Latvia (Part 1)-Getting There.

Idries J. Abdur-Rahman, MD

So, Why Latvia?

Well, why not Latvia? Warning, I’m about to use a word that is way over-used but here it goes: Latvia is  quaint, charming and authentic (the word was quaint by the way).  The people and the landscape just felt genuine and homey without being over-touristy, which is always a plus. But specifically, why Latvia? Well Latvia was the first stop on a whirlwind 11 day journey that would take my brother and I to Riga, the countryside of Latvia, Amsterdam and Nigeria to film episodes of our video blog, The Globe on Call. Our time in Latvia was spent examining their was alternative approaches to medicine including a rapid detox center for alcohol and heroin in Riga, a traditional Latvian sauna in the country side and the Pokaini forest, which is said to have healing energy. Oh yeah, I have to mention the two headed dog that we saw, there was that as well. So why Latvia? Why not Latvia?

Don’t forget to check out part 2, our adventures in Latvia right HERE. A two headed dog has to atlas be worth a click. Don’t worry, we will have another link at the end so feel free to read on.

And of course you can’t skip the episode of The Globe on Call we filmed in Latvia, so HERE it is. Again, we will have another link at the end so feel free to read on.

UA#944 ORD-FRA:

There are a bunch of options to get from sweet home Chicago to Riga, Latvia though none were nonstop of course. Being a Star Alliance loyalist whenever able, we opted for a combo of United (ORD-FRA), Lufthansa (FRA-WAW) and LOT (WAW-RIX). Lufthansa did offer a nonstop from FRA-RIX but it cost $200 more plus what aerophilie worth his or her salt would opt for only two flights and two airlines when you could triple your pleasure?

 

We boarded UA#944, the first of four combined departures that United and Lufthansa have on the Chicago-Frankfurt route. Tonights flight was operated by N783UA, a 1997 build Boeing 777-200. Oh yeah, we decided to bring mom along with us for this adventure.

 

It was a beautiful late fall afternoon in Chicago and we pushed back on-time for the 4,336 mile 7 hour and 40 minute journey.

 

We had a short taxi out to runway 9R and…

 

a powerful 48 second takeoff sent us skyward. Next stop, Frankfurt, Germany.

 

The virtually clear skies gave us a nice view of downtown Chicago and within minutes we were crossing the coastline of Lake Michigan…

 

as I took one last look at my hometown. I always love seeing Chicago in my rearview mirror because it means a great adventure lies ahead and I am always happy to see it in the foreground on the way back because it means I’m home.

 

The wing flex of a fuel laden 777 never gets old.

 

Soon after take-off a full beverage service commenced followed by dinner and a second beverage run. No, I didn’t remember to take a picture of the meal after taking the foil off (but I do remember, it was a pasta dish) and yes, I am a bit of a germophobe which is why the napkin is jammed into the opening of the Coke can.

 

As I settled in and scarfed down dinner, I decided to checkout the Ghost Busters reboot. Better than expected? Yes. Better than the original? Not so much IMHO.

 

Oh how much do I love thee flying? Let me count the ways? One of the many transcendent moments at 35,000 feet, a beautiful sunset. Adios today, hello tomorrow!

 

Dinner done and movie wrapping up, it was time to try to get a few ZZZ’s. I usually don’t have any trouble sleeping on a plane, or in a car, or even standing for that matter, but with a departure time a bit after 3PM, even I was having trouble rendezvousing with Mr. Sandman that evening.

 

I made use of the insomnia and got a little pre-production planning done. We would literally only have two hours from our arrival in Riga until we would start filming. I was able to sneak in a nap that could not have been much longer than an hour. Soon the cabin lights came on and a light continental breakfast of yogurt and a croissant was served.

 

Soon we were landing at a sleepy Frankfurt Main airport, taking our place among the Z-gates surrounded by Lufthansa aircraft.

 

We passed through immigrations entering the Schengen zone and made our way to the gate where LOT flight LO#384 bound for Warsaw was boarding. Unfortunately our layover time was too short for a lounge visit. Oh well, next time!.

LO#384 FRA-WAW:

Soon boarding was called and I got to board the aircraft the way any true aerophilie loves to board, via the airstairs. Was it chilly? Sure. Did I care? Nope!

 

Today Embraer 170 SP-LDF, a 2004 built aircraft, had the duty of making the 558 mile 78 minute flight from Frankfurt to Warsaw.

 

Having chilled (literally) overnight on the tarmac, the plane was a bit cold initially. Soon enough the combination of body heat and the hot breath of 70 passengers warmed the cabin right up. We pushed off of the remote stand right on time and made a quick taxi as the sun slowly started to rise on this new day. In this pic we are definitely the David to Singapore’s Goliath.

 

Within minutes we were lining up on the active runway and a quick takeoff roll shot us up into one of the most beautiful sunrises I had seen in a longtime. Ahhhhh, transcendence!!

 

As we reached our cruising altitude, a light snack service was offered consisting of a chocolate bar (kind of like a mix between a Twix and a Kit Kat) and a beverage. You know that I always go for water (well, when I don’t go for Coke) because hydration aloft is super important. This doctor takes his own medicine.

 

By now it was passing 1AM in Chicago and my tired body’s circadian rhythms were thrown off by the sunlight flooding the cabin and I just couldn’t sleep so…

 

I checked out Kaleidoscope, the LOT inflight magazine and..

 

the Embraer 170 safety card. Is it me or does this lady only have a nose?

 

Wouldn’t you know it, by the time we were on short finals for Warsaw’s Chopin Airport, my eyelids were finally starting to feel heavy.

 

Poland is definitely on my “Must Visit” list and flying over the countryside…

 

only made me want to visit even more.

 

Alas, Poland isn’t on the itinerary this go round but I have no doubt I will be back soon.

 

Soon we were crossing the thresh hold of an airport just stirring to life. Welcome to Warsaw!

 

Our cute little E-170 scooted past this Air China A330 as we made our way to the gate.

 

The passengers quickly spilled out into the terminal building where I caught one last glimpse of SP-LDF. Thanks for the safe ride buddy! We had a short 90 minute layover in Warsaw so I decided to use that time to start preparing for the whirlwind four days of filming in Latvia that lay ahead.

LO#783 WAW-RIX:

Soon it was time to board the last leg between Warsaw and Riga. Joy, joy because we were boarding from a remote stand meaning we got to take a bus out to the aircraft! I always love getting a bird’s eye, or a bus eye view, of airport operations.

 

Today Dash 8 Q400 SP-EQH had the honor of making the 350 mile, 75 minute journey up to Riga.

 

SP-EQH is a 2012 built bird that has spent it’s entire life with LOT and euro-LOT. This was my first ride on a Q400 so I was a little stoked!

 

There is something so majestic about the blades of a propliner, or is it just me?

 

Now, I have to admit that while I love looking at a prop’s blades from the outside, I’m not a huge fan of looking at them from the inside. I much rather a nice cowling obscuring the view of what is going on inside. I have this irrational fear of just seeing those spinning blades suddenly stop while we are at cruise altitude. Any who, right on schedule at 10:50 the engines came to life and we quickly made our way from the remote stand to the thresh hold of the runway.

 

With a quick and powerful takeoff, our little Q400 was taking to the blue skies above Warsaw. Gotta give a shout out to Physics. The optical illusion of the blades bending is just so cool.

 

The cabin crew quickly sprung into action and started the in-flight service which consisted of…

 

beverages and another candy bar for breakfast. I opted for water because once you get behind on your fluids and you have a lot of flying to do, you can forget about catching up. We had already traversed 5,000+ miles and we still had flights to Amsterdam (in four days), Frankfurt and Lagos (in five days) and back home from Lagos to Frankfurt and Chicago to look forward to. So water it was!

 

The Q400 provided a pretty smooth ride as we cruised above the cloud layer and …

 

for a prop, the cabin felt relatively spacious.

 

Soon we were on descent and crossing the beautiful Gulf of Riga.

 

The countryside looked absolutely gorgeous but I have to be honest in saying that I was not happy to see snow.

 

We hadn’t had our first snow in Chicago yet and knowing plenty was coming soon, I didn’t want a preview. Plus we had to pack for winter in Latvia and Holland and the hot Nigerian weather all in one bag so that made packing light sort of difficult.

 

None the less the dusting of snow did make for a beautiful picture and…

 

how many times will I be in Latvia? So what the hey, a little snow never killed a midwestern boy, right?

 

And with a gentle thud we were officially in Latvia, welcome to a snowy but beautiful Riga!

 

There wasn’t much action in Riga except for…

 

the ground crew and this Ryan Air Boeing 737-800.

 

And here are the receipts, see, I actually was in Latvia!

 

I bid Mr. SP-EQH a found adieu and…

 

made my way into the terminal building.

 

We grabbed our bags and slowly made our way through an increasingly heavy snowstorm to the Mercure Hotel for a quick shower and bite to eat before hitting the town. Our first stop in Latvia had to be the two headed dog!

 

Be sure to check out the episode of The Globe on Call we filmed in Latvia right HERE.

Part 2 is right HERE. You know you want to hear about rapid detox, experience a magical forest and see us take a naked polar plunge. And if that’s not enough, click to see the two headed dog!

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