Without thinking about what Riga, capital of Latvia, might be like after dark, my eldest brother chose to have his stag do there in 2007. An ex-Royal Navy man, he has been to most countries with a coastline, so I trusted his choice of Latvia.
40 Navy lads and a few family members heading to Latvia for a heavy weekend of drinking, what could go wrong? Well apparently, everything. Just so you know, we went in June 2008. Things may have changed by now…
We arrived on the Friday afternoon and the majority of fellas were staying in a cheap hostel in central Riga. My Dad however, who loves his luxury, had booked himself, my other brother Eric (a tee total footballer) and I into a posh hotel nearby.
He was very smug after finding said hotel on eBay and paying only slightly more than the hostellers. There was also an element of Eric not wanting to share a room with drunken men coming and going in the night, and Dad being able to keep an eye on me, a wet behind the ears 17 year old that was all too eager to drink to excess.
We all met after a quick change in a nearby ‘Irish bar’ and the drinking commenced. Read: continued from the flight. The traveller in me was shining even back then, as my father and I found ourselves wanting to go away from the busy areas and see the real Riga, but this probably wasn’t the occasion for it. The night was a good one, with everyone having a very merry time and the locals seeming to love us.
Once it was dark outside, everything seemed to change. Sceptics would say this was purely coincidental and the actual relationship between mood changes and time would be the amount of time we had been drinking, but hey ho. The only event that I actually half witnessed that evening was in the middle of a square (I was merry too, so apologies for lack of detail) that we had been drinking in for some while.
A kafuffle started in the square between one of our group and a policeman, who looked like he was trying to arrest our man. The group all came outside, and asked the policemen to leave him alone, citing that he must have the wrong person. Eventually back up arrived for the officer, and the group fled the square faster than the people that run at Pamplona.
I was following another in our group (it’s human nature in these situations) up a flight of steps, and a local, who for my knowledge wasn’t associated with the police, ran to meet us at the top of the steps and started swinging wildly. I took a kick to my privates, but ran through it, not feeling the pain until I was 200 yards down the street. My little group of 3 nipped into a pizza parlour and sat down and ordered food, trying to make sense out of what had happened.
I had roughly 957,348,542 missed calls from my Dad by this point, so I opted to call him back. He said Eric had made sure Lee was safe, phew. Dad was back at our hotel panicking about me. He also said our group had a straggler, who was in the loos when everything kicked off. Unfortunately for our straggler the police saw him as their only catchable member of our group, and wrestled him to the floor before taking him to the station. I agreed to go back to the hotel and called it a night.
Waking up after that, you think the worst is over. Once again, apparently not. We met the rest of the group for breakfast, only to find a few members missing. We knew one was arrested, but there were 3 more still unaccounted for. Turns out that the arrested man told the officers where they were all staying, and the police had gone to the hostel and arrested 2 of the group. One was released later in the day with no charges. The other wasn’t so lucky.
The final missing member of the group was an older gent, who walked in around 9.30am with a huge egg shaped lump on his forehead. He informed us that he had woken up in a ditch, with no wallet, phone or keys and no recollection of the previous night. He had then walked around Riga for over an hour looking for the hostel. I sat there, soaking all of this in, when suddenly the other stories starting popping up.
One man was asked by a lady if he wanted to buy her a drink, he said no, she ordered a drink anyway, then the barman said he had to pay. He asked how much and the barman said 50 Lats, that was about £50GBP, for one drink!
Next there was a small group of lads that went into a gentlemens club, free entry they said. Unfortunately the boys forgot to find out the ‘exit fee’. They tried to leave after a good time and the bouncers locked them in, saying they had to pay 100 Lats each to leave. Drunk and boisterous they said no. They were promptly beaten around the head with truncheons until they all lay on the floor. They paid up and left.
Another couple of guys tried to hire the services of the oldest profession in the world, and after agreeing on a price went into a large house. Once inside they were asked to provide ‘protection’, which they didn’t have. So they asked if they could buy one each. The man smiled and said ‘Of course you can, they are 100 Lats each.’
Another man had his card swiped in a bar without his knowledge, and was then forced to withdraw money at a cash point by thieves, who took every penny from his account. The next time he was paid once he was back in the UK, his account was emptied the same day. Ouch.
That afternoon we played football, but there was an undertone of doom because of the two banged up men and the nights previous antics. We split for our meal before going out at night, because I wanted to try a local place I had spotted called Alus Ordenis. Dad and I chose the same dish, bull testicles. Yep, fried and sliced bulls balls. Apart from the grimace because you know what you’re eating, they were damn tasty. Safe to say on the Saturday night we all stuck together and no incidents occurred, fortunately.
The next day was flight day, and our guys were released not before being forced to sign papers that said they would pay 10,000 Lats each upon returning to the UK. Once we landed, they were straight on the phone to lawyers, citizens advice and the UK police. All of their phone calls left them happy, as they were told to ignore what they had signed and not pay a penny to their corrupt system.
Almost a year to the day after this had happened, in the summer of 2009, both men were sleeping in their beds. The UK police smashed their respective doors in in the early hours of the morning and bundled them into the back of separate police vans, which then zoomed down to London. It was here they were told that they would be extradited to Latvia on charges of assaulting an officer. The next day they were in Riga’s prison, which their own Prime Minister had said ‘is not fit for dogs’. They spent 8 weeks there before being released after several of us flew over to give statements. See more here.
The moral of the story is, be careful. I know everybody had had a drink and I know how rowdy a large group of Brits can be, but that doesn’t change the obvious targeting that went on. After the sun goes down in Latvia, bad things can happen.
Having said all that, it certainly was a memorable one and I will go back to Riga one day to put right my dim view and see the real Latvia in all its glory!