We rolled off the boat from Riga Monday morning and went straight to class, and it doesn't feel like we've stopped moving since.
But now, pictures! I uploaded the few we took, anyhow. It was such an interesting weekend, I feel like I could write half a dozen blog posts on different parts of the trip--taking the boat, the city, meeting Metallica. I won't, but maybe a few highlights?
We took a Tallink cruise out of Frihamnen on Friday afternoon. Note to Future-Anne-and-Stu, Dramamine doesn't prevent seasickness; it just makes your whole body feel too numb to know it is seasick, and you will likely pass out for several hours. We did, but we managed to stand upright long enough to take a tour of the boat and watch the Stockholm port fade into the distance while standing on the deck. Right next to James Hetfield. The singer for Metallica. The band we were traveling all the way to Latvia to see in concert. He was quite nice, and though we chatted for a good 10 minutes, he wouldn't let me take a picture with him & Stu. At least he didn't spit on us.
As you know, unless you've been hiding under a rock (or you don't live in or travel often to or bother to pay attention to things that happen in Europe) there was a large volcanic eruption in Iceland and it emitted a giant ash cloud that floated its way all over greater Europe, preventing airplanes from flying anywhere near it. Even Metallica couldn't fly. So man, were we relieved when we saw them on our boat (and yeah, it was also pretty cool to be sitting a few feet from the band at the karaoke bar, too.) But we had already planned on taking the boat, not because we have excellent foresight but because we are poor grad students, and it was cheaper than flying.
And 16-some hours later, we arrived in lovely Riga. It is gorgeous. We spent barely 36 hours in the city, but its small enough that we saw quite a bit of it. Its an old city, once a Viking trading center, and in the 1700s, it was the largest city in kingdom of Sweden (!) The city is also distinctive for its large number of German Art Nouveau buildings. They say Riga has been hit hard by the global recession, and I guess you can see that in some aspects. The hotel was insanely cheap ($25 a night for a 4-star hotel with breakfast!) and it seemed like the service was great everywhere. We also had no issues with only speaking English...it was easier than northern Italy to get around as a tourist. I would absolutely go back. Especially since I didn't get to buy any Latvia amber or linens, like all the guidebooks said I should.
We saw the band at the giant Arena Riga on Saturday night. While Stu knew the words to every song, I can honestly say I only knew about 5 that they played in their 2-hour set (and I didn't know a single song from the openers "Fear Factory"...I couldn't even understand what they were singing because of all the heavy-metal yelling and growling. God awful.) But, Metallica does put on a flashy show...flames, fire, smoke, lasers, giant coffins hanging from the rafters, hundreds of giant beach balls for the audience to play with. And the fans were hardcore...the girl next to us was vomiting on the floor one minute, but jumping around in the middle of the crowd on the floor in the next. Super hardcore.
On the boat ride home Sunday afternoon, we managed to get stuck in the middle of a Swedish Line Dancing competition. Every bar and every restaurant on that boat had dozens of Swedes doing crazy choreographed dances to all kinds of music while wearing leather fringe and cowboy hats. Needless to say, we took more Dramamine...another note to the Future Us, Dramamine can offer a blissful escape option when faced with line dancing crowds on large cruise ships. We slept for 12 hours on the way back.
But all in all, Riga was a super trip! My only regret is not getting one of those giant Metallica beach balls to take home.