Autumn in Riga: first snow of the season

It’s October 26, today. Autumn is in full swing, and some trees are trying hard to hold on to their leaves. But winter is coming to Latvia, and quick. The first signs arrived today. When we woke up and looked out the window, we saw the first snow. Time for a first snow of the season post.

Snow in the morning, this is what we woke up to

Snow in the morning, this is what we woke up to

That was only the beginning. There was more snow in the morning, in what to some seemed a blizzard. Enough snow fell for the first snowmen to come out of hiding.

Snow men came out of hiding

Snow men came out of hiding

Of course, we went for a walk, and B made his first snow tracks of the season.

B making tracks

B making tracks

In Viesturdarzs park, the autumn colours and snow created a beautiful landscape.

The colours of autumn and winter in Viesturdarzs

The colours of autumn and winter in Viesturdarzs

Trees and statues all got a new top-coat, like this statue of big cats playing.

Pumas or tigers? In any case: a fresh white coat

Pumas or tigers? In any case: a fresh white coat

Even our beloved dog run has turned white.

Our Sunu Pastaigas Laukums (dog run) turned white

Our Sunu Pastaigas Laukums (dog run) turned white

One more photo from Viesturdarzs, with the Triumph Arch.

And one more look at Viesturdarzs park

And one more look at Viesturdarzs park

Three honoured men of Riga

Map of the statues and streets honouring Kalpaks, Blaumanis and Rainis

Map of the statues and streets honouring Kalpaks, Blaumanis and Rainis

Within in the distance of only a slightly extended dogwalk from our home, there are three Latvian men honoured with a street being named after them, and a statue. Now, this should not be surprising in the capital of a country. And national heroes are a great subject. But what actually did surprise me, is that in all three cases, the locations of streets and statues do not coincide. Rainis, Kalpaks and Blaumanis have statues that are not placed on the boulevards and streets that carry their names: Raina Boulevard, Kalpaka Boulevard and Blaumana Street. I just think that’s interesting. Just as I think it’s interesting that two of these men (Rainis and Blaumanis) are poets/writers. Good people to have as national heroes.

Statue of Blaumanis in Bastejkalns park

Statue of Blaumanis in Bastejkalns park

The statue of Rainis in Esplanade park

The statue of Rainis in Esplanade park

Statue of Kalpaks, in Esplanade park

Statue of Kalpaks, in Esplanade park

Riga Resto Review: 3 Pavaru, lost in potential

Recently we went to the 3 Pavaru restaurant for the second time. A relative newcomer to the Riga restaurant scene, it has quickly gained quite a reputation. When I walked in to make the first reservation, I have to say I liked what I saw. It’s a spacious, modern-looking restaurant, that has a great atmosphere for an evening out. On our first visit, the restaurant was almost fully booked, so we took places at the bar that overlooks the plating are of the kitchen. Great seats for foodies, because you literally have a look in the kitchen.

Artful display of tasty dips and sauces for bread

Artful display of tasty dips and sauces for bread

The restaurant serves daily fresh meals, which means there is no printed menu, but the staff tell you what’s on offer that day. And on both occasions, the offer was good. After the orders are taken, as in many restaurants, you get served a bit of bread. However, at the 3 Pavaru restaurant, this is something special. On baking paper place-mats they make a small art work of different dips and sauces. They taste and look wonderful. For me, it’s a clear sign of the influence of chef Martins Sirmais, who is one of the 3 chefs from who the name of the restaurant is derived (3 Pavaru means 3 chefs in Latvian).

Veal cheek: great dish, high quality food, addition of human hair not necessary

Veal cheek: great dish, high quality food, addition of human hair not necessary

The food is generally very well prepared and the tastes are very well combined. We tried different starters (Latvian asparagus, burrata, foie gras), and all were definitely worth coming back for. Also the main courses were super, especially the veal cheeks.

Unequality on the plate
So far, so good, for this restaurant. But there is a catch. As said, during our first visit we had a good view of how food was assembled on the plates. Especially when the staff is working on large orders, the plating is inconsistent. Portions vary in size and not all get an equal amount of the best parts of the food. A good example is the asparagus starter. We saw them plate the green and white stalks on them. The thing with asparagus is: green ones have a strong flavour, and taste almost always the same, no matter where they’re from. The white ones are more special. They have a more delicate taste, and quality depends greatly on where they are grown. To me, the best are German and Dutch. The Latvian asparagus are also good. In any case, when they are in season, the ones that make it really special, are good quality white ones. So what you’d expect, is that the plates get at least all the same amount of white asparagus, and get topped off with the green ones. Not in this restaurant. The asparagus were, in a clear disregard of this quality product, randomly put on plates, with the last two plates being assembled clearly getting less than the other plates. Now, if you serve this to different tables, and make sure the portions at one table are similar, you might get away with it. But if you serve the plates that got the least attention and love to the people who can see what you’re doing, something is wrong with your quality and service standards.

Asparagus plate one: 3 green asparagus and at least 5 white ones

Asparagus plate one: 3 green asparagus and at least 5 white ones

Asparagus plate 2: 3,5 green asparagus, 1 whole white one, and 3 bottom-end small chunks of white ones

Asparagus plate 2: 3,5 green asparagus, 1 whole white one, and 3 bottom-end small chunks of white ones

Customers can be difficult people
What makes it even worse, is that the service in this restaurant is great, until you have a question or a complaint as a customer. Getting served those starters, of course I mentioned something about it to the waitress. Her response was one of looking at my puzzled and trying to get away as quickly as possible, without a serious reply to my question other than some mumbling. Now I understand that complaining customers are a pain, but not addressing the issue at hand at all, and just walking away is simply wrong. This could have been a solitary example of someone having a bad day. And I was ready to forget about this, because the food tastes so good. However, on our second visit, something similar happened. This time it was a bit more serious, as I found a human hair in my veal cheeks. Again, the food tasted good, and clearly had seen enough heat to kill any bad bacteria that could have been holding on to that hair, so I did not let it ruin my meal. But I put the hair aside on my plate, and when it was taken away, I pointed the waiter to it. No response. When our other waiter later came to ask if everything had been fine and if we wanted some desert, I mentioned the hair to him. He was shocked, called it uncomfortable, said he hoped it hadn’t ruined my appetite and… left it at that. No apologies. No, what would happen in a restaurant that cares about service, quality and customers, offering of a free coffee. Nothing.

Better service will make this restaurant worth a visit
The three chefs at restaurant 3 Pavaru clearly know what and how to cook, but if they keep service at this level, I don’t think it will ever be the success their cooking deserves. And as long as service is not improved, you’re better of at some of the other restaurants in Riga that have great food and great service.

Restaurant 3 Pavaru
Torna iela 4
reservations: +371 20370537
3pavari.lv

The human side of things, TEDxChange live in Riga

Watching the TEDxChange live stream in Riga

Watching the TEDxChange live stream in Riga

Sometimes you meet people that surprise you. At least, if you’re open to it. Last Thursday, at the livestream viewing event of TEDxChange in Riga, we were forced a bit to be open. The event started with a short session of speed-networking: 2 minutes of chat with a stranger focused on a question, then change and a new question. Although the idea of speed-networking, or speed dating is not really new, it was the first time I was involved in a thing like that. And I liked it. Without this session, I would have not know life-coach Roland, who gets inspired by people, or Atis, who tested the lessons of Derek Sivers and the Dancing Guy on how to start a movement leadership lessons from the dancing guy. And Daniels, who recently spent some days in Istanbul, loved it and realized that one thing he still believed in was himself. Which, mind you, is a powerful notion. Because if you don’t believe in yourself, who else is going to have faith in you?

So, the start of the TEDxChange live viewing event was great. And then, on screen, we saw a familiar face: Chris Anderson of TED, live on a stage in Berlin. A bit of a special moment, considering the fact that the event was watched live in almost 200 places around the world. In settings like the one we were part of.

Listen to the people
I watched three of the talks, and found some common themes. The first one was by Jeff Chapin, who shared his experience of improving sanitation in Cambodia, by using human centered design principles. His talk was eye-opening, and reminded me a lot of the sanitation challenge on OpenIDEO. One of the things he highlighted, was that if you are looking to solve an issue, it is imperative to listen to the people whose issue you want to solve. Listen to their requirements, understand their habits and thoughts, their culture.

The third talk had a similar thought, but presented in a different way. Theo Sowa introduced several wonderful African women to the world, because she had experienced that in many conferences and projects, people were talking about the issues of Africa and African women, without including them into the conversation. There are a few African women that are looked to when it comes to this, but, as Theo Sowa pointed out, it’s hardly fair to put the responsibility for a continent on the shoulders of only six women. Especially when there are so many.

The power of the people
The second talk of the evening might have sounded a bit dissonant in this. Sven Giegold discussed renewable energy and how protest against nuclear power in Germany has turned into a movement that led to regulations like feed-in tariffs for renewables and eventually the closing of all nuclear power stations in Germany. A people’s movement, powered by the demand of citizens. But, there’s still a long way to go to break our need for fossil fuels. Despite great regulations in Germany, and many other countries, which also have led to technological development and innovation, renewable energy is still not cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Two things prevent that, in my opinion. One is that, as Mr Giegold noted, the cost of health and environmental damage linked to the winning and production of fossil fuels is not incorporated in the price of it. The industry is one that has perfected the mechanism of externalising costs. Which, in simple terms, means shifting the cost of health and environmental damage from the producers to the tax payers. Another one, is that the current technology, and paths the innovators are looking at, have limitations in terms of efficiency and environment that create a barrier for bringing down the cost of energy production. Many of the renewable energy technologies look at cost-optimisation from the old mass-production perspective. It’s time to let that go, and come with real break-through innovation by rethinking solutions, using design principles. Or look at technology that is already available.

For me, the biggest take away of TEDxChange this year was the importance of listening to ‘users’ and their thoughts, requirements and culture. If you don’t do that, you will never come up with a sustainable solution that actually works.

A special word of gratitude goes out to Natalie Gorohova, who is the driving force behind the energetic and growing TEDxRiga community.

Riga at my feet

Standing on a rooftop terrace,
I can see the city stretch out
at my feet.

All the iconic structures are there:
the tv tower, the zeppelin hangars,
Swedbank, Vansu bridge,
the churches.

The not so great looking ones,
are also there, of course.
And our house.

This city on the Daugava,
this city I call home now.
Not only have I moved into you,
you have become part of me.

A new layer of snow

A layer of fresh snow
covers the streets
and parks and sidewalks
of Riga today.

Hiding the dirt, the ice, the holes,
and putting many to work.

Scraping sounds of snow cleaners
are heard from early in the morning.
Sidewalks cordoned off, for snow
being swept from roofs. A tough job.

Everyday, people realize it a bit more:
winter is here to stay a while again.
Warmer coats, warmer clothes.
Hats. Gloves. Boots.

And the fun of throwing snowballs.

The Wonderful Facades of Riga

Riga is a beautiful city, full of beautiful buildings. Also outside the old town you can find buildings with amazing facades. Especially in the Art Nouveau district. One of the more famous one is located on Elizabetes street, and is the signature blue and white architecture of Eisenstein. Especially impressive are the faces at the top.

One of the Eisenstein buildings

Eisenstein building at Elizabetes iela

Not far from there is Alberta street, which features some wonderful Art Nouveau buildings. I like the window shapes in this one, and am sometimes dreaming of living in the appartment behind these windows. Not that I know what it looks like from the inside, but it should be great.

Wonderful window shapes in Alberta iela

Wonderful window shapes in Alberta iela

Unfortunately, not all buildings are well kept. The details of this one, on Vilandes, are amazing, but I’m not sure for how long they can still be seen. The building has been empty and in desperate need of repair as long as we’ve been in Riga, and recently part of it has been burnt down. So the building is badly damaged, maybe even beyond repair.

Beautiful Facade, but damaged beyond repair in Vilandes iela

Beautiful Facade, but damaged beyond repair in Vilandes iela

It’s not only the facades that have been designed with a keen eye for detail. In some buildings, the staircases have some nice details as well, like this stained glass window. The building is not public, but it’s also in the Art Nouveau district.

Stained glass in stairwell

Stained glass in stairwell

But, the buildings with beautiful facades are not limited to the Art Nouveau district. Scattered around the city you’ll find some great examples. The details of these balconies, on a building in the higher numbers of Elizabetes, across the street form Vermanes Garden are stunning, albeit not all in great shape. Imagine looking up to the balcony above you, and seeing dragons fly.

Dragons holding up balconies on Elizabetes iela

Dragons holding up balconies on Elizabetes iela

I’d like to finish with one of my favorites. A friend mentioned it to me, and I think it’s great. It’s a bit outside the center, but just look at the theme of the facade decorations and let your imagination run wild.

Watch out for flying...

Watch out for flying...

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.

Excellent dining experience in Riga at Vincents

Entrance of restaurant Vincents, Riga, Latvia

The entrance of Vincents

We waited quite a while before having dinner at Vincents. Reports from locals ranged from the best food in town to seriously overpriced. And in a city where you can have a good dinner on about every street corner and next to it, you don’t really need to go to the most expensive place. The price difference between Vincents and many other restaurants close to it, is big. But then again, comparing the prices at Vincents to comparable restaurants elsewhere in Europe, it’s actually not bad. So it’s a matter of how you look at it, and at one point we decided to go there anyway.

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