A new running challenge

Recently, I fell for a pretty simple trick, played by my friend Frank H. Somehow he figured out that I’m a sucker for challenges, so he challenged me to run a half marathon together next year September April (I really initially thought he meant September, but, it turns out to be April!). As my current running distance varies between 3.5 K on a bad day and 8 K on a very good day, it seems quite challenging to go for a slightly over 21 K distance. But, I believe I can make it, because I have recently become re-addicted to running, after a bit of a lazy period and my injury last year. So, I’m getting out there about three times a week, to slowly build stamina, muscle and distance.

I’ve mostly been into sports in my life. I’ve played football and basketball when I was young, and spent many years playing squash with friends later in life. But moving to different cities, and later even different countries, makes it sometimes hard to engage in these type of sports. That’s one reason I like running: you only need some running clothes and shoes, and you can start. Wherever you are. An added benefit is that it is a great way to clear your mind. It’s just you and your route. Maybe a bit of music to keep you company. It’s even relatively easy to bring your exercise with you on business trip or holiday.

Anyway, I’m getting back out there now, and back in shape. And more and more addicted. Which is good, because this challenge I fell for is now set. I have to be able to run a half marathon by September April next year. Which means racking up some kilometers the coming months. As I said in a post about running last year, I need a challenge to be motivated. This is a good one. Thanks, Frank.

Israel, maybe a normal country for holidays

Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel

Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel

Some people might think twice about planning a holiday to a country that is at the heart of so much conflict, in a region that regularly features in global headlines. On the other hand, there are view countries that have so many historical and religious sites to visit, nice cities, great landscapes and wonderful weather. Not to mention the lowest place on earth, where you can float on water. On top of that, it is a reasonable non-stop flight away from where we live. So, we decided to have Israel as our holiday destination this year.

One thing that struck me was the fact that many of the Israelis we met were very eager to hear that we, the tourists, like the country. Helpful and generally friendly, the all welcomed us to the country, and if we had a conversation, they loved to hear that we thought it a great country for holiday, and almost without exception they asked us to tell our friends. They want the world to know that, despite the global headlines and the troubles, Israel is actually a normal country. Well, it is. And… it isn’t.

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Foreign statues stand proudly around Riga

One of the great things about living in a country other than the one you grew up in, is that you look at things differently, and start noting things you normally wouldn’t think twice about. Being immersed in a different culture does that to you, you look for the differences and find them, or similarities. In The Hague, the city I lived in for most (still more than half) of my life, I couldn’t tell you which statues in the public space were donations from foreign governments. Here in Riga, I run into some of them on a daily basis.

One that I have shared earlier is the statue of the bicycle, donated to Riga by the city of Amsterdam and the Dutch embassy in Latvia.

Amsterdam-to-Riga-bike

A bike donated to Riga by the Dutch

Another one is the statue of Mirzo Ulugbeg, a scientist, ruler and grandson of conqueror Timur. The statue was donated by Uzbekistan, and stands proudly in a hidden corner of Kronvalda Parks.

Statue of Ulug Beg

Statue of Ulug Beg in Kronvalda Parks

In the same park stands a pagoda that was donated by China to the city of Riga to commemorate its 800th anniversary. The pagoda is used intensively. Sometimes by people taking cover from the rain, but in the evenings mostly by youth hanging out in the park at night, and on quiet evenings by young couples as a romantic spot. It looks used, but somehow I think that has its charms: the pagoda is not just another statue, but it is something that has a function for locals.

Chinese pagoda

Chinese pagoda in Kronvalda Parks

Also interesting is a clock. The most famous clock in town is of course the Laima clock, but this one has a maybe even more visible place on the corner of two busy streets and close to the national museum of art. It was a gift from the city of Kobe in Japan.

Kobe Clock

Kobe Clock, but where's the beef

These are only a few of gifts from foreign governments (or cities) on display in the public space. If you know of more, feel free to share in the comments. Obviously, there are more gifts from foreign dignitaries, presented at official state visits. These are on display in the recently opened Museum of Foreign Art on Doma Laukums.