After flying in from Oslo and paying almost 30 Australian dollars to get from the airport into the city we were refreshingly surprised when our bus cost us only $3 in Riga. There are some cities where you can just tell they are really relaxed and have such a cool vibe. Riga is one of those cities.
Staying right in the old town at the Downtown Riga Hostel was a great base to explore the old town and experience some Latvian culture, the welcome beer was also greatly appreciated. First on the list was the bar/restaurant Ala Folklubbs in the old town. We enjoyed some traditional Latvian food while listening to some live music from a nation that loves to sing and dance.
Then for our next stop we checked out a bar that is a little more of a throwback to the old soviet times. Decorated throughout the bar is a collection of old rifles, soviet weapons, American and Israeli including an RPG. All inoperable this is a cool part of the history of the city that was under Soviet occupation until around 20 years ago. Needless to say we had a little fun here and got a few cool photos.
One thing that I have possibly forgotten to mention is the daylight hours in this part of the world. We have sunlight from early in the morning till very late at night – the sun sets at 9:30 in Riga, so we are enjoying still having sunlight (and warmth) as we explore different bars. We enjoyed a few more subdued drinks in the evening around at a couple of cool little bars including the Rock Café and the Aussie Pub – conveniently located downstairs from where we are staying. Met some cool people as we saw out the evening.
The next day we headed out to do a walking tour, of what I thought was the old town, but turned out to be on Latvians disproval of the old town, and a look at the more cultural areas of Riga that the locals go, giving us some insight into the history of Latvia, outside the old town.
We explored a number of different parts of the city including the Central Markets – 5 large buildings made from old Zeppelin Hangers selling food to locals at better prices than the big supermarkets. We also walked through the city learning about the emergence of Art Nouvea style architecture that is scattered through the city as well as the wooden buildings that used to be throughout the city, and of course the downside risk (which is significant) of having all wooden houses, especially if there are blacksmiths nearby.
This tour was an interesting and alternative view of the city. We met a number of people on the tour but it was a couple of Aussies, ironically born only kilometres from where I grew up who we decided to get some lunch and watch one of Latvia’s most followed sports – Ice Hockey.
The hockey was the grudge match, Latvia v Russia, we found a quieter place to watch it with beers costing a mere $2.20 (Aussie) – a refreshing change from the outrageous prices we endured in Norway. But what a place to be – enjoying cheap beers with a few friends, watching the hockey and cheering for Latvia, who lost quite convincingly unfortunately. We did also learn however that Latvia is extremely good at a number of sports in the winter Olympics, in particular the skeleton and bobsled.
That night turned into a bigger affair than we expected, drinking at a few different bars and ending the night with some karaoke, butchering some of the classics – but it was a lot of fun, and the first place I was able to sate my appetite to horribly sing great songs!
Following a dusty start to the morning we headed on the walking tour of the Riga old town. A really amazing part of the city. There are 2 million people who live in Latvia, compared to many countries it is tiny, however hundreds of years ago Riga was one of the biggest trade centers in Europe, and as such enjoyed considerable wealth. Their location connecting Russia to the West and the black sea meant that it was a country of great strategic importance and has seen rulers from Poland, Sweden, Germany and of course, Russia post WW2.
There is so much history through Latvia, the history of the trade guilds, who acted as middlemen for the traders, buying and selling all of the products that passed through their port. This led to a sizeable amount of wealth flowing through the city. Although following their place under the Soviet Union they struggled to regain that former glory.
It was also really interesting to get a different perspective on the relationship between Latvia and Russia. The impression that I took away was that it was a very tense relationship and the move of Latvia towards closer ties with the EU – in particular adopting the Euro currency is bred out of a desire to shore up their national security.
Following the walking tour
, we did something a little different, and certainly not something you can do at home – firing AK47s. A lot of fun, and absolutely something that I recommend to anyone travelling this part of the world. It is something different and something very safe – the head of the range we attended is responsible for training the Latvian police, while our instructor was ex-Russian Army.
In the evening we decided to do something that was a little different and do a kayak cruise around the city canals. Despite getting soaked so late at night the city from the water was a sight to be seen, just be prepared to wait around a lot, and invest a few hours in Kayaking. Nonetheless it is a fun way, a good break from drinking and a nice way to see the city.
Next stop is Tallinn – a ‘brief’ 4.5 hour bus trip so a chance to keep writing some articles – stay tuned friends.