Friday, October 10, 2014

Latvia

Our visit to Latvia was a short one, as we couldn't afford to loose too much time with autumn now being well and truly underway in northern Europe. At the same time we didn't feel the need to stay much longer either. Latvia seems very much a corridor for trucks going up and down to Estonia and is, as such, not a nice place for a ride as it is literally truck after truck after truck… The truck drivers aren't bad drivers but there are simply too many of them. Still, it isn't only about roads or congestion in Latvia… or is it?

Unfortunately the congestion sort of tells the Latvia story at the moment. The first thing we noticed when crossing the border is that Latvia is a lot less prosperous than Estonia for instance. At the same time, just like in Estonia, it's the rich 5% of the country that dominate what everyone visiting this country would experience. They are the ones flying past in big expensive cars, showing anti-social behaviour and creating the absurd dangerous situations on the road. You might simply shrug after reading the above but when you're on a motorcycle and are confronted with these idiots at literally inches away from your handlebars… it becomes a bit more than something you may want to shrug at. I already wrote about Estonian drivers being far worse than the dreaded Mexican ones; Latvia is far worse than Estonia… Latvia is in fact worse than anything I've ever seen… including Honduras.

The sad thing about our Latvia experience is that the small towns we rode through, which are definitely inhabited by poorer people, are great places to visit. Some of the people living there might have a car but even if they do, it's not a new or expensive one and they drive carefully and responsibly. They are friendly people, people that seem to be very social too. Most of them go about their business, working hard on their small farm with only the most basic hand tools. When they look up from their work, they see the 100,000 dollar cars flashing past, an amount of money they will never make in their entire life. 

I can't help but wonder what an effect that will have on those people. The differences in living standards are huge. Huge mansions on one side, old rambling houses on the other. Big BMWs, Mercedes and the like being driven by the 5%, bicycles or even on foot for the rest of the population. We had already seen a lot of people in the forests with bags, picking mushrooms. They are the ones living in the old rambling houses, yet despite the state they were in, they appealed to us more than the flash ones.

The average Latvian has a hard life, hard by European standards, while Latvia is now a part of Europe. Relative to the average income even the basic groceries are expensive. As motorcycles are seen here for the rich and famous, motorcycle oil for instance is ridiculously expensive. About 3 times the price compared to the US, and as we need 11 litres of it we opted to do the service in Lithuania or Poland.


So how's the food in Latvia? Well, interesting :-) An economist once told me that the best way to check a countries' real currency value is to compare McDonalds prices. We did a similar comparison… but slightly different. All in the interest of science and to inform our readers of course, we had lunch at the Baltic version of McD, which is called Hesburger. Remember the name! They advertise with a huge double burger for $3,-… sounds too good to be true doesn't it? It is! The $3,- burger is microscopic and doesn't look anything like the burger they show on the photo. The burger on the billboard is what they call the Mega, which is $9,-. 

So how does it taste? Hesburger is pretty unique, it's the first burger place where I felt more hungry when I left than when I came in… Their burgers are small… even the Mega. The meat is not meat, it's a thin slice of something that only looks like meat. To disguise the disgusting taste they dump heaps of sauce on it and a bag of lettuce, so it's un-eatable too. It is without a shadow of a doubt the worst burger I've ever had. Riding away I felt pretty bad about poisoning my body with the rubbish I just ate and made a vow not to eat this kind of junk food ever again.

Heading for the Lithuanian border we were under constant attack from the by now well known rich idiots in cars overtaking in ways no-one with even half a sane mind would understand. Once we entered Lithuania we made a sigh or relief… we had survived Latvia!


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