was caught off guard by the speaking English piece.

Daina met us at the US embassy and we went into the cone of silence area to hand in our paperwork. There is a waiting room with chairs in it and a counter behind safety glass that has a couple partitions jetting off of it.  You get called up to the counter and pull a closet door like thing shut (I use that term loosely because everyone in the waiting room can hear everything that goes on in there, in fact, in kind of echos and is louder) and it reminds me of the top secret cone of silence from Get Smart.  I turned in our tax returns and the visa photos we had taken at CVS and had a large stack of 12 items that our worker from the adoption agency asked us to have available and guess what, we didn't even use 1 of them.  The letters verifying employment and income that were notarized, the passport affidavits we did again, the copies of immigration approval, all of it--not needed.  Hmm...

Next we sat and waited to meet with the consulate.  We thought we'd be called back into a room and Daina was preparing us for the kind of questions we would be asked etc. and was our turn.  Right back up to the counter and the cone of silence we went.  It was the same guy we saw in March, from Buffalo New York.  He said HI, we said HI he explained that Vlad would have duel citizenship and that we'd need to apply for a US passport and a SS# and that we could come tomorrow between 3 and 4 to pick up his new passport and visa.  No questions, no grilling, no drama, just pure and simple.  He did tell us that upon entering the United States Vlad will need to go through a customs procedure that will include a stamp in his passport and at that point he is offically a citizen of the United States of America.  So many milestones!!

Daina congratulated us and gave us a gold spoon with Latvia on it.  She said it is tradition in latvia to give parents of new babies a little collectible spoon like this and so she gives them to all her new parents.  So sweet and cute.  She also gave us a sticker for the car window (Vlad says next to the bear on John's car) that signifies you are the parents of a Latvian child.  We said our good byes to her and walked back to our hotel.  All that's left is to pick up the passport/visa tomorrow and we're good to go.

We got a quick bite to eat at McDonalds and Vlad went up to the room to plug himself in to the computer and John and I sat outside under the large umbrellas of our hotels patio dining and drank strawberry slushies.  Mmm Mmm good.  There was a breeze so it was very pleasant.  Here's the thing you need to know about ice in Latvia--it isn't frozen solid and only lasts about 1.3 minutes.  At about 6 we walked to the mall and saw Killers (only half as good as yesterday's movie) but Vlad got his sweet popcorn and pop so it was all good.

After the movie we walked back and bought Vlad an apple and sandwhich and chips and pop at the little convenience store and John and I headed back to the little restaurts where we had salads and cheesecake and yummy almost icey peach ice tea.  Then we walked to the Riga Domes (A huge old castle like Catholic Church) and found more and more pockets of live bands, beautiful flowers, long legged short skirted girls dancing in the streets.  It was such a festive atmosphere.  Our plan is to rent bikes tomorrow so we can get around faster and with less sweat and go into the Riga Domes and take some picutes of all the cool things we saw tonight.

John's highlight of the day (besides passing immigration with flying colors) was some guys working on street lights up high.  These guys had an extension ladder that they pulled up onto their worker guy van to create their very own completely unsafe and OSHA violating bucket truck.  He took a picture.

Excited for tomorrow--as you can imagine Vlad is too.  He will probably meet his friends again while we bike and take tours and pictures.  He is completely embarassed by us at all times which means we must be doing a great jog being his parents.  Kind of brings a tear to your eye, doesn't it?


Here are a few pictures from Wednesday.  This is the park that runs through Riga.  It is beautiful.  Also, Vlad always trying to avoid being photographed, John at the outdoor restaurant, John and I in the park, and the bucket truck John is recommending Collins try out.  Enjoy! 

Thursday, July 15--

It kind of cooled down last night and Vlad and I slept great.  John claims he still can't sleep.  John's mom said I forgot to mention that sun set here is close to 10:30 at night and it isn't really dark until midnight.  Then it is already light by 4 am.  Riga is at the same  latitude as Alaska so it makes sense, I just never thought about all this daylight before John came in June and discovered it.

Last night after dinner John and I walked all through Old Riga and mapped out all the tourist like things we planned to do today.  We are to pick up Vlad's visa between 3 and 4 but otherwise the day is open.  We ate at our usual breakfast spot, the hotel restaurant and then went back to the room where Vlad tried to connect with his friends and John and I went about deciding if we'd walk or take the Baltic Bikes.  Tourist day, here we come!  More coming later...

Thursday continued:

Around noon Vlad took off to meet his friends with a promise to call skype from his friend's phone and let us know how to reach him which he did about 3 hours later....urg, better late than never though, I guess.

John and I decided to walk as the streets in Old Riga are so crowded with strolling tourists that it would be hard to bike.  We walked to St. John's church first and went into the courtyard. Next we went into St. Pete's and it was gorgeous.  The original pieces of the structure are from medival times and it is COOL.  The church burned down in the 1800s but was rebuilt as needed.  We walked by the House of the Blackheads where the single merchants lived and held what we found out were AMAZING parties--I bet those were wild affairs.  Then we saw the outside of the Occupation by Russia Museum from 1941-1991 (not sure if the last date is correct).  I say we saw the outside because I wanted to go in but John didn't and since Johnny and Joe weren't with me, I passed.  I can probably learn more from the internet anyway. 

Next we walked to the Riga Cathederal also known as Riga Doms.  It is so huge and amazing from the outside.  Inside we found out that Riga was founded in 1201 and the building of this very church began soon after.  The sanctuary was ok and the organ quite something but after walking through the sanctuary we went out to the courtyard and I actually said out loud, "This is fantastic!"  It was.  I can't even describe how cool the arched walkway all around the courtyard was.  It was filled with old cannons (one was a gift from the Queen of Sweden in 1682) and cannon balls (they really couldn't have been that effective as they didn't explode or anything and you must have needed really good aim) and decorative pieces and more.  It was just amazing!  Simply put, we just don't have cool things from medival times in the US.  It is so amazing when you see these things. 

It goes without saying, and yet I'll say it anyway, that these sites were all connected by beautiful little cobblestone cafe lined streets that made you feel like you were in a medival Disneyland or a movie or certainly on a wonderful European vacation.  Everything is neat and clean and beautiful and breathtaking.  Really really wonderful. 

We started back as we had to pick up Vlad's visa and his immigration package at the embassy at 3:00.  We grabbed a quick lunch at a little cafe and then I slipped in to a store and bought presents for all my nieces and daughter-in-laws and daughter-in-law hopeful--they are for Christmas.  How fun to have that crossed off my list.  We stopped at our room to drop off the gifts and saw we had a message.  Daina had called to say the visa and package wasn't ready.  Pick it up tomorrow.  Urg....we are going to the beach and water park tomorrow.  Look us Jurmala beach in Latvia and you will see it is BEAUTIFUL.  I really want to do that.  It is a 25 minute train ride away. what.

John and I decided to rent bikes at this point and cover the beautiful park and run up to the mall to get my brother Scott something (hope I have him for Christmas this year.  In fact, can that please just be arranged?)  Wow.  Biking was a blast.  We could go twice as far 10 times as fast withoug getting one fourth as tired!  The breeze created by biking was wonderful too.  I was a much better trooper on the bike than I am walking.  Once we stopped I was back to sweating like a ...but while on the ride, it was wonderful. 

Scott's gift in tow, we biked off to find the train station.  We ended up going a long way around to get across a non crossable street which you usually walk under the street to cross.  I didn't want to carry my bike down and worse up the steps.  But, the ride was nice.  We ended up in more "real" parts of latvia and saw the non Disney world version we saw from the bus on our March trip.  This is where Vlad is more comfortable and knows where things are.  At one point we ended up going through a market that was all pods or cubes for shops and people were working really hard to sell their wares. No shiny mall things here.

We made it to the station we were thinking of but it was a bus/tram/trolley station--the train was back on the other side of the uncrossable street.  We actually had driven by it.  Went back and found it again and then we headed back to the hotel.  We detoured through some parts unknown just for fun, to see more of "real" Latvia and because we could since we were on the 10 times as fast bikes and were only one fourth as tired.

Currently we are resting in the room.  It is about 8:46 here and we just talked to Jake on skype.  He's on his way to work as it's 12:46 at home.  Jim got his new computer today and is making some absurd claim about it being more amazing than the I Pad.  It's a mac book pro, or something like that.  Johnny is roofing on his mission trip to Tennessee and we talked to him last night.  No idea about Joe.  Emily, have you talked to him?  Let us know if you've heard from him. 

Tonight we will meander down the street to one of the cafe's where this is music and dancing and eat and take it all in.  Maybe we'll dance just to embarass Vlad.  That could be fun.  will let you know how that goes.

Back by midnight:

We have had really good food this trip.  Tonight we went to one of the hipper outdoor places with a live salsa band.  We all loved what we had to eat.  I got the prize for the prettiest food!  Lots of people were dancing but the most fun were these 6 young kids who all danced together, switching partners and moving around the floor in perfect unison.  They were AMAZING!!  They had the moves. Jim, Courtney, it's dance lessons time.  How about the four of us once a week in Red Wing?  It was a wonderful, touristy day.  Turns out Vlad's name was wrong on the visa and Daina happened to see it and that's why we don't have it yet. 







 Check out the biker stud and the way cool bikes.  They actually were amazing.  Switched gears nicely, had wonderful tires, easy to ride.  The basket didn't move with the handlebars so that was kind of wierd.  It created quite an optical illusion with the handle bars moving and the basket not.


 Friday, July 16, 2010--our last day in Riga

It has been such a lovely trip that John says maybe we need to come every summer and bring Vlad to visit friends.  Riga is wonderful in the summer and hopefully someday our whole family can come.

This morning Vlad went to get his friend Vlad and John and I went to the US Embassy to pick up the paperwork.  We got it and are now ready to travel.  I read the adoption decree and it made me sad to read again how his natural parents rights were taken away and no appeal or contest was ever entered.  It was fun to read that Vlad feels he has found a family he can fit into and that he wants to be with these parents and brothers and that it is right for him to be part of such a family.  Kind of emotional.  We got a packet of info we can't open and have to just hand over when we get to customs in Minneapolis.  They gave him a pin of two flags, US and Latvia.  Kind of cool.

We are off to the beach!  The picture to the left is of our hotel restaurant where we've eaten breakfast every day to the sounds of Frank Sinatra.  The other picture is the view from the hotel restaurant window where you see the Freedom Monument and mondern Riga in the background. The US Embassy is on the first street past the Freedom Monument, to the left a block or so.  Old Riga is the other direction.

We found the train station, no problem.  It was right where we thought it was yesterday when we were on bike, right behind the mall.  Actually, we'd seen the ticket windows and schedule in the mall but just didn't know what it was.  Vlad helped buy the tickets and we ran up the steps (to the mall roof, kind of) and the train was right there, ready to leave so we hopped on and were off.  The train did not have air but the windows were open so it was bearable.   John and I sat on jump seats in the back and Vlad and Vlad stood.  People had bikes on the train and we were really wishing we had rented Baltic Bikes.  Turns out that was just the beginning of our longing for bikes.  We got off the train at the first Jurmala stop and it appeared to be in the middle of nowhere.  There was a tar path through woods to a small alley like road and we were off.  Little did we know it was nearly a mile hike.  Stephanie, did you really do this in the winter?  All I kept thinking was why didn't I bring a bike?

On our hike through the woods we saw some really beautiful homes and gardens.  They were nearly all fenced in and very Very quaint suburban neighborhood town feel and just about 20 minutes out of Riga so we kind of think we were in the White Bear Lake of Riga.  Vlad and Vlad went with John into the waterpark and I walked around the outside to see the outside slides, sun tanning area and the river.  Now I was HOT.  The boys were in on a four hour pass so John and I went into Rimi (a grocery store) that was next door.  We bought waters, an ice cream bar and then walked around inside as there were a handful of other shops there as well.  John bought a map at the bookstore and I picked up some little gifts for the boys since I'd gotten all the girls yesterday.  We found immediately that no one here knew English very well.  How wierd is that.  We were now pointing to things and acting things out.  I really meant to go back and take some pictures of the Vlads but the fates were against me.  Instead, john and I each grabbed a hamburger at Hesburger and mapped out how to get to the beach. A woman overheard us trying to talk to the kids working and could see if wasn't going anywhere and jumped in to the conversation with a little bit of English. I guess we were just far enough out that English wasn't used.  There was a miracle taxi waiting out front of the water park so we went there and paid 10 bucs to travel just over 1 mile.  We didn't know it would be so close. 




 Right at the place the cab dropped us off was a Baltic Bikds stand.  We decided we'd try to get bikes to ride back to the water park, take them on the train and then bike back to our hotel.  The best laid plans...

Right at the bike stand was a really cute little outdoor restaurant with fun wicker couches and chairs all in the shade of beautiful pines and aspen.  We followed the path through the woods and about 100 yeards later we were at the beach.  It was wonderful!  We both headed straight for the water where we stood and cooled down and enjoyed the sites.

There was beach volleyball, floating toys of all shapes and sizes, chairs to rent, trampolines and playgournd equipment, and as far as you could see, white sand covered by tan bodies.  A couple observations:  little kids swam in their underwear alot and that meant lots of little girls in just bottoms.  Many men like to wear swim team style bikini trunks--not that attractive guys.  We saw every shape and size of person and they were all in skimpy suits.  Ladies, it is not illegal or shameful to buy a one piece!  Escpecially not if you are over 60 and/or 50 pounds overweight.  I mean really, who needs to see that much of you.  The thong style swimsuit bottom was popular for woman and again, age was not a deterent.  Everyone was having fun, relaxing, vacationing and enjoying the beautiful day.

For the record, it is obvious why school should not be held in the summer.  Summer should be for learning all differenct kinds of things like about waves, the properties of sand and water, the effects of sun on skin and water and sand, bikes and how they move you and don't move you in the sand, and how to spend time with the family.  I mean really, there are so many things to learn about in life and school only teaches some of them.  Besides, unless you are going to have school at the beach, school is going to be too hot to handle. 

I had warned John that some of my experiences with Europeans led me to believe they might just change into their swim suit at the beach and right in front of you.  We did get a chance to see that first hand though the woman was pretty careful and used her sun dress wisely.  To combat this problem the Latvians have set up hundreds of little dressing stands.  They are funny little booths you simply slip into, drop your clothes and slide into your beach wear.  They were every 50 yeards or so so there was no excuse to not use one.

Although the Baltic Bike idea was a good one, it was not to be.  We couldn't get the I PAD to work--seemed like we found wi fi at a nearby apartment building but it wouldn't let us use skype or go online way to get the bikes.  We walked about 6 blocks to the train station (the next stop from the one we had gotten off with the boys) and John left to walk to the water park and I went back to the beach to read.  I just couldn't face the nearly mile walk and back.  He fed the boys too and about an hour later they came and got me at the beach.  Vlad said the water slides were better than the beach, spent about 15 minutes taking in the sites and then we headed back to the train station. 

It was a hot, crowded bus back into the city and we stood most of the way.  our feet are killing us.  There was a really funny, cute little girl on the train.  Most of the kids here are shy and won't look at you but this little girl was giggeling and having fun.  She was about 7 or 8.  She pointed her grandma's phone at me and took pictures so I started making faces and sticking out my tongue.  She laughed all the more.  Sometimes I am just so much like my dad I can't believe it.  He loved to play with little kids from a far too.  It's less creepy to their parents when it's a woman doing it.  THe mom laughed at us.

We got back to our room around 7:30 knowing that we had chosen the perfect way to spend a hot summer day in Latvia. Vlad left for a trip to the internet cafe, his only one this trip.  Vlad 2 went home and Vlad met 2 other friends at the cafe.  It's 10 and we are just now heading out for dinner.  We are going to have some adjusting to do.  We are tired, but happy and leave for the airport at 5 am.  We fly out at 6:40 am and will arrive home around 4:30 pm.  So wierd!  We really hope someone is planning to pick us up at the airport!  Jim, call grandma and tell her to be there at 5:00 if Jake can't come.  YIKES!  Pam?  Somebody!!

We are back in the room, the city is still wide awake and dancing, and we are trying to pack.  We need to get up in 5 hours so let's hope we can get some sleep.  Glad you can't see the attitude I am getting from #5 son because I asked him to NOT sleep in the shorts he's worn for 6 days straight.  Tomorrow, a new pair.  That should be fun too.

We're all tired and ready to come home.  See ya soon.


Sunday, July 18

We are home!  It was a very quiet, long trip back as Vlad did not feel good.  Not sure what was up (I kind of think he was feeling a bit emotional about saying good-bye to friends and his country but since he doesn't show emotion, he showed it like this) but he claimed he thought he was going to throw up.  Later is was stomach cramps and later his stomach was sensative to touch and later it was a headache.  Could have been the emotions, could have been the traveling really early as we got up at 5 am, could have been the wierd pizza and large pop he had at the Riga airport for breakfast at  6 am.  He literally slept or seemed to be sleeping the whole way home.  He ate some apple slices and drank a water in Amsterdam and ate a roll and sipped some coke over the ocean and that was it.  Poor kid, it's no fun to sit on a plane and run through airports and it isn't better when you don't feeel good.  Like I said, it was quiet.

This morning he woke up, had a big bowl of cereal, and announced he felt fine enough to head off to Lake Milacs with Joe and Emily and Jake to meet up with John and Pam at Pam's families lake home on Lake Milaces.

Getting through immigration was not as tricky as we thought and the nice officer congratulated Vlad on being a new US Citizen.  He stamped his passport/visa and now it is official, Vlad is a US Citizen.  My mom is going to give him a little party. 

My mom picked us up from the airport at 5 and we went home to collapse.  She went back at 8 to pick up johnny and then we all ate a bite to eat in our kitchen waiting out the terrible storm with tornado sirens and hard rain.  Vlad slept on the downstairs couch and missed all of that.  Johnny drove to Milaces around 9:30, my mom left, we went to bed around 10, Jake left to go pick up Joe, Joe stopped in to say hi but then took off to see Emily and...oh, sleeping in your own bed feels so great!             Thanks for following our trip.      John and Jamie

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