July saw me going to Riga with puzzledpeaces, teashoe, aber_karramba and C. for a weekend. Almost all of us turned 30 this year and we decided to celebrate with a trip together. After a lot of discussion, we finally settled on Riga because none of us had been there, we could all fly there cheaply and it looked interesting. It turned out to be an excellent decision.
Our trip started on Thursday, but only very late – we didn’t arrive in Riga until 11pm and it took another hour or so until we were actually in the apartment we had rented for the weekend. Of course, then we had to discuss sleeping arrangements, general plans for the next days, whether the tab water was drinkable (we decided against it) and a whole lot of other nonsense so it was very late until we actually slept.
The next “morning”, C., puzzledpeaces and me braved the outside world first and hunted down breakfast, coffee and huge bottles of water. Breakfast consisted mostly of freshly baked pastry that we just couldn’t walk past (and that was really cheap), making it slightly more extensive than we had planned so until we actually hit the city, we were approaching 2pm. At least we didn’t live far from the center.
But that was lucky timing after all. Because as we got to the tourist info to inquire about the ferry to Jurmala, they told us about the folk music festival taking place in Riga at the time (the Baltica) and that a concert was about to start right around the corner. So we took their suggestion and headed to the museum where the concert was taking place. We had a bit before it actually started so we wandered through the exhibition, called “Secrets of the Latvian Soul”. They showed costumes and tapestry and explained the symbolism of the geometric forms used in all of it – and that looked really amazing. Colorful and geometric – that’s my kind of stuff.
Finally the concert started and they really featured a whole lot of groups who got to sing three songs each and inbetween there was a woman who apparently talked about horses. It’s not like we actually understood what they were saying – but they had power point and horse pictures and by the end, we had learned that zirgu meant horse and that the word kumeliņi was featured a lot. We later googled and it turns out, kumeliņi means horse, too. It also turns out that there are really a lot of Latvian folk songs about horses.
In any case, the songs were nice, the atmosphere was great and when we stumbled out of the museum two hours later, it felt like we really learned something about Latvian culture.
After sitting around and listening to music and not still not having seen much of the city, we finally decided to explore a little. First stop was St. Peter’s Church where teashoe, aber_karramba and C. decided to go to the top of the tower (puzzledpeaces and me thought that the entry fee was too high for a view of the city and waited for them downstairs. After the three returned to ground level, we walked on, past the statue of the Town Musicians of Bremen (a sister city) where we had to pose for a photo, of course (I posed as the donkey. I feel that’s fitting).
Our first destination wa the Cat House, a house with a cat with an angrily arched back on the rooftop. It is said that the cat was first turned with its ass toward the Tradesmen’s Guild as the owner of the house felt slighted by them. Who knows if that’s true, but cats on roofs are nice. We continued our ambling through the city with the new goal of reaching dinner, which we found in Taverna, a place with traditional Latvian food and a waitress who criticized pretty much all our food choices, but then turned out to be really friendly.
After dinner we continued to walk through the city until we reached the Freedom Monument, then we turned back towards our appartment. teashoe, C. and me decided to make a last stop in the bar next door (since the bar in our house had no room, at least not for tourists). That bar – called Omas briliants (which I assume transaltes to “brilliant granny”) – not only had a nice atmosphere, it also had a cool interior design concept: it had old sofas, floor lamps with flowery shades and shelves on the wall with all kinds of kitschy stuff – just like you’d imagine a granny’s living room (see photo a little further down the post).
We didn’t stay long, though, because the next morning we had boating plans: we wanted to take the boat to Jurmala, the next town that is actually at the sea. And so, in the best weather imaginable, we took the two hour boat trip down the three rivers leading from Riga to the sea.
Once we arrived in Jurmala, we walked along the promenade next to the beach for a bit and then hit the actual beach. The sea there is extremely flat, so we were able to wade in quite a bit without the water ever rising to our knees. Which was a good thing because nobody had brought their swimming trunks and it was arguably a little cold for a swim-beach-day, at least for us southerners. Which didn’t mean that the beach was at all empty – there was one bar after the other, many families bathing with their kids and there was even a wrestling championship happening (an excellent opportunity to ogle half-naked guys exerting themselves, which we definitely took advantage of).
After a couple of hours there, though, it started to rain slightly and we headed back to the train station. With incredible timing to boot, because 2 minutes later, a train came and took us back to Riga, just in time to check out the Central Market (next to the train station) before it closes. It’s a food market built into four halls (and with additional stalls outside). Those halls were actually supposed to house zeppelins, but when that mode of transportation went up in flames (pun intended), the took the upper halves of the warehouses, transported them to Riga and filled them with food. Excellent thinking, in my opinion.
From the market we headed back into the old city to find dinner. After a first stop in a restaurant that was so expensive, we ordered water, looked at the menu, paid the water and left again, we finally reached a medieval restaurant with a charming courtyard that had caught our attention the day before. And in a trip made of good decisions, that was one of the best. Not only did we have a charming, friendly waiter (if he hadn’t been like 60 years old, I probably would have flirted an unsavory amount), but the food was simply fantastic.
After dinner we accompanied puzzledpeaces home and then looked for a bar where the rest of us could make a party out of Saturday night. Which is not hard because there are no bars in Riga, it’s hard because there are so many bars and all are special and stylish. We finally let the Happy Hour lure us into Spot, where we had Riga shots, rum and cokes and finally Alien Urin Samples. But more importantly, we had the (small) dance floor pretty much to ourselves and the DJ was playing mostly very danceable hip hop.
As enjoyable as that was, after a couple of hours, I had heard enough hip hop and since it had about 40°C in the bar, I was ready for a change of scene. I suggested another stop at Omas briliants and once we had pried teashoe out of Spot, we relocated there. And honestly, I had only thought we’ll show aber_karramba the bar from the inside, have a last drink and then call it a day. But then the DJ was so perfectly awesome there that C. and I were basically glued to the dance floor. (It also helped that the barkeeper was a cutie who remembered my order and gave me water for free.) I’m still looking for that Take me to Church remix that he was playing because it seriously gave me goosebumps.
Finally we managed to cut ourselves loose (teashoe and aber_karramba had left us quite a while earlier already) and were happy that we didn’t have that far to go anymore. As it was sometime between 4 and 5am, we only let puzzledpeaces know that we wouldn’t join her for a more extensive look at the market in the morning, but rather slept until it was time to check-out and head to St. Peter’s Church from where the Riga Free Tour started at noon, a walking tour that took us for a short circle through the old city and then past the Central Market into Moscow District and St. Petersburg District.
It was an interesting tour of a part of Riga we hadn’t so far seen and with a charming and energetic guide. Although it already lasted about two and a half hours, I wouldn’t have minded to continue walking. But the tour was over and, unfortunately, so was our trip. We only had time to get some food for the trip and then we already had to grab out bags and head to the airport.
But Riga will definitely be a candidate for another visit. Maybe in combination with Tallinn and Vilnius. I could think of worse things than a little tour of the Baltic.