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Old Favorites & New Places-part 2, Riga, Latvia

I was off to the bus station (autobussijaam) in a light snow at 7:30 am--easiest to take a taxi. Taking a bus in a foreign country was new for me, but my research led me to realize it was cheap & efficient and the buses are quite nice, like airplanes, even, with movies to watch. I chose Ecolines and booked my ticket about a month in advance as I was traveling around holidays--May 1, and then in Riga it was the weekend of their Restoration of Independence Day, so didn't need any surprises. My ticket was under $20 US and I must say it was a very easy & pleasant experience.

I thought I'd nap a bit but once I realized this was prime stork watching country I was alert the whole 4 hours--they were in fields, or nests atop chimneys and poles, and I was thrilled to bits to see my favorite birds, also foxes and deer. Arrived in Riga a bit after 12 noon, and it was cold, around 45, but I had my route mapped out and set off to the Astor Riga on Zigfrida Annas Meierovica, in old town. A 10 minute walk became convoluted by an enormous thoroughfare that had no pedestrian crossings, you had to use underpasses with short flights of stairs (I think there were lifts but I was frazzled) to come up on the other side, but eventually I got headed the right way and my hotel bordered a beautiful park just on the edge of old town. Left my luggage and set off to find lunch and get my bearings. Immediately found Hobbywool, a wonderful knitting shop featuring kits to make gorgeously detailed Latvian mittens and spent time selecting one, very helpful staff. Then toured the Art Museum Bourse and had a snack, then to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia--excellent and moving exhibits on their fight for freedom. Finally time for dinner and I chose the fabulous Uncle Vanya on Smilsu--Russian food in a charming setting with retro Russian pop music.

The next day was a holiday--Restoration of Latvian Independence, and as my room overlooked the park and street I got to see the bands and folk-costumed contingents arrive for the ceremony at the freedom statue in the park, called Milda. I'm always happy to be in town when a country is celebrating something, so much to see and do and this was no exception. First I spent a few hours exploring the Art Nouveau district and toured the museum, which is a flat decorated in the period style. It was raining so then to the Latvian National Art Museum, rain stopped so off to the Central Market in old zeppelin hangars-mainly for locals--then back to the old town to see folkloric dancing and singing--loved that! Visited a great shop of handcrafts, including beautiful traditional mittens, called Sena Klets, on Ratslakaum, near the House of the Blackheads. Found the Cat House. Next wonderful restaurant discovery was Petergaillis on Skarnu iela, near St Peter's church and the Bremen Musicians statue. Possibly the best restaurant of the whole trip--braised Latvian style pork ribs on a bed of fresh vegetables and potatoes, just scrumptious.

Last day was another damp, chilly one and I had trouble getting motivated despite having all my layers--and then getting horribly hot when I stopped walking or entered a building, sigh--but I explored old town some more, touring the Museum of Decorative Arts & Design and the Mentzendorff house before hitting Hobbywool again--I'd had a knitting fiasco with a broken needle and they had what I needed--then walked the Bastejkalna park before an early dinner--I couldn't resist a return to Petergaillis, this time for lamb tenderloin. Otherwise I found Latvian food not appealing-sounding at all--lots of octopus, eel, grey barley mush, blood sausage...I can be adventurous but wasn't in the mood for any of that. Pastries and breads were wonderful, as was their beer. Overall I liked Riga a lot--very clean, beautiful old town, people spoke enough English but I felt very much in a foreign place as no words seemed at all familiar--easy to navigate on foot, didn't need to use public transport.

Posted by
2645 posts

I enjoyed this part of your trip report, too. I loved Riga when I visited last summer. I went there as a solo traveler, which, as I recall, is the way you typically travel. The art nouveau buildings scattered throughout the central district and concentrated around Elizabetes/Alberta Streets are stunning. I did visit the Occupation Museum in Riga (unlike Tallinn) and found it quite good; there is a cheap English tour that is offered once per day, as I recall. I was the only person who showed up for it, so it was a private tour for me! I wandered the Central Market with the energetic local guide Santa Ogrina, and she guided me to sample a variety of foods; I really enjoyed the market.

Posted by
2163 posts

I really wanted to visit their Ghetto & Holocaust Museum on Moskova iela near the Centrāltirgus but I ventured down on a holiday so it was closed. Another thing I hoped to visit was the Spikeri flea market, in the same general vicinity but only open a couple of weekends per month—nothing’s worse than missing such things but it’s part of travel, alas.