The summer rain has finally caught up with me again. I arrived to a misty and showery Riga yesterday morning, after a 4.5-hour bus trip from Tallinn. The trip itself was quite straightforward and I didn’t have any problem at the border checkpoint either. There was a guard who entered the bus, asked each passenger for their passports and took the passports for stamping if needed.
Riga is quite a surprising city – the Old Town itself is smaller than Tallinn’s and some of the buildings have actually been extensively restored because a large part of the Old Town was bombed during World War II. For example, the House of the Blackheads was actually rebuilt from 0 in 1991 since the original building was massively destroyed in 1941. I do like Tallinn’s “genuinely old” Old Town, however, if you venture outside the Old Town, Riga is much prettier. Outside Tallinn, there are pockets of charming areas, such as Kadrioru, Pirita, and so forth – however, I think a large part of the city could do with some revamping and refreshing. In Riga, if you walk outside the Old Town, you’ll be greeted with parks, town canal (Pilsetas Kanals) and really awe-inspiring collections of Art Noveau buildings around Elizabetes Iela. Riga seems to embrace western commercialism very readily as well, you will find Narvesen kiosk (from Norway), Baskin & Robbins, and other brands that you will recognise in other countries. It does have a feel of a ‘western’ city, but I hope that it won’t lose its character in the long run …
Well, after arriving at the bus station yesterday, I walked to my hotel in Old Town in Riga’s showery weather. The rain stopped in the afternoon though, so I got the chance to see St Peter’s Church and took the elevator to the top (a luxury!! In Tallinn and Copenhagen, you need to climb the stairs to reach the viewing platform!). I also went to see the Occupation Museum – a must if you come to Riga. Admission is free and you will learn a lot about the German and Russian occupation of Latvia and other Baltic States. I felt really sorry for the country for having to undergo such opression from one to the next … In the afternoon, I walked around the city, took a bazillion of photos of the buildings and alley-ways, and of course going ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over the art nouveau buildings.
Something that I need to share is that when I went to St Peter’s Church, it was quite refreshing to see a smiling face behind the ticket counter. In Tallinn, service is good and the people are friendly (in a reserved way), but natural smile doesn’t come easy (from the service people, I mean!) 🙂 – with the exception of waiters and waitresses at Olde Hansa. So, of course, I texted my friend in Estonia and said that the service in Riga was better – I should’ve waited until the end of the day though! During my walk, I stopped by a small kiosk to buy a bottle of water and when I proceeded to pay, I had to ask her twice of how much the water cost because I couldn’t get her the first time. Stupidly, because I was not familiar with Latvian coins at that time, took my 1 Estonian Kroon out (thinking that it was 1 Latvian Lats). The lady scolded me in Russian, and icily repeated the amount in English and took the appropriate coins from my hand. Do not make any mistakes when you pay when dealing with a Russian lady! Something that I learned from my Estonian friend and also from the Occupation Museum, is that nearly half of the poplulation in Riga are Russians. The Latvians don’t like the Russians that much, and I’m sure the opposite also applies.
It’s also nice to have a river through the city, in Riga, the Daugava River crossed the city creating almost a romantic setting for the city. Unfortunately the river started in Belorussia and apparently the water’s not the cleanest if you fancy a swim!
Now on with my second day, it’s still rainy here but I refused to feel disappointed so I used the time to visit the Dome Cathedral, and the Riga History and Navigation Museum. Riga History and Navigation Museum has an interesting collection of ancient, mediaeval and even modern exhibits – and you will also see an old lady in each of the room, doing crossword or sudoku. Initially I planned to go to Jurmala, the coastal seaside suburb of Riga, but since it’s wet and grey, I may just spend the rest of the day walking around and buying a souvenir or two.
One last remark, the hotel that I stayed in Riga is pretty nice if you ever come to visit Latvia – Konventa Seta has the commercial feel of a larger hotel, but at least it is located in the Old Town! Tomorrow morning at 6.20am, I will continue my trip by bus to Vilnius in Lithuania – that will conclude my Baltic Trifecta and it will provide me with a holistic comparison of which city that I like best out of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius. After Vilnius, I’m off to Berlin, Prague and Amsterdam – at this stage, I’m already feeling quite ‘full’ with my historic and cultural food and will be happy if I’m heading home tomorrow. However, having undergone 20 hours of flights out of Adelaide, I have to squeeze each second out of my journey!!!! 😀