The Return of Cheese

From the Indonesian Rupiah to the Thai Baht to the Chinese Yuan, we’ve converted many a dollar during this trip, but never have I walked into a currency exchange with 40USD and left with two small bills and five coins: 17 Latvian Lats. Latvia is touted as a value destination, but I must be shopping at the wrong bakeries and grocery stores. London or Hong Kong it is not, but it sure doesn’t feel like Eastern Europe.

Fortunately one of the greatest pleasures in Riga doesn’t cost money. We picked up a free walking guide and self-toured the city’s architecture from Medeval to Art Nouveau. The compact, park-laden and picturesque city reveals it’s charms in the details. Walk too quickly past the turn of the century tenement houses and you could miss the giant screaming faces or twisting figures built into the facades. In fact Riga boasts Europe’s largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings.

It also boasts a restaurant dedicated to cheese. And this is where we chose to celebrate our last night of the trip. After months of cheese deprivation in dairy-shunning Asia, we dipped into delectable fondue and made plans for coming home.

Arriving in Warsaw from the States, the onslaught of Polish is intimidating and, as a struggling student of the language, a bit depressing. After the comparatively foreign sounds of Cambodian and Chinese, Polish sounds familiar and reassuring. Once again, I promise to study Polish with renewed enthusiasm.

After a long trip, it’s a comfort to be in a familiar place, where at least I know where to buy stamps and bread if not how to fully communicate my intentions.

But as I start organizing my trinkets and photos and consider that, having traveled to Warsaw all the way from Singapore without a flight, this will probably be the longest over-land journey of my life, that familiar wash of emotion starts to settle in. I wonder: Is it too soon to get nostalgic for our trip to Asia?

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