Call of the North (25): Rīga

Aug 3

First impressions of Latvia were Finlandlike: lakes and forests. At least that’s as much I could see from the bus, when waking up just before arriving in Riga.

First surprise, in the bus station – i can’t draw money, from 2 different cash machines. Hm.

It’s raining.

Maybe that’s why people on streets seem less joyful than estonians. Another difference is – as opposed to Scandinavia, here people stare at you more. For no apparent reason, with no apparent other intention, just checking people out openly – which I dont remember seeing in Scandinavia. Maybe i wasnt paying attention.

Looked for the hostel, thru the rain, found the building, it said in the email it wd be refurbished. And it was, the facade

while in the back…

With the hostel it’s exactly the other way around. Entrance at the back is not the most inviting, but inside everything is refurbished, clean and very orange. i had read it’s one of the best hostels, called FriendlyFunFrank’s, and it is. The first question from the staff was if i wanted a free beer :). They are quite surprised when i politely decline, but recover quickly and offer alternatives, so i settle for a big glass of water, to restore damaged hydration balance.

The girls are very friendly, they tell me all about the hostel mechanics, and the city and all. Room will be ready only in the afternoon, so i leave luggage and hit da road.

It stopped raining, and I ask a kind request in my mind for it to stay like this. I dont even need sun, i said, just please dont rain.

It didnt rain.

At the tourist office, a map with “Riga on foot”, and here we go.

Parliament Square is at 5 mins walking distance from the hostel. I’m sitting there now, its a quarter to 10 pm, night is falling smoothly.

But long before that, the Parliament,

and one of the most important monuments – voila, the Blackfriar house – sounds familiar? same society as the one in Tallinn, bigger house.

Moving on, picturesque streets,

monumental streets,

wide,

narrow,

very narrow,

squares,

with carriages,

arches,

on both sides,

and very different houses. From houses wIth cats,

to the “3 brothers”, brothers of the “3 sisters” in Tallinn.

Dome square,

St. Peter’s church,

where i would have liked to climb the tower, but i had no money. And my card wasnt working with any cash machine. What to do? Used the credit card to get some 20 lats out – by the way, exchange rate is 7 lats for 10 EUR. Also changed my last Estonian crowns into lats, for 40 crowns I received 1.37 lats – enough to buy some food though!

So I ate Latvian “sarmale”, actually one sarma, huge, about 3 times as the ones at home, with side dish, salad, pancake as desert – everything for 4.5 lats. Around 6 EUR. One would starve in Scandinavia with 6 EUR.

The restaurant, if interested, is called Lido, it’s a chain, very popular, local food. Good. And it is NOT the cheapest place, that’s Pensmils, on Kalku street, if interesteet.

Anyway, being cash-rich now, i managed to climb the tower, to soothe the King Kong syndrome with a panorama.

Entered the Dome, with a cool side gallery,

bells

and the old weatherrooster

which has been now replaced by a new one on top of the building

Then, the map was leading out of the old town. I thought of taking a shortcut to avoid the long walk, but then i thought – maybe they know what they’re doing. So let’s go. Oh, and they knew. I reached thus the famous Art-Nouveau houses, apparently the biggest and most well-preserved collection of the like in Europe. For example, these are the Economic and Law school.

And there are plenty more!

Mind-boggling.

I also encountered a few areas which reminded me of a Bucharest how it ought to be if people wd invest a bit in its preservation.

The Orthodox church is spectacular, both outside

and inside,

women are wearing headscarfs in the church, just like home.

Monument of independence

was the last stop before being back in the old town

where I wondered what on earth are the Bremer Stadtmusikanten doing here.

But then I needed a power-nap, executed in the park, before the last initiative, crossing the bridge. For some panoramas with the city. Like these:

If Tallinn was a cute and merry town, Riga seemed on the monumental side. Even “Royal”, although apparently they had only one king in their history. Large city, pompous metropolitan air. Indeed it is the largest Baltic capital, around 900000 inhabitants. Not as extensively restored as Tallinn, but with some key points well taken care of. Very vibrant city, in total contrast with the somewhat dull image I had about the country previously. Donno why. Maybe it was just me. Well, that image changed, fundamentally.

Some more pictures are in the below slideshow. You can quickly sweep through the ones already see clicking on >> .

http://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

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