Riga, Latvia

Freedom Monument

The previous night, a few people commented on the stamina of both Sarah & I when it comes to going out and having a few beers. Unfortunately, it all caught up with us the next morning when we had to be at the coach station for 7am. Not much sleep, and little food, one of us was not feeling 100% and the bus had hardly driven 10 metres before the coach toilet was christened. 4 ½ hours later with a small nap under our belts, we arrived into Riga feeling a lot better, until we got to our hostel.

The Naughty Squirrel Hostel, in Riga, is one of the best hostels we have stayed in. Great rooms, informative staff and you get a welcome shot as well! We had been told about Riga’s Black Balsam by Zane, our Latvian guide through Russia. She told us it was full of medicinal properties and it was good for us. She also asked us to take a photo before and after, so here they are…

Hmm… Yum? It definitely didn’t feel good at the time and there definitely is a lingering after taste, but it did warm our tummies and we were ready to go out exploring. Zane had given us a list of places to visit when we got to Riga and first up was the Central Market. Housed in five reused German Zeppelin hangers, the market is separated into Meat, Dairy, Vegetables (pickled mainly), Groceries and Fish. It was formerly the biggest market place in the world and is a great place to people watch and grab a bite to eat. We didn’t manage to get to the café at the back of market, Café 371, where they use only the ingredients from the market, but we did manage to pick up a lunch for €0.81 between us from one of the stalls.

Behind the market is massive building nicknamed ‘Stalin’s Birthday Cake’ that takes it design from the Stalin Skyscrapers in Moscow. We were told that up the top is a great place to get a view of Riga’s Old Town but unfortunately it was closed for winter. So it was off to see the Old Town on foot.  The Old Town of Riga is similar to Tallinn, although not as hilly, and has a few more modern buildings but still worth a visit. We stopped at bar that was recommended called Folk Club Ala. Downstairs at basement level; it has a great atmosphere and plenty of Latvian beer to indulge in, along with traditional Latvian food. There was no time for food this time as we were way to full from our €0.81 lunch so it was just a chance to rest our feet and enjoy the beer.

It was a busy Saturday and there was an abundance of Russian tourists again but it was good to wander around getting photos and this time stopping for hot sausages to warm up by the creative small fires they had going in the streets. Surprisingly, right near the main square, we found a restaurant called Province that was cheap and tasty before stopping off at Omas Briljants, a cool little bar where I discovered my now favourite Latvian Beer, Valmiermuiza.

We had just enough time the following morning to head out of the Old Town to Miera Ieala (Peace Street), a bohemian area that, if it wasn’t early Sunday morning, would have been buzzing with hipsters at the little café’s and boutique shops amongst the wooden buildings and bright graffiti. We just got back in time to start a ‘Free Walking Tour’ at the front of St Peter’s Church. The tour relived a lot of where we had been the previous day, but the eccentric Latvian guide gave a better insight to what we have seen, plus a bit more. One sight we went to was the Church of Jesus on the outskirts of the Old Town. It is the largest classical wooden building in Latvia and has been burnt down 4 times to avoid anyone attacking the main city. The fourth, however, was when someone spotted Napoleon on his march to destroy the city, so set it
alight. Problem was Napoleon was passing through Vilnius, Lithuania so was a bit far away. It looks good now though.

After enduring a few hours in what felt like the coldest day so far, we ended the walking tour near the Freedom Monument and walked out to the Art Nouveau District. It was 4pm, the light was fading and we still had not had any lunch so we quickly made it back to Folk Club Ala for a feast of soup, grey peas and Latvian meatballs. All washed down with a few Valmiermuiza’s of course.

That was it; our holiday was over. So it was back to London, business class on BA with Ryanair into our waiting limousine taxi that didn’t arrive to drive us home directly before dropping someone off and getting a flat tyre that I had to change before finally getting into bed. That aside, it was a great trip and would definitely recommend everyone getting to that part of the world if they can.

So that was our first few posts. Hopefully it will get better over time and feel free to comment on anything you want, other than our spelling or grammar.

Wade & Sarah

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