Vija and I arrived in Riga, and now signficant parts of our new life are set up, as of June 15.
Some pics here:https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150973932369124.451757.592464123&type=1
Here's a synopsis.
Vija and I left Boulder, Colorado for Riga, Latvia May 31, and we arrived June 1 to a temporary apartment on Rainis bulv. The Internet in the flat, however, was mostly down. My phone service: TMobile (which had coverage when I passed through the Balitics in 2008) has no coverage in Latvia now. I established our family doctor June 4 (TBE vaccinations and more to come on June 18). I fixed the Latvian daycare for my daughter (3days/week) June 7. I have a new Latvian sim in phone, but it doesn't work well for out-of-Latvia corresondence (will get another service). I have a new Latvian bank account, established June 13. I have a new personal Internet service, established in my June temporary flat June 13. I have a new apartment ... almost... June 15 (contract to sign hopefully on June 18, will move in on July 1).
I've been solving various issues since my last week in Colorado. So to help explain why the silence, here is a more detailed story. There's alot of difficult stuff in the beginning, but don't worry, it gets better as the story goes on.
Vija and I left Boulder, Colorado for Riga, Latvia May 31, and we arrived June 1 to a temporary apartment on Rainis bulv.
It was a tremendous push to get the Boulder apartment emptied, cleaned and ready for the next tenant, packed for Latvia temporary living, items sold or given away including the car. Brocoli car decided to have another electrical failure on the day that the new owner took it for a test ride. The owner still decided to buy it, but it was a financial hit to both of us: She paid about $1000 for the repair and I received half of what I originally asked for the car. In those days, I didn't gauge well what would fit in the suitcases, and I was so focussed on getting my home packed a little early (the mover was a day early), that I didn't have the head space to prepare the one month stuff well, and at the end I had two extra boxes on top of the three I expected that I would have, to airmail to Latvia. But no time either to mail them on the last days, and my dear friend Anne took over that large task. The estimate by the mover of my stuff across the US didn't make an accurate estimate of my household either, when he saw my manifest of what I came to Boulder from Italy with, and when he walked through my home in April. The mover also unloaded my household onto the dock of the Latvian American Shipping Line, instead of the open shipping container waiting for him, requiring another day of him moving boxes. The situation was misunderunderstandings galore, super stressful for both of us, and at the end, my move across the US cost double what was his original estimate. The estimate by the Latvian American Shipping Line and I however was accurate for the volume to fit into the container so that cost remained the same. I expect to see my household in Riga at the end of June.
I left my Colorado credit union bankcard in machine at Riga Airport June 1 in my excitement of finding one that dispensed euros, instead of lats. I needed to pay for my temporary June apartment with euros, and my only previous exposure to euros on this trip was in the Frankfurt airport, when I needed all of my time between the Lufthansa and Air Baltic flights to move my significant luggage, including an enormous bicycle box, between airport terminals number one and two, with no help from airport personnel. One person told me: "extra personnel are one of the cuts we had to make for the economy". I received my new card from my credit union 12 days after, despite paying $50 for their 'fastest' FedEx several day service, and my Colorado credit union sent the PIN to my old address in Colorado.
It was a cold snap when we arrived, temperatures in the 40s-50sF. The heat was not working in the apartment, nor hot water. On the second day the building maintenance people fixed that, and has been working since, although today, the heater system is making a tremendous noise. Something is up with that, that needs to be fixed.
The shift to this time zone and number of hours was significant. Riga ia nine hours ahead of Boulder, ten hours ahead of my institute in Tucson. The number of hours of darkness at this time of year in Latvia is about three or four. We slept a large part of the first weekend when we arrived, and was late to our first appointment with the family doctor at 10am on Monday morning.
Yes, this June apartment has Internet, but it is a building-wide Internet account with two routers for the building tenants. Which means that when there are many other users, the signal drops to zero. Which was why (I believe), my Internet access was down more than up, and not reliable. For a reliable service, I finally bought a contract from Lattelecom, and I can take it with me to my new apartment. At least the Lattelecom Internet manager speaks English. Which is a situation I'm finding (say, happily), is true so far for the service people I'm needing to communicate with. The throughput of this ordinary service is 10 Mbits/s.
My bicycle that I brought here at great effort wth all of my child carrying accessories, didn't last long in Riga. Apparently one is not supposed to take their eyes off their bicycle in this town, even when it is locked. A few days after I assembled my bicycle and stored it in the ground floor of the building of my daughter's new daycare while I went to use the Internet in a nearby cafe, my bike was stolen. The building that houses my daughter's daycare, is also home to a music museum and music school. My bike was locked to some electrical cables, in protection of the pouring rain outside, and in view of the building 'keeper'. So on that evening, I received an in in-depth view of the Riga police workings (two police stations), while I filed a theft report, which was in reality a criminal investigation, which included another visit to the 'crime scene', where my bike was stolen, and I saw where the electrical cables were cut. Because I needed to wait a long time to have an official translator, I saw some typical workings of the Riga police department in all of that time too. There was a soccer match on TV they were watching. There was a drunken person they'd picked up. There was an Estonian police officer who had travelled all that way to deliver something, and he had the wrong police station to deliver whatever too. He spoke in English first, and the Latvian police acted like they didn't understand, but I knew that was an act.. they could understand more than they pretended. Finally the Estonian fellow used Russian, and the communication went better. Oddly.
Probably my low point in all of the things that have happened in these weeks was the three hours that Vija and I were in the police stations. It turns out the Latvian mobile phone service/sim card that I signed up for was not the best; it's popular for the local people because of free text messages, but not very usable if you correpond outside of Latvia, so my brief usage of my phone resulted in a block for me to make any outgoing calls/text messages on the evening I was sitting in the police stations. Which was also the evening that I had scheduled my first socializing with a great new friend Indra whom I met Sunday at the Riga Zoo, when our children were playing with each other. Indra was at the Freedom Monument, where we arranged to meet, and I was in the police station, unable to contact her to tell her that I was going to be very (very!) late for our meeting. And Vija had already spent one hour scribbling in my notebook, she hadn't eaten for 4 hours by that point and was beginning to get cranky.
Fortunately, my phone allowed incoming calls, so Indra finally called me to inquire where was I, and she also had some knowledge of how long this criminal investigation was going to take. So she high-tailed it to the station with her 2 year old and occupied Vija's attention while the 'criminal investigation' proceeded. Which was a 3 page, two-sided, hand-written
report. The police had a computer in their office (that was what I used to get a picture from Facebook of my bike), but there was nothing electronic in the process of writing their investigation/report.
So in a week or so, my uncle in Cesis, whose address is the only one I currently have that I feel I can use as a a real address, will receive a document from the Riga police department describing the theft. And perhaps in one year or so, he will receive another that describes the result of their 'criminal investigation', which will be nada, I'm almost sure. Indra said that the Riga police department is 'famously corrupt'. At least I was in good company, as the ambassador from Norway had his bicycle stolen in those days from the basement of his consulate house. A friend of mine has set up a recovery fund so we can get another bicycle with child carrier here: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/8K6cb?psid=9e2fc8eefe21433c9669244b919a14e6
Vija likes her new Latvian daycare. There are three teachers and they have about 12 kids there, which includes a 3 year old girl from Spain (so Vija can speak Spanish with her), and a 4 year old boy from the US (so Vija can speak English with him). She is learning Latvian, she is taking her nap there, she is playing with them, singing with them, cooking with them. Next Friday will be the precursor to Midsummer's Day called 'Ligo', where Vija will wear a vija (flower/leaf wreath) in her hair and sing Latvian songs. The cost for 3X week daycare per month, withmeals (breakfast, lunch, two snacks) is about $275/mo. You can see now some of the drivers that convinced me to move here.
There are 3 parks with good playgrounds for children within 10 minutes walking of my June apartment, where Vija and I go every day. Two of the parks have additionally, a variety of 'bouncy' things: bounce house, bounce slide, trampolines, where you must pay (about $2 for 15 min), but that's enough time to get her bounciness out. Other places in the area have elaborate playgrounds too: The Riga Zoo, for example. But the best play area by far is the "Dzintari" Children Forest Park in Jurmala. A 30 minute trainride (which was about $3 rt) to the Jurmala seaside from Riga. The Forest park is about a 20 min walk from the train platform. It fills a birch and pine forest with roller blading trails, a skateboard park, a bicycle park, and then a playground with most elaborate climbing structures and some of the coolest children's toys I've ever seen. Which is free, and open all year round.
This web page gives more places in the immediate vicinity that are great for kids: http://www.concordia.lv/eng/jurmala/fun-for-children.php
Latvia is a country where one can afford to eat out, and so Vija's having the education for restaurants that I didn't have the time or money to give her in Boulder. She tries something new on every meal, so her feeding is successful. She likes Riga's Old Town, and I don't know why, because there are not balloon men in Old Town. But there are musicians and alot of elegantly-dressed people. Old Town is surprisingly not crowded either, at least at this time of year.
There are three Apple product stores within 10 minutes walk of my June apartment, and I see people using Macs (and iPads) more than Windows machines in the Wifi cafes here. Interestingly.
I found my favorite Masala loose Chai tea.
The food is super yummy, especially the vegetables and fruit and dairy products. I will be able to sample them better when I am in my new flat and have close proximity to the markets. Presently the only reasonably good market is a 30 min walk, bus ride away.
My Latvian passport gave me a personal code too,that everyone uses for their residence status, so I don't think that I will need to do anything to establish my residence. When I can use my new apartment as my declared address July 1, then I will begin the paperwork for Vija's Latvian citizenship (to be dual Latvian/US, like me).
I've begun to learn the bus / tram/ trolly system, and know enough of the city street names to be experimental with getting on buses going in the general direction of where I want to go and getting off not too far from I want to be. I've had some oopses going completely in the wrong direction, but a hop on the opposite direction bus straightened that out. I've now some experience with the trains from the Riga train station with a short trip to the seaside Jurmala too.
I made a new friend, Indra, mother of 2 year old Max, while our children were playing with each other at the Riga Zoo. She is a Latvian business student living in Riga for this summer, but living usually in Copenhagen, married to a French hydraulics engineer. Meeting the parents of Vija's daycare playmates and Vija's playground playmates seems pretty easy, although I haven't made as signficant of a friend as Indra, at this time. It's obvious to me that Vija is my ticket to establishing a social life and support system here.
On June 15, I visited my first Riga apartment, and I decided to take it. I will sign the contract on June 18. We are wrangling over the two weeks in June that it will be empty, on top of the 3 months of rent initially (first, last, deposit) that they request and I hear is typical? (but I'm not sure). I hope things don't go awry. Of the size of the apartment, it will be a squeeze for me, to fit in a 100 sq m (1000 sq ft) place, because in reality, the size is exactly as my previous, but now I won't have the garage space for storage any more, plus I'll need to fit in what was formerly in my work office, at home. But in my household office supplies on the ship is a PDF scanner, that will be the perfect tool to reduce my household. Of the condition of the apartment, is is basic, a little better than my Frascati apartment in what it provides, and it does meet most of my basics, so that's enough.
The overwhelming factor in favor of this apartment is that it will be a dream location for Vija. There is an ENORMOUS park, right outside of the apartment courtyard with a playground in the corner of the park that I can see half from my balcony. One can reasonably imagine in a couple of years when she is a little bigger that I can watch her from my balcony. The apartment looks over the whole park, so it's quiet, with windows on one full side of the apartment (living room + one of the bedrooms), where is the balcony. The balcony is covered with a kind of heavy clear thick plastic, so it's not fully enclosed like a 'garden-window', but almost. Enough to store some things like equipment and bicycles. When I told the realtors and property manager that my daughter asked me yesterday morning "if I can find a tree for her to climb", they laughed, because from the balcony, all you see are trees. A hundred. Vija can step out the back gate of the apartment courtyard, go through one more fence and there she is, in her own park / trees / play structures / playground.
Here are a few pictures I found. I took more pictures when I returned that evening and put them at Facebook. http://www.vietas.lv/eng/index.php?p=2&id=10150&im=12203
Another description of the park, that will be our back yard. The web page is part of a pretty good Latvian tourist site. http://www.latvia.travel/en/ziedondarzs
Of the neighborhood of the new apartment: I struck gold. I didn't expect the neighborhood to be .... as superb as it is for families, although the bus stop: Bērnu Pasaule = "Children's World", where we got off, should have clued me in. In a 2 square block region (even considering that Riga has large city blocks), there are three food markets, 3 toy stores (one with 3 stories), 2 children's clothing and shoes stores, and at least one family restaurant. a doctor's office. Kids and families and babies in strollers everywhere. I found a number of repair shops from auto repair, clothing (sewing) repair and computer repair, several banks, including my new one, and two organic/health food stores ... small, but I found my German muesli, and I found a sheep salami that looked interesting that I'm going to try too. The buildings I saw run the range from wooden, brick, art nouveau. They are graffiti-laden, messy, dirty, complicated.. let's say I doubt that I will ever get bored exploring the environment.
Other things in favor of the apartment is that there are very good neighbors (the property manager told me), a family of five kids in the apartment below, a Latvian owner (that should make my dad happy), there is an underground parking space for if/when I get a car too for no extra cost (I could store some things in that space, but it's less secure, so I need to think about that.) There is a security code to get into the apartment area (I am guessing about 30 apartments?). I can use the apartment very soon as a declared address for my home and home-office. It has all of the basics I need for the home with a little bit of closet space, but I will need to buy a few more storage closets for the pantry and clothes, but I know all about that from my previous homes in Europe. The price is also excellent for the Center of Riga: 500 Lats/mo (=717 euros, $900). It is still a shock for the upfront costs, however, but I vaguely remember paying something like first/last/deposit for my first apartment in Germany.
This week I expect to sign a rental contract, get a better mobile / cell phone service, have a physical (and Vija too) exam by our new family doctor, finish the shots for our TBE vaccination, so we'll be 100% protected against tick-borne encephalitis and go into the forest with less worry and especially for me to be working in a more regular way to get myself back on a financial track. It was a horrenous push to get here, especially with costs that ballooned out of control, but those initial costs are almost finished, with the parts that I need to set up our new life almost finished, I expect improvements in our lives in leaps and bounds.