(written yesterday; posted now. Sorry about the disjointedness, especially those of you who got the e-mail version with only half the post. The computer deleted much of what I wrote yesterday, and I didn’t notice until now.)

We are currently on a Very Fancy Bus through the Latvian (Lithuanian?) countryside. Just 18 more hours until Berlin!

Although no one ever talks about it, Riga is absolutely worth a visit. We were expecting it to be depressing, gray, and crumbling, and while the sidewalks were all of these things, the city itself was beautiful and, in fact, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Epic bus journeys have a tendency to drop you in random world capitals in the wee hours of the morning, so this was not the first time we found ourselves deciphering strange alphabets at 6 AM with no one around but street cleaners (last time was Sofia, Bulgaria). It’s bizarre to see the mixing of Soviet and — 12:04 Nathan informs me that we have just crossed the border into Lithuania. Everything is the same here. —  what I’m going to call Exactly-What-You-Expect-In-Europe Architecture: bronze spires and red roofs with winding cobblestone streets.

Did you know that the tallest structure in the EU is in Riga? Also, although Latvia is part of the EU, it does not use the Euro. In fact, the Latvian currency (I cannot communicate the intensity of my glee at discovering that it is called the Lat) is stronger than the British Pound, a fact that threw us for quite a loop at the exchange point. If both of those things are news to you, there’s still hope: if you knew that Riga is the capital of Latvia rather than Estonia, you’re doing better than Nathan.

it’s a good thing that both Riga and this bus are awesome, because last night’s trip (we left at 8 PM) consisted mainly of my warning Nathan that I was probably going to be a pain in the butt and then making good on my word. At some point I lost the ability to sleep on buses, a change that, unfortunately, was not accompanied by the development of an ability to function on less than 9 hours of sleep.

Crossed the Russian border at about midnight, which was exactly as annoying as land border crossings always are, but fortunately no more so. The pain of having the documents you’ve guarded with your life all year taken away without a word is remarkable (especially the part where they tear off a whole third of your visa), and Nathan experienced it for the first time.
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Passed into Poland without ceremony and wound up in Warsaw at about 11 PM. Warsaw was Nathan’s and my first taste of Eastern Europe, and I was shocked to discover on this second visit that it positively sparkles at night. It’s amazing what a little perspective will do.

The third and final bus, which we transferred to in Vilnius, Lithuania (the capital, apparently), was not as classy as Bus #2 (the seats were not squishy leather, there was no in-“flight” magazine or complimentary tea/coffee, and there was less legroom), but it did have individual touchscreen computers on the backs of the seats (with Internet!), so we passed a good portion of the trip solving sudokus and watching the worst movie either of us had seen in a long, long time.

Previously, our knowledge of the Baltic states was limited mainly to the fact that they existed, and even that was hard to remember at times. The unfortunate result of this, combined with the fact that we didn’t really think about how we were going to sustain ourselves on this 35-hour trip, meant that we had no local currency (no, they do not use the Euro, even though they’re all in the EU) and therefore no food between yesterday at 11 and this morning at 7. Needless to say, our first top in Berlin was breakfast, followed by a small snafu re: our lodging, resolution of said snafu, and a nap, followed by lunch. Now Nathan’s napping again.

 

We’re an exciting bunch.

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