We drove back to the city to rendezvous with our Latvian guide for the afternoon who was going to take us on a walking tour of the city. We had no idea when we started the tour that this experience was designed as a severe endurance test based on the welcome to the Soviet Army initiation week for new recruits.
She was a lovely woman, and rightfully very proud of her city but she hadn’t fully made the transition out of the ‘do as you are told’ communist era and she pushed us through the city at a punishing pace, even at one time refusing a perfectly reasonable request to stop for a just a brief moment to purchase cold drinks .
We saw all of the major tourist sites including the House of the Blackheads where we were chastised for buying postcards from a street vendor because she considered them too expensive; the Cathedral, where we took a ride to the top of the tower and marvelled at the view over the city; the house of the Black Cats with its graceful feline art nouveau statues; and the city main square with an inviting selection of pavement cafés where sadly we were not permitted to stay and sample the wares. After an exhausting afternoon we eventually said a relieved goodbye to Rosa Kleb and to celebrate our liberation looked for a bar to sit and recover from the ordeal but sadly the weather had changed very quickly and some threatening black clouds were rolling in and it was starting to rain.
We sheltered for a time while we had a tedious deliberation about transport back to our respective hotels and dining arrangements for later in the evening. I knew that there was going to be trouble when Alona revealed her plans for a table dancing restaurant and Kim’s jaw dropped like a brick. There was only one thing to do, go into the canvas topped open air bar and have a drink, which we did while the others continued their debate about proposed evening activities.
After a while we were conscious that we were left alone and it appeared (to our relief) that we had been forgotten and they had all made their way back to their hotels without us. No such luck. After a while David came back to find us and we were reunited with the Hotel Albert contingent. I could tell that Kim was getting somewhat irritated and another unnecessary discussion about taxi passenger arrangements didn’t help matters or improve her humour so I was extremely pleased to get back to the hotel without a major incident.
It didn’t take long for Kim to decide that she wasn’t going to the table dancing restaurant and I wasn’t especially keen either, but this put me in an awful dilemma. I wanted to stay with her but as tour leader felt obliged to meet up with the others. We washed and changed and met in the bar and I hoped that she might change her mind, but she did a Margaret Thatcher and refused to turn and so, reassured that she was comfortable about being left alone for the evening I took a taxi into the city and joined the others.
Kim had displayed better judgement than me because the place was awful – loud, cheap and with young girls employed as female enticement to dance in the window in bikini tops and draw in the leering stag parties. This was sexual exploitation and I didn’t like it, they were roughly the same age as my own daughter and it occurred to me that I would hate it if they were my children and I was somewhat ashamed to be there. I ordered my meal and paid for it but left before it arrived and I walked back swiftly to the Hotel.
About half way back I realised that I wasn’t really sure where I was going and although I knew that I was close I felt a little uneasy in the heavy shadows of the buildings where I imagined danger to be lurking in every suspicious corner and I decided to complete the journey by taxi so located one and asked for a price. If I was anxious about being mugged on the street I should have been more bothered about the taxi driver:
“How much to the Hotel Albert? I enquired “5 Lats” “5 Lats, that’s ridiculous, it’s less than half a mile, I’ll give you 2” “5 Lats” I decided not to argue and got in but then tried again: “Look, I’ll pay you 2 Lats, that’s fair” “5 Lats” “That’s ridiculous!” And then I realised why I would not get the fare for 2 Lats and also had it confirmed for me just what sort of hotel I was staying at: “If you can afford hanky panky at the Albert you can afford 5 Lats for a taxi!”
Actually, they weren’t quite the exact words that he used to express his suspicions about my motives but feel free to work them out for yourselves. I indignantly pleaded my innocence and when we arrived I paid up and called him a robber, he laughed out loud as though in total agreement with the total accuracy of my character assessment and drove off pocketing the result of his sting. Actually the journey was only about two hundred metres so at the official basic rate of 1.5 Lats and .5 Lats per kilometre he made a handsome profit on that trip of about 215%!