I wanted to visit the Russian flea market just outside the old city as I had heard you could find all sorts of stuff like old Russian passports and military badges. I was pleased that Kim was also interested…particularly as she can speak Russian.
It took about half an hour to find the market – it was very vaguely marked on the map – and it was nice wandering around ‘Little Moscow’. I found some entertaining graffiti that made me immediately think of my lovely Mexican gypsy woman Veronika, and laugh:
When we found the Russian market it was a lot smaller than expected, and most of the stuff was of no interest whatsoever to tourists. Even more likely, half of it was stolen. It would definitely be the place to come if you needed a new tap, tyre or half a bicycle.
There were a few little stalls that had old Soviet memorabilia – boxes of pins, military epaulettes, Soviet identity cards and weirdest of all, people’s old personal photographs. I’m already regretting not buying someone’s family picture. Kim and I spent about half an hour or so going through a box at one stall, trying to find some pretty pins.
I picked three, thinking they’d be more expensive than they were. I got three for about 80 cents.
This guy’s stall was quite interesting, and he didn’t mind us looking at everything. He had everything from old gas masks to Russian passports to gun parts. He also had a funny looking pig that I couldn’t figure out the purpose of.
We found another stall that had some cool old jewellery, but I was quickly dissuaded from spending any money there – the owner came up and shouted at us for touching things and told us to leave. So much for the pretty ring I was going to buy if it fit – I’m not buying a ring if I can’t try it on! He was a grumpy old prick, and I doubt he sells much. To be fair, maybe people steal a lot of his stuff, but still – a little politeness never hurt anyone.
After going through piles and piles of old books in Russian, that I couldn’t read even if I wanted to, we decided to head to the Central Market. After we’d been on the walking tour, I’d got it in my head that I needed a giant punnet of raspberries. Why not, for $2? So we stopped first in the bakery section where I bought a few Augustinas [palmiers] before getting the berries and heading back to the hostel. The plan was to eat the pastries and berries with ice-cream, and realising it was so hot that ice-cream would melt on the way back, we downgraded the icecream quality and hit McDonalds for a couple of cones. This was more convenient, given that the hostel was above Maccas.
Lets just go with IT WAS DELICIOUS…………How can you beat copious quantities of fresh raspberries?
After a not-so-healthy but oh-so-tasty lunch we decided to go to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. It’s right in the most beautiful square in Riga, housed in a very modern looking building. I hadn’t expected it to be as big as it was. It was huge, and we must have spent three hours in there. There’s just so much information, and everything is in English as well as Latvian and Russian. I can’t say I enjoyed the museum – it wasn’t exactly fun, but it was informative. It was also incredibly depressing which I guess it to be expected when you’re looking at Soviet occupation, followed by four years of occupation by Nazi Germany, followed by another forty-five years of Soviet occupation and control. It was truly atrocious. I didn’t know very much about the Soviet period, as modern history has never really piqued my interest like the days when battles involved swords and no-one had ever thought of trains, and I learned a lot. I read so much that my eyes hurt – I should have taken my glasses.
The museum just kept on going, with numerous video documentaries as well as exhibits of photographs and artefacts from the period. It was just really, really sad. Little scraps of embroidery sent home to children by women sentenced to decades in labour camps, photos of families exiled to Siberia, chess sets and crosses carved by young men. Even though many families returned to Latvia, and many people were released from labour camps before completing their extreme sentences, the restrictions imposed upon returnees basically ensured that there wasn’t much of a future for them.
I guess I should stop being surprised by the atrocities that people commit against other people. I’ll be seeing a lot more of them [or at least museums detailing them] before I get home.