We arrived into Riga, Latvia by coach at around half 3. Here you can see Riga Central Market just across the river. Can you guess what the buildings were? More on this later!
On arriving at our hostel (the naughty squirrel) in Riga we were welcomed with two shots called Riga Black Balsam (45% abv). At 16:30 it was just what we needed! It has been made in Riga since the middle of the 18th century and our host said it cures everything from broken bones to heartbreak.
After settling in and looking around the hostel we sat in the common room and did a little research. Slowly but surely we began to build a picture of what we would like to do in the city. We also bumped into Jay, who we met in Vilnius, Lithuania, which was great and we all hung around together.
They also have a wicked happy hour. Happy hour changes every day and is always at a peculiar time but it means that pints are €1.50 so it isn’t to be missed.
We usually go on the walking tours that are offered as they’re free (apart from the tips) and usually a 2-3 hour lecture of the noteworthy historical and cultural highlights of the country/capital told, usually, by a young person. I’ve noticed they are typically educated outside of the country (our guide in Riga went to uni in the Netherlands) before coming back. Due to this I honestly think they end up being fantastic guides as they have the societal/behavioural insights from growing up there but as they spent some formative years in another country they are able to recognise and point out the nuances/obscurities that us tourists find fascinating.
This huge building is The Latvian Academy of Sciences and a reminder of the Russian occupation.
“The building, designed by Osvalds Tīlmanis, Vaidelotis Apsītis, and Kārlis Plūksne, is a cousin to similar Stalin-era skyscrapers, which were representative of what became known as Stalinist architecture (sometimes referred to as Socialist Classicism). The architecture of the skyscraper resembles many others built in the Soviet Union at the time, most notably the main building of Moscow State University. ”
Here was our tour guide, Dita, in one of the gardens in Riga.
Apparently they have a problem with beavers in Riga. Apparently “The city’s policy is currently to fence the trees and to feed the beavers in order to limit the damage” however it seems “this merely served to provoke the timber-obsessed mammals to vandalize the city’s wooden benches in response.” and so they have upped the amount of money they spend per year feeding the animals to prevent them devouring all the wood in Riga. Our guide also said the city has been putting contraception in the food to try and keep the population down!
They seem to really like sculpture in the Baltics.
Through the trees here you can see the freedom monument. “It is an honour to soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918–1920). It is considered an important symbol of the freedom, independence, and sovereignty of Latvia.”
Here you can see the guards, pacing back and forth. Out of frame a soldier in the background a soldier watching them (supervisor or something) is asked by a couple of tourists to take their photo. Exactly what he had trained for.
” tells the story of four aging domestic animals, who after a lifetime of hard work are neglected and mistreated by their former masters. Eventually, they decide to run away and become town musicians in the city of Bremen. Contrary to the story’s title the characters never arrive in Bremen, as they succeed in tricking and scaring off a band of robbers, capturing their spoils, and moving into their house.”
After the walking tour we tried some archery. I was not great and I probably won’t choose the crossbow as my weapon of choice in the Zombie Apocalypse. I’ll stick with a hammer?!
Coincidentally 9th May in Latvia is victory day. Our guide advised that there would be celebrations on the other side of the river, she wasn’t too enthusiastic when we hinted at our desire to go and have a look. She said everyone would be drunk, singing old soviet songs and there might be violence. We decided to walk over anyway, even just to watch for a few minutes, as it was a beautifully hot day and it would definitely be an interesting scene to witness especially having had a 3 hour lecture, predominantly, about the soviet impact on Latvia. Above are some pretty buildings we saw on the way.
We also decided to stop in at the national library also known as the castle of light.
So many books.
Victory Day, celebrated at the Victory Monument, in Latvia commemorates the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945. The Soviet government announced the victory early on 9 May after the signing ceremony in Berlin. However May 9th is a “divisive date in Latvia. While many ethnic Russians, who make up around a quarter of the population, see it as a day of commemoration and celebration, most ethnic Latvians see it as the start of a second, harsh 50-year Soviet occupation.” This may explain our guides hesitance. We didn’t see any violence or trouble. There were 27 arrests over the day (9:00 – 23:00) but for minor things like public drinking and urination.
“Latvijas avīze compares different takes on May 9 – from Moscow, the ethnic Russians in Latvia and the Latvians:
“In Moscow the victory of 1945 has taken on a mystic splendour – the monster Nazi Germany was defeated not by the Soviet Union and the Soviet people but by mighty Russia’s brilliance. Among the Russian community in Riga, May 9 has become a huge party in recent years. Most of the so-called WWII veterans have already passed away. The hundreds of thousands who gather at the Soviet monument in Riga are demonstrating their joy at the fact that there are so many of them in the Latvian capital, that Riga’s mayor is a compatriot and that they can get along just fine without speaking Latvian properly. For the Latvians, however, all that happened back then was that one occupation was replaced by another.””
Here’s Jay munching as we sit and watch the parades, music and general hubbub. On the big screen in the background you can see a documentary being played.
That night for dinner we went to a traditional Latvian restaurant .It was so beautiful inside. Warm, cosy and very atmospheric. It also seemed like we were the only tourists! The actual restaurant was downstairs and at the end of a very long corridor. Even before we entered the room we could hear the music and dancing. It was a great night, the food was cheap, as was the wine, and Jay had us laughing with his quirky sense of humour. We stayed until the dancing stopped (around midnight) eventually meandering home.
Back to Riga Central Market.
Remember the buildings at the beginning of the blog, the buildings that house Riga Central Market? They say it is Europe’s Largest bazaar (yes, even bigger than The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul) The biggest difference I noticed, having visited both, seems to be the noise and bustle. Whereas The Grand Bazaar is a cacophony of noise, haggling and gossip – Riga Central Market is noticeablyT quiet. There is no haggling, we were advised “if there is a price you pay it” there is no idle chit chat between seller an customer. It almost feels like a library inside.
Anyway, back to the buildings! They have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are actually old German Zeppelin hangars!
Thanks for reading!
Coming up next on the blog:
- more SH*TDOODLES
- The Great Kemeri Bog trail, Latvia
- Tallinn, Estonia
- Kaunas, Lithuania
- 30km bike ride to Kaunas monastery
- 100 day project update (some writing finally)
- 25 blog post round up
- Interviews with authors