My Time in Latvia (part 2)

We spent 12 hours at the airport in Stockholm and then took a plane to Riga, the Capitol city.  The entire group of volunteers for the Baltics boarded a bus for our first destination, the beach resort town of Jurmala.  

We pulled up to a hotel located right on the beach.  The town of Jurmala consisted mostly of old homes left over from the era of Czars.  The beaches were beautiful with light colored sand reminiscent if the Caribbean.  The only thing missing were palm trees and buildings.  The only building on the beach was a stand for refreshments.

We began a week of training, learning useful phrases, an introduction to culture and getting to know each other.  I was excited to be on the beach.  At the he first opportunity I headed down the path that lead to the sea.  A man ran down the path ahead of me.  I didn’t pay much attention to it until at the end of the path he was standing there with his pants pulled down.

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My time in Latvia (part 1)

In 1997 President Clinton sent me a letter inviting me to join the Peace Corps.  The Peace Corps is a volunteer organization sponsored by the federal government.  The application process took one year.  There were countless hoops to jump through, the application itself, medical exams, dental exams, essays to write and an interview.  I was originally told when I first called to find out how to apply that I should not even try as the application process was too competitive for the degree I had received in college.  The woman I spoke to on the phone was very discouraging.  Joining the Peace Corps was a life long dream of mine and after thinking it over I called again and requested an application.  I had tutored refugees in English a few years previous and that I think is what pushed my application forward.

When you join the Peace Corps you do not get to choose where you are sent.  They do ask for your preferences, but even those are vague.  I received a letter that I would be going to Latvia in Eastern Europe.  At that time not too many Americans had been to Latvia.  It was hard to find information.  The internet was not what it is today and I could find no language book except for a small one for travelers with important sentences in it.

In June my boyfriend drove me to the airport at 4 AM and I boarded a flight for Chicago.  In Chicago a large group of volunteers going over seas gathered for an introduction into the Peace Corps itself.  We spent a few days downtown at a large hotel.  I went exploring on my free time and some friends and I went to an Italian restaurant for dinner.  The food in Chicago is wonderful.  After the few days were up I boarded a plane for Stockholm, Sweden.

 

 

 

 

Estate Records (Exerpt from my memoir #16)

I stood in the doorway staring at him in shock.  I had not told very many people where I was living, which is why I was so surprised to see him.  After letting him inside he told me that he had done some digging and found out my address from someone I had written.  He was on vacation and wanted someone to show him around town.  I told him of my troubles finding work. We made a deal that I would show him all of the sites he wanted to see and he would buy my meals.  After talking for a while and catching up we walked out the door and up two blocks to Haight street.  I took him a couple of blocks down Haight to an Ethiopian restaurant where we had lunch.  The rest of the afternoon we walked up and down Haight street exploring all of the interesting shops.  The rest of the week we went to see L7 play live at a club nearby, we went dancing at a venue that played World Music, went to hole in the wall restaurants and ate fantastic food and explored San Francisco.  It was one of the best weeks I have ever had.  So I was extremely sad when he left to go back to Seattle.  

I kept up my job search and finally got a job at a bed and breakfast in Japan Town.  I enjoyed working the front desk and greeting the guests.  And just when it looked like things might work out for a while, my housemates said they were going to move so I would have to find a place.  I was drained of money by that time and even with a job, there was no way I could get a place on my own.  I decided to work until I had to be out of the flat.  The day i packed up my belongings to take a bus back to Seattle, my friend Elizabeth called to tell me she was in town and wanted to see me.  I told her i was on my way out the door to catch a bus back north.  We agreed to get together once we were both back in Seattle.  Some of Rhonda’s friends gave me a ride to the bus station and I boarded a Greyhound bus.

 

The bus ride back to Seattle was anything but smooth.  We had to change buses in Sacramento and in the bus station a man began to say sexually explicit things to me.  Some men noticed and one of them told him to leave me alone that he was my boyfriend.  He got rid of that guy, but he did not turn out to be much better.  I thanked him and after boarding the bus I took a seat by the window. He sat down in the seat next to me.  At first I did not think much of it.  The bus left the station and things went well until we were in the Siskiyou Mountains.  Our bus driver was an elderly man and he had not put chains on the bus and we were stuck in the snow on the mountain for 3 days.

Everything is Better by Bicycle

After my company transferred me to California’s Inland Empire, I purchased a bicycle as a way to commute to work.  Besides saving me money on car payments, insurance and gas, I get an extra work out each day.  An added bonus is that I can also use my bicycle to explore other areas of southern California.

My first outing was to the beach at Santa Monica.  I began my trip by boarding the Metrolink with my bicycle to Los Angeles.  At Union Station, located in Downtown LA I transferred to the subway at 7th street and boarded the lightrail to Santa Monica.  The lightrail ends about a block from the beach.  As you can imagine, Santa Monica is busy during summertime and there are lanes dedicated just for bicycles down to the pier and Palisades Park.

I chose to explore Palisades Park first before riding down to the beach itself.  The park sits atop a bluff overlooking the beach area.

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Benches, palm trees line long paths throughout the park.  A fence runs along the edge of the bluff where you can lookout over the beach and boardwalk as well as the Santa Monica pier.

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Taco trucks lined the street that runs along side the park. People strolled along enjoying the view, getting a bite to eat and photographing the view. Having a bicycle allowed me to explore more of the park than I would have been able to do on foot, leaving me with enough energy to explore the beach area.

The path in Palisades Park leads to the Santa Monica pier.  There is a ramp down to the pier for pedestrians and bicycles.  Souvenir shops, restaurants and an amusement park can be found on the pier.  A ramp leads down to the boardwalk on the beach.  Once on the boardwalk I rode down to a cafe on the beach where I stopped for a drink.  Many people travel the beach by bicycle allowing one to really expierience the entire beach.

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People leave their bicycles at designated areas and head for the water on foot through the sand, stop and eat at one of the many cafes, rent a surf board to ride the waves or walk with their family to enjoy the scenery.

Santa Monica by bicycle is the only way to go.  By taking the train with my bicycle I avoided LA’s traffic jams and was able to see more of Santa Monica than I would have been able to on foot.  I got some great exercise in without it feeling like exercise.  And I spent time at one of my favorite places, the beach.

Taking the Scenic Route

In our fast paced world everything seems to happen at the speed of light.  Information is available in seconds via smart phones, we balance home, work and a personal life and we want things now rather than later. Taking ones time is almost an act of rebellion.  When I received a transfer from my company to California, I decided to slow things down and take the scenic route.

Since I had the time I decided to travel on the Coast Starlite Amtrak train from Seattle to Los Angeles.  Purchasing a ticket can be done easily via an app on your smart phone.  No ticket is necessary as a bar code may be scanned from your phone.  My train arrived on time and I was assigned a seat with more leg room than on an airplane.  Each seat comes with a fold down table and the seats recline almost all the way back.

Three meals a day are available in the dining car which is set up like a restaurant.  The seating is shared, giving one the opportunity to meet others traveling on the train.  The food was good and the service excellent.  For those not wanting formal dining a snack car offering everything from pizza to bloody marys is also available.  Selected items can also be delivered right to your seat.

If one is lucky enough to have obtained a window seat, sight seeing is a good way to spend the time.  We left Seattle and traveled through the rural areas of Washington state, through the city of Portland and were once again traveling through the farmlands of Oregon and California until reaching the Bay Area.  Shortly after leaving Jack London Square in Oakland, the train begins to travel along the coast.  Breath taking views are right out ones window.  If you do not have a window seat, an observation car with comfortable seating, tables and large windows is available.

The trip took a little over a day and a half.  I spent my time catching up on some reading, completing some sketches and enjoying the sights and my down time.  I met a lot of nice people, each with a unique story about where they were going and why they were traveling by train.  We pulled into Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and at a taxi stand in front of the station I caught a cab to my hotel.  Traveling by plane may be fast, but nothing compares to the enjoyment of slowing things down and traveling by train.