Boaking in Latvia: Way back in 2007

Oh Riga, you really don’t inspire any love affairs do you? Back in 2007 I first visited Riga, the Latvian capital city during the same year that I started this blog. I didn’t write much about it before, nor did I feel inspired to. A few mis-haps on my first visit had this place way down on my pecking order of world cities. In fact probably only the Venezuelan hat trick of Caracas, San Cristobal and San Antonio del Tachira would fall below Riga if I ever compiled a league table of cities I’ve been to. No love lost for Riga, I didn’t have any in the first place. But why?

Boaking in Latvia: Way back in 2007

Boaking in Latvia: Way back in 2007

To be honest Riga was doomed before I even landed in the airport. It all started with corrupt police. A few of my friends had arrived earlier than me in Riga ready for Northern Ireland’s Euro 2008 qualifier with Latvia. A match to be held on the Saturday evening. I booked my flights with Ryanair, roomed with Tim Beattie and was looking forward to the match, some beers and sightseeing the city.

Tim and I in Riga, Latvia, 2007

Tim and I in Riga, Latvia, 2007

The night before we landed, Tim and I were out for a beer in London when we heard news of Northern Ireland fans being arrested by the police, forced to pay bribes and being treated badly. Hardly the welcome you need to a new country is it? Now of course there are two sides here – perhaps some of the Northern Ireland fans had behaved badly and deserved to be arrested. But we heard of people being fined for walking on the grass. It’s all true. Soviet style wannabe cops using any excuse to arrest a Northern Ireland football fan. I was only there for the football and to enjoy a nice country, I thought.

On the flight to Riga with Tim in 2007

On the flight to Riga with Tim in 2007

Arrival at the airport and rude cops made me change lines in the passport queue, complained that I was wearing a party wig/hat on the flight and walk to immigration. I got rude stares and gestures, but I continued regardless and happy. Ready to see the city. Tim and I shared a taxi with two others to our hotel – we wanted to make the most of the time.

Backpacking in Riga, Latvia. Suffering from food poisoning and not impressed at all!

Backpacking in Riga, Latvia. Suffering from food poisoning and not impressed at all!

We checked in and went straight out to meet the others. Across the bridge to the Old Town and I thought it looked quite charming. I had been in Minsk, Moscow and Warsaw earlier in the same year and expected Riga to sit nicely beside my happy memories. After crossing the bridge we met David Watson and I was introduced to this character called “Bangor Boy” – Michael Lewis a fellow Northern Ireland fan who I have bumped into a load of times since. This was on a corner near the National Theatre.

"Bangor Boy corner" by the theatre

“Bangor Boy corner” by the theatre

Again, all going well and we get to a pub called “Stella Pub” to join the lads for drinking, some food and singing.

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Stella Pub, Riga, Latvia

 

More reports of arrests come in, so we decide to stay low profile, I try the beer which is called and it tastes foul. I decide to have a burger with it, as others do. The burger gives me indigestion so I wash it down with more horrible beer. I couldn’t believe it when I found the burger photo on my Facebook page (I’ve since lost all my travel photos up until 2009).

I was shocked to find this photo - this is the burger that made me boke

I was shocked to find this photo – this is the burger that made me boke

We head to the football stadium to find that our manager, Nigel Worthington in his second match in charge has dropped Stephen Craigan from the first 11 for seemingly no reason. We are playing 4 defenders in the wrong positions. One of them, Chris Baird of Fulham, puts the ball into his own net in the second half and we lose 1-0 to Latvia.

Losing 1-0 to Latvia

Losing 1-0 to Latvia

With Tim in the stadium

With Tim in the stadium

We were big favourites going into the match and we looked like hopefuls to qualify for Euro 2008 at the time. After the match we have some consolation beers and I buy a sandwich from a petrol station.

Freedom Monument, Riga, Latvia

Freedom Monument, Riga, Latvia

I’d already puked up from the burger earlier. The sandwich then gave me food poisoning. I had never been like this before – I was glad of the private twin room with Tim as I made use of that toilet. I was sick the entire evening. Not my normal self at all. I wasted my time in Latvia, completely. It was all so depressing.

My Latvian Lats - 2007

My Latvian Lats – 2007

The lads were downstairs in the hotel bar singing songs and drinking and I wasn’t with them – too sick to join in. Besides we had lost and I was in no mood for a party. Around 9.30 pm Tim rushes into the room with a glimmer of hope “It’s OK Jonny – Spain only drew 1-1 with Iceland”. It didn’t perk me up at all – 1 point was better than our none and now with Iceland up next for us – they were high in confidence. I’d rather Spain had won in retrospect and walked away with the group leaving us to contest with Sweden and Denmark for second.

My match ticket for Latvia v. Northern Ireland

My match ticket for Latvia v. Northern Ireland

In the middle of the night, Gavin, Skin, Michael, Tim and Colin break into my room singing Tony Kane songs and as they jump the bed I wake up, still feeling sick and I jump into a chorus of “We’re not Brazil We’re Northern Ireland”. Lights go out.

Down and out in Latvia

Down and out in Latvia

Next morning Tim and I do a few of the quick sights of the city but in reality I was rough as hell still from the double food poisoning. That was September 2007 by the way.

Sightseeing in Latvia with food poisoning

Sightseeing in Latvia with food poisoning

There will be a follow up to this as I returned to Latvia in January 2015 to see if Riga had changed and hopefully to not get food poisoning…

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About Jonny Blair

I'm Jonny Blair, a travelling Northern Irishman. Since leaving my hometown a decade ago I have managed to visit over 100 countries and over 600 towns or cities across all 7 continents. Along the way I have worked in countless jobs! Join my journey on Don't Stop Living - a lifestyle of travel as I provide you with tips and inspiration to live your travel dreams! Safe travels! Follow me on Jonny Blair Google Plus
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3 Responses to Boaking in Latvia: Way back in 2007

  1. Megan says:

    ohhh i hope riga changed for you the next time around! i have been there quite a few times and it is one of my favorite places, but DEFINITELY a place you have to explore beyond old town and certain areas to grasp a feel for. my first time there i hated it. my second time (I was there a few weeks awaiting a belarusian visa) i grew to love it.

    cant wait to read your next post about it!
    Megan recently posted…Learning About Armenia Through Wine in AreniMy Profile

  2. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi Megan, thanks for the comment and trying to convert me to enjoy Latvia! I’m not really a fan of Latvia and it will be hard to change that opinion – it’s more the atmosphere and the people, however Lithuania and Estonia were great. I will probably have one more article on Riga to come though, but not quite as enthusiastic about it as you. Belarus is a cool spot though and definitely off the wall – I toured Bobruisk and Minsk years ago so enjoy it – it’s really cheap there. Safe travels, Jonny

  3. Pingback: Backpacking in the Former Soviet Union: My Top 20 Moments So Far - Don't Stop Living

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