LATVIA: A TWO HEADED DOG, RAPID DETOX AND A NAKED POLAR PLUNGE!So, Why Latvia?
Well, Latvia was the first stop on an 11-day adventure to three countries; Latvia, Holland and Nigeria. My brother and I were filming three episodes of our video travel blog called The Globe on Call
. As physicians by day and travel junkies by night, The Globe on Call
is our attempt to marry the worlds of travel and medicine. Our first episode examined alternative medicine in Latvia ranging from traditional Latvian sauna therapies to the burgeoning alcohol and heroin detox industry that uses implanted medications. In Holland we documented the changing Dutch perception of sex and sex workers and we even had a chance to interview the world famous Folken twins. Our last stop was Nigeria where we visited the village of Igbo-Ora, which has the worlds largest population of twins. So yeah, we had a whirlwind week and half and Latvia was our first stop. If I don't have your attention yet, I have just one last thing to say: two headed dog. Yup, we saw a two headed dog, just one more reason to visit Latvia!
I am including links to the complete trip reports that accompanied our episode of The Globe on Call in Latvia. These blogs are found on our website [url="http://www.twindoctorstv.com"]TwinDoctorsTV.com[/url]. We are the sole creators of the content on this website. Okay, legal stuff out of the way.WEB: https://www.twindoctorstv.comFACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/twindoctorstvTWITTER: https://www.twitter.com/twindoctorstv
Below are what I think are the highlights of the trip reports but if you want to checkout them out in their entirety or checkout the episode of The Globe on Call, you can do that here:Latvia (Part 1)- Getting There can be found here: http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-getting-there/Latvia (Part 2)- A Two Headed Dog, Rapid Detox and a Naked Polar Plunge! can be found here:http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-part-2-experiencing-latvia/The Globe on Call: Alcoholism, Rehab and a Refuge of Last Resort can be found here:http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-alcoholism-rehab/
Okay, here we go.......
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?UA 944 ORD-FRA:
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!If I haven't completely bored you yet and you want to see the full report including the rest of UA944 from ORD-FRA, click here: http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-getting-there/
If you just want the highlights, here ya go!LO#384 FRA-WAW
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!.
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.If you're still not bored and you've decided you want to see the full report including the rest of UA944 and LO386, click here: http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-getting-there/
If the highlights are enough, lets keep going!LO783 WAW-RIX
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.
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.If you're still not bored and you want to read the the full report with all of UA944, LO386 and LO783 click here: http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-getting-there/
If the highlights are enough, onwards and upwards! Next stop Riga and all the wonders of Latvia!
Soon we were on short finals and...
with a gentle thud we were officially in Latvia!
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!
After scrubbing off all of that airplane and airport grime, our first stop was the Paul Stradins Museum in central Riga.
The Stradins museum had oddities in every corner including this vintage chair used for Gynecological examinations. As uncomfortable as modern stirrups are (or so I hear), I’m sure our patients would run for the hills, gown and all, if they found this little diddy in our exam rooms.
Speaking off oddities, this is probably the oddest oddity and the exhibit for which the museum is best known for. No, you are not seeing things and yes, that is a two headed dog.In case the completely different fur colors didn’t clue you in, this dog was not actually born with two heads. Soviet Scientist Vladimir Demikhov surgically attached the front half of one dog onto the neck of a second dog by combining their circulatory systems. While this experiment was no doubt a bit freakish, it actually helped the good doctor pioneer some of the techniques that are still used today in organ transplant surgery.
Here is a file photo from LIFE magazine when the magazine and the dogs were still in existence. The poor host dog on the bottom didn’t seem too thrilled.
Soon the jet lag caught up with us and it was time to trudge through the snow blanketed streets of Riga back to the Mercure hotel for a sound, if not short, nights sleep. Tomorrow morning we were going to be tourists for a few hours before heading to the Alusten rehabilitation clinic to start filming.If you want to see more from the Stradin's Museum, check out part 2 of our trip report here:
We awoke to a beautiful though somewhat chilly morning in Riga. It was a long underwear, North Face coat, puffy knit hat kinda of day.
There really was something unique and charming about Riga. It definitely had an old Soviet feel while simultaneously feeling sort of hip and modern.
The architecture in Riga really was phenomenal.
The city reminded me of something a little Swiss, a little German but still distinctly ex-Soviet Union.
After a few freezing hours on the streets of Riga, we made our way to Riga Black Magic, home of Riga Black Balzam. What is a Balzam you ask? Balzams are traditional Latvian herbal liqueurs that mix various natural ingredients with pure vodka. Balzams are considered traditional medicines and are said to be good remedies for colds and poor digestion amongst other things.
I got to warm up with a nice hot chocolate.
Tootsies and tummy nice and warm again, it was time to hit the streets again. I was really digging the traditional Latvian dress.If you want to see more of beautiful Riga and it's architecture, check out part 2 of our trip report here: http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-part-2-experiencing-latvia/
A quick taxi ride dropped us off in front of a very nondescript building that really could have been mistaken for a run of the mill apartment block.
We were there to meet with Russell Hughes and his wife Dasha, both of whom were recovering alcoholics and now directors at Alusten. They were remarkably candid about their struggles with alcoholism and about the benefit they derived from the cutting edge therapy at the Alusten clinic.
After our interview with Russell and Dasha, we toured the facilities including the operating room and the inpatient rehab ward. There we were lucky enough to speak with one of the physicians who performs the implantation procedures (more on that in a moment). He explained to us that Latvia is unique is it’s high rate of substance abuse, in particular alcohol. This apparently is a hold over from the Soviet era.
Something else thing that makes Latvia unique is the fact that the government pays for both alcohol and drug rehab treatment. Now, why in particular did we go to the Alusten clinic? Well, Aluston is one of the few places in the world to use implantable medications to rapidly detox patients. We were fortunate enough to be able to actually interview patients and their families, many of whom came all the way from the US and Canada for the groundbreaking treatments.
This particular couple came from Canada to have a Disulfiram implant placed to treat alcoholism. I have to say that I was totally impressed by the facility, the availability of substance abuse treatment in Latvia and the willingness of patients to share their stories with us. And with this final interview it was a wrap. Not to toot our horns but our episode of The Globe on Call is a good watch, check it out here http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-alcoholism-rehab/
The snow continued to fall on our next day in Riga but we weren’t complaining, it made the landscape feel uniquely Latvian, whatever the heck that means!
We made a quick stop at the Riga Central Market because it is Europes largest market and bazaar and because it is housed in old Zeppelin hangers. We came for the fruits and vegetables and we stayed for the Zeppelin hangers! Alas, we only had an hour or so to explore before leaving the warmth of the hanger to check out the Martin’s Day festival.
By the time we reached the Martin’s Day festival, the tundra was definitely even more snowy. The Martin’s Day festival is a traditional Latvian celebration of the first day of winter and let me tell you, it is quite the party. A big part of the Martin’s Day festival is the costumes which could best be described as interesting. This particular costume had the ancillary benefit of some added warmth so I was a happy camper. The costumes are dedicated to both the spirits and life beyond the grave as well as to the harvest season. So we had costumes and…
we had music and…
we had free food, so yeah, it was definitely a party!If you want to see more from the Martin's Day festival including videos, check out part 2 of our trip report here: http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-part-2-experiencing-latvia/
After the revelry of the Martin’s Day Festival (although I still can’t imagine why anyone would want to celebrate the coming of winter but any who), it was time to head back to the hotel to edit, eat and catch some ZZZ’s. We would spend our next day at the world famous Poking forest in search of it’s mythical healing energy.The forest is believed by many Latvians to have healing powers and for this reason Pokaini has played a huge role in Latvian culture for years. It wasn’t until the 1970’s however, when NASA noted unexplained periodic bursts of energy, that Pokaini was on the map for non-Latvians.
Spiritual healers have long said that Pokaini has a special healing energy and legend has it that you can feel it’s energy radiating from the many stones scattered throughout the forest. Maybe it was the power of suggestion but I really did feel a subtle energy coming from the stones, especially the larger ones. Here my brother was trying to tap into the energy.
Is the very odd shape of some of Pokaini’s trees due to it’s mystical healing energy? Who knows.
We ended our day in Pokaini with traditional Latvian music performed by the next to a very inviting fire. The combination of her voice and the scenery left me so mesmerized that I forgot just how cold I should have been. I really couldn’t imagine anything topping Pokaini but our next stop was a traditional Latvian Sauna and it sure gave Pokaini a run for it’s money.If you want to see more pics from the Pokaini forest, check out part 2 of our trip report here: http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-part-2-experiencing-latvia/
We journeyed for about an hour on back roads through the isolated Latvian countryside before we finally pulled up to a very nondescript wooden house in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. The pitch-black starry skies made for an excellent backdrop but crappy pictures. On the inside, the sauna was warm and inviting if not a bit musty. Saunas play a huge role in Latvian culture and in traditional Latvian medicine. Our host for the evening was a Sauna Master and a trained medical doctor practicing Psychiatry. He explained to us the importance Sauna’s have in Latvian medicine including their roles in pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. He even explained to us how he uses the sauna in his Psychiatry practice. Apparently his fluffy liked listening to the stories while chilling in front of the crackling fireplace.
Part of the Latvian sauna experience involved stripping down to literally nothing, submerging our bodies in an almost frozen lake followed by a tub (also outside) that was filled with ice cold water before finally getting back to the refuge of the Sauna and to have a traditional Latvian treatment. The Sauna master and his son were almost as naked as we were and I still haven’t decided if that made the experience more or less awkward. The ice cold part of the treatment sucked, I have to be honest, and the warm part of the treatment got a bit warm at times, but the overall experience was actually pretty cool and very relaxing. Traditional Latvian sauna crossed off of the list, we made the 60 minute journey back to the center of Riga.
After dinner we took one last stroll through the streets of Riga. We had to be up at zero dark thirty to catch our flight to Amsterdam the following morning and we only had 24-hours in Amsterdam to film the world famous Folken twins, a clinic specifically designed to serve sex workers and of course the Red Light district, so a little bit of sleep was a must.
We were up bright and early (and by bright I mean it was still pitch black!) to catch our airBaltic flight to Amsterdam. While I’m not a huge fan of green (unless it has some dead presidents on it and it is in my pocket), the airBaltic green did kind of light up the otherwise monotoned checkin lobby.
Check-in was quick and easy and we soon had our boarding passes in hand and made our way through a very quick and efficient security line. Yup, that’s my mother eating an over-priced airport pastry, but she carried us for 8 1/2 months and managed to push us both out so I think she earned it! Now were even.
Pretty respectable departures board, especially for the time of morning.
Our Boeing 737-300 was dutifully waiting on the freezing tarmac to take us to Amsterdam.
Hopefully you enjoyed!If you are not totally bored to tears yet, CHECK OUT SOME OF OUR PAST TRIP REPORTS AS WELL:Hajj Part 1-The Trip to Saudi:http://www.twindoctorstv.com/hajj-my-journey-of-forgiveness-redemption-and-rebirth-aprt-1/Hajj Part 2-Medinah:http://www.twindoctorstv.com/hajj-journey-forgiveness-redemption-rebirth-part-2-medinah/Hajj Part 3-The Actual Hajj:http://www.twindoctorstv.com/hajj-journey-forgiveness-rebirth-redemption-part-3-hajj/Hajj Part 4-The Journey Home: http://www.twindoctorstv.com/hajj-journey-forgiveness-redemption-rebirth-part-4-heading-home/San Diego Comic Con "Freaks and Geeks" Part One- Flying There: http://www.twindoctorstv.com/san-diego-comic-con-2017-freaks-geeks-part-1-getting-there/San Diego Comic Con "Freaks and Geeks" Part Two-The Con:http://www.twindoctorstv.com/san-diego-comic-con-2017-part-2-con/San Diego Comic Con "Freaks and Geeks" Part Three-Flying Home: http://www.twindoctorstv.com/san-diego-comic-con-2017-freaks-geeks-part-3/Latvia Part 1-Getting There:http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-getting-there/Latvia Part 2-A Two Headed Dog, Rapid Detox and a Polar Plunge: http://www.twindoctorstv.com/latvia-part-2-experiencing-latvia/WEB: https://www.twindoctorstv.comFACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/twindoctorstvTWITTER: https://www.twitter.com/twindoctorstv