The Scamp and Latvia

I made a mistake when I was in Helsinki….I didn’t have a plan. I thought I was part of a tour group, when really the tour company provided an hour long tour around the city and then dropped us off in the shopping district for 8 hours. I did not have a map or really any direction, and while I had a Lonely Planet guidebook, it was not much help.

I decided that my time in Riga would not be like that. I spent the four hour bus ride reading about some of the things that I wanted to see, and booked a hotel in the center of the action. I grabbed a good map from the front desk and used Google maps to make a list of how to get to each of the places. I got into Riga around dinner time, and was absolutely knackered from the whirlwind few days, so after a quick bite to eat, I took advantage of the really nice hotel bathtub and my copy of the Bell Jar. I was asleep pretty early and woke up the next morning excited to start the day.

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There was really only one thing that was on my list of place to see in Riga: the only synagogue in the city. After Riga was occupied by the Nazis, all the synagogues in the city were burnt down on July 4, 1941. The Peitav Shul was the only synagogue in Riga to escape the common fate because it was located in the Old Town and there was a risk that the fire would spread to nearby buildings. During the war the synagogue was used as a warehouse. After the war it was learned that the eastern wall of the synagogue, where the bookcase with Torah scrolls (Aron Kodesh) was located, had been concealed. The synagogue did not disappoint. It was absolutely breathtaking. The rabbi let me in and allowed me 30 minutes alone in the majestic space.

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In all honesty, I could devote an entire post to it. I felt peaceful in there, and felt a small connection with family who I will never get to meet, but may have gone there. Latvia was never on my radar as a place to visit, but when my aunt told us that that was where our family was from, it became a place of interest for me.

In addition to the synagogue, I saw all of the tourist attractions. By far my favorite was the Cat House. The legend has it that the wealthy tradesman who commissioned the building was refused membership of the Riga Tradesmen’s Guild, mostly just called the Great Guild. The central element of both versions is the anecdote that seeking retribution the tradesman had two copper statues of angry-looking cats with arched backs and raised tails placed on the turret rooftops with their tails turned towards the house of the Great Guild, situated across the street.

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I could live in a house like that. The Riga Cat is also somewhat famous.

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I also visited the oldest set of houses in Riga, as well as the Freedom Monument and a beautiful Russian Orthodox cathedral.

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I took a hundred pictures. I walked around for hours admiring the views, and because I had a tourist friendly map and a plan, fell in love with the city. It reminded me a lot of my first few days in Scotland. I had a map, and my ipod. I wasn’t worried about getting lost, and I was happy to be on an adventure. I put on some of my favorite playlists and allowed myself to really get a feel for the city. I ended the day with pelmeni, only the most delicious dumplings ever, and then a Skype chat with some of my favorite ladies from Scotland. All in all, it was a great little excursion and just what I needed to curb my wanderlust for a bit.

The Scamp in Helsinki

I will never make fun of my mom and her love for guided tour vacations again. I like to go on solo adventures, and I love exploring new places, but exploring a place where I don’t speak the language and the map doesn’t exactly make sense does not lend itself to a good day of sightseeing.

I went on a mini guided bus tour of the city, but then had a whole day to myself to wander around alone. The day started off with a cruise from Tallinn to Helsinki

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I did not take this photo. My butt was on a boat at 7 am and the sun was not out yet. This is what the boat looks like though.

I spent the day wandering through the maze of shopping centers and looking at the beautiful architecture. I had a really hard time reading the map, so I made a few circles before I was able to find some of the museums.

The only problem was that most of them are closed on Mondays.

opps.

I was able to see some of the wonderful architecture

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My favorite part of the day in Helsinki was visiting The Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Rock Church) is a thrilling work of modern architecture in Helsinki. Completed in 1969, it is built entirely underground and has a ceiling made of copper wire. According to Sacred Destinations:

The Temppeliaukio Kirkko was designed by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. Construction began in 1968 and was finished a year later in 1969. The architects chose a rocky outcrop rising about 40 feet above street level, and blasted out the walls from the inside.

The Temppeliaukio is now most commonly known by its English name, the Rock Church or Church in the Rock. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Helsinki and frequently full of visitors. 

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The church was beautiful. It was peaceful and quiet, and surprisingly warm inside. Chicken and I sat among the other tourists and said a quick prayer before we moved on for the day. I would have stayed there a lot longer if I knew I wasn’t going to be able to read a map.

It is funny to me that I got lost in Scotland a lot that first month. Not once did it bother me. I had my ipod and a playlist of good music and I would laugh at myself and the things I stumbled on accidentally.  That was not quite the case here. I was a little discouraged that the map let me down, and not enough people understood English well enough to help me. After awhile, I was tired of wandering alone, and wished I had someone there to take funny pictures with, and someone who would help me pose chicken in front of all the landmarks.

I’m now in Latvia, and I am going to try and break the cycle and read a map in Latvian tomorrow. I have a Lonely Planet guide books, a map of the city, and a mission to locate a Jewish Synagogue that was only spared during WWII because of how close it was to Old Town and where the Nazis were occupying. Lonely Planet also suggests I go on an art walk, which I think sounds like a great idea. If I had enough time, I would have planned a trip to the national park outside the city to tour the castles, and bungee jump from a cable car (don’t worry mom, there is not enough time for that to happen).

I’m excited for a scamp around the place of my mother’s people, and a chance to eat some very yummy pelmeni.

A Scamp and the Breakfast club

Today I got to introduce one of my favorite people here to the movie The Breakfast Club. She had never seen it, and the movie was referenced in another movie that we watched not too long ago, so I felt that it was my duty to introduce her the magic that is a Brat Pack film. She of course loved the movie, and we laughed at how American it is in terms of representations of high school students. One of the reasons that I love this movie is the famous dance scene. That scene has been recreated many times, including a fan challenge for a band I really enjoy. Here are two of my favorite versions:

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I always have the urge to make my own version…at least until I remember that I suffer from Jewish White Girl Rhythm and no one wants to see me dance.

The movie made me think of my breakfast club. Last semester my breakfast club was me and Adam Carolla. That was on days that I managed to wake up on time for breakfast. I’d eat alone most times because my friends here ate early so they could get to class and to keep the strict study/research schedule. This semester it started out the same way, but once classes were over and people no longer had classes to get to, they started eating breakfast later. I have not eaten breakfast alone in weeks, and as much as I love Adam Carolla, it is a lot nicer to wake up and get going in the morning with my little breakfast club. We couldn’t be more different, no two of us are from the same country, and as of right now, I am the only person whose native language is English. I enjoy it. I get to tease one about his love/addiction to coffee, the amount of sugar that one consumes in the course of a breakfast (6 packets of sugar in his milk every morning, 3 in his coffee, and sometimes 3 with his butter and toast…you know who you are….try eating some fruit once in awhile instead of all of that sugar), and one about trying to eat healthy even though the only option is tasteless oatmeal.

There is a scene in the movie when one of the characters asks what will happen when they go back to school on Monday. He wants to know if they will continue to be friends outside of the library. I sometimes wonder that about my little breakfast club.  Will we still be friends when we all split up? I know that I will still talk and be friends with my favorite French girl, but we have been friends since the first day we moved into Lee House, but we didn’t really start hanging out with the rest of the 4th floor until a few weeks ago. Sometimes we would hang out with them after dinner and watch them play ping pong, but now we all have breakfast and dinner together and hang out and play ping pong (okay, I just sit and trash talk, but I watch everyone else play). I like it. The conversations are never dull, and hanging out with them is way better than sitting in my room watching bad talk shows (someone put every episode of Dr. Phil on Youtube….). I hope that once I return home I will still be able to keep in contact with them, and maybe even see them again at some point in time. I wouldn’t mind visiting Mexico, or Canada, France or India.

Luckily in the age of Facebook and Skype keeping in contact will be easy, but I also know it will take a little bit of work on my part. Good thing I am an excellent pen pal.

A Scamp and the Perfect Wednesday Night

The recipe for success?

The Princess Bride

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Junk Food

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Some of my favorite people

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Perfect Wednesday night.

I am now going to swallow a whole bunch of Tums to help settle my stomach after ingesting so much popcorn, Skittles, Oreos, chips and chocolate. My inner fat kid loved all of the junk food (although my digestive system might not love it in a few days). The rest of me loved a relaxing evening watching a movie I love with people I love.

I finally met with the director of my program and got the paperwork in, and tomorrow I have the first meeting with my supervisor. I no longer feel stressed about the meeting. The director was super nice to me. He let me invade his office for a chat, talked to me about my project, and gave me some good suggestions on research to do. He also assured me that he would always be available and I could email him with questions, concerns, and any updates on life. I’m sure the meeting tomorrow promises to be interesting, but I at least feel a lot better about the fact that my first meeting is only 9 days before I leave.