Just another day traveling abroad


So the ferry got into Riga early in the morning, I saw what there was to see, and I headed to the train station to buy a ticket to Vilnius (Riga was always intended to be a brief stop on my way to Lithuania). And here was my first exposure to the realities of the Eastern European “service” industry. At the outset, let me say that Eastern Europeans are totally friendly and helpful, going out of their way to help clueless Americans . . . unless, that is, their JOB is to be friendly and helpful!! “Service” workers in the former areas of the Soviet Union think that their job obligates them to be there, but not much else. A customer’s appearance on the scene is a VERY unwelcome intrusion on their time, and you are treated as a major annoyance by the more tolerant personnel, a potential terrorist by those more entrenched in the culture. On this day, the lines at the ticket windows were very long and very slow moving – that some people actually need to catch trains is not a concern of the ticket sellers! Apparently, the cashier is missing (no explanation is given) so a major conference of ticket sellers is necessary in order to make change for each customer rude enough to want to buy a ticket. When I finally got to the window and asked to buy a ticket, I am told “NO”! No explanation; she just won’t sell me a ticket. I am at a total loss, but the sympathetic people in line finally explain to me,

With very little English at their disposal, that the train to Vilnius only runs on certain days, and this is not one of those days. They point the way to the bus station, and I head over there, wondering what retribution will be imposed by the ticket seller upon those helpful people.

I have missed the one o’clock bus while I have been standing in line at the train station, and the four o’clock bus will get me into Vilnius late, so I decide to buy a ticket for eight o’clock the next morning. Sold out! Next bus is the one o’clock. Fortunately, the man behind me knows to ask whether there is a “special bus” and it turns out that there is – at 8:20! Why didn’t the ticket seller tell me this? Because I didn’t ask!!! I buy my ticket that says “Platform 13”, so I ask where Platform 13 is. The ticket seller, with a VERY annoyed expression, jabs her finger to the left, so that is the direction I take. I want to find the right platform NOW, rather than in the rush of catching the bus tomorrow. I find a guard, point to the “13” on my ticket, and ask for “Platform 13”. His job, however is to guard, not to help customers, so he totally ignores me – LITERALLY, he acts as if I am not even there in front of him, like I am absolutely invisible! A nice lady overhears this one-way conversation and walks me down to Platform 13. So I spend the rest of the day avoiding drunk derelicts and I am at Platform 13 at seven o’clock the next morning. I go to the information booth, point to the “13” on my ticket, and ask about “Platform 13” – just to be sure. She glares at me (how DARE I ask for information at the information booth!!!) and points down the row of platforms. So I stand at Platform 13, and promptly at 8:20 I watch the bus to Vilnius drive past!!! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!?!?!?!? Again, my fellow platform-waiters look at my ticket and convey to me that I had SEAT number 13, Platform ONE!!! The machine had printed the numbers off-center, but none of the officials had mentioned this. Again, I never ASKED; I had ASKED for Platform 13, so they grudgingly did the absolute minimum by answering my question!!!

After getting yelled at (LITERALLY) at the “Customer Service” window for missing my bus and bothering her, I am again in the ticket line. The one o’clock bus is sold out, and I am in EXACTLY the same position as I was in twenty-four hours ago!!! At this point, I don’t CARE if I get mugged in Vilnius at midnight, so I buy a ticket for the four o’clock bus!!! After another few hours of dodging derelicts, I am at Platform ONE at TWO o’clock, asking LOTS of platform-waiters (but NO “service” personnel) to be sure I am in the right place; and, at 3:58, I escape from Riga!!! It is often said that this is one of those exciting adventures of “getting there” – I rank it down there with a night in the Frankfurt airport or a day stuck in Cleveland. No, I rank it BELOW those two experiences – there is no Starbuck’s in Riga.


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