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Phespirit goes to Latvia
Riga     June 2008

Despite having only visited Latvia once previously back in July 2006, Phespirit's return to Riga from the Caucasus felt like coming home. Phespirit's travels to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan had been personal journeys into the unknown, to distant places recently troubled by regional wars and political turmoil with all the uncertainties that inevitably linger. Each proved to be wonderful in its own peculiar way, but Riga is comfortable, an old friend, with that reassuring face of Europe that Phespirit knows and understands.

Phespirit's first day in Latvia began in a hotel room in Baku, Azerbaijan. He crawled out of bed at some time between three and four in the morning and readied himself to be collected from the foyer at half past four. His car arrived promptly and he was at the airport about half an hour later. The Air Baltic flight to Riga departed at 06:40 and reached its destination a little over four hours later, which was still before nine o'clock in the morning, Latvian time.

Needless to say, by the time Phespirit had checked into his new hotel, showered, shaved, and climbed into a change of clothes, he still didn't feel quite fresh enough to fancy rushing around the city, basically to repeat all the sightseeing he'd covered two years before. It was a beautiful day though, so what better way to relax than to take a twenty-minute train ride up the coast to Vecāķi and spend five or six hours laying on soft pale sand under a rich blue sky?

Next morning was the start of Phespirit's only full day in Latvia so he felt obliged to use it a bit more productively. He headed back to Riga station and boarded a train bound for Sigulda. The area around Sigulda is allegedly known as the 'Switzerland of Latvia' - possibly only by the tourist board - and is indisputably picturesque. Turaida Museum Reserve is a few kilometres' walk to the north, and both Sigulda and Turaida have castles to explore, plus a few other novel bits and pieces, all of which provide an ample day's worth of tourist fulfilment.

On returning to Riga, Phespirit took a quick look around the so-called Moscow District. This was the only area of the city he felt he had left 'not done' from his previous visit. Now at last he was able to confirm that he hadn't missed much. No matter, though. His appreciation of Riga remains entirely undiminished.

After so much travelling around so many unlikely countries, and all without so much as a hitch, Phespirit felt he could return to England in triumph. In fact he returned in a dirt-cheap no-frills Ryanair flight that reached London Stansted early on a Saturday afternoon. Public transport got him home with an hour to spare before kick-off of the first match in Euro 2008. Everything had indeed worked our perfectly.

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