The Boss & I recently spent and excellent weekend in Riga. For those of you who haven't availed yourselves of the Latvian capital it is to be recommended. However a proviso: 2 days is enough. If you plan on going for longer make sure you have a day trip out of town organised.
We left last Friday from Helsinki and the short flight was blessed with wonderful weather and clear visibility that gave us excellent views of Helsinki, Tallinn & Riga. Getting into town was simple and we found our hotel without any problems. Then we set off on out adventures.
For those of you who know us you will know that we can pound the streets and pound them we did. If it was worth seeing we went there, normally via a strangely circuitous route and then went off in an unexpected direction. It was as if we wanted to see everything Riga had to offer, and the more we got off the beaten track the better. The Jugendstil architecture lived up to the billing. Even more so in my eyes because eye wateringly extravagent buildings were plonked shoulder to shoulder to wrecks and tenements which lent the streets and sometimes shambolic but never boring air. We even managed a boat trip on the river which as anyone who knows me will tell you is a must for me when visiting anywhere. I love boat trips.
We also visited the Latvian Museum of The Occupation which will leave you depressed. One of my golden rules for myself on this blog is that it doesn't do politics. Yet in this museum History and Politics are mixed up in an uncompromising way. The narrative is that Latvia was illegally occupied by both Nazi Germany and the USSR for about 50 years. I have visited concentration camps in Poland and have studied Facism in Western Europe in the 20th century at school and university. I know that the emotions the subject engenders is part of the current political landscape in parts of Europe and this is true of Latvia today. The image its politicians choose to make of the land is a reaction to its recent past and to that end the musuem is a piece of propaganda. However for the casual visitor to Riga it is important to breathe in this sorry tale of a small country and how it has suffered. It is important not to forget that these things happened. It is also important to have a plan ready before you go into the museum on how you will cheer yourself up when you leave.
Many people say Riga is a dodgy town and certainly the Helsinki Sanomat has been coincidentally running stories suggesting the same. However we paid cash for most things and found that if you don't go chasing skirt it is a nice town. We were of course blessed with fabulous weather so were able to sit outside and enjoy a drink in the street rather than venturing into dodgy dark establishments.
We were there for 3 and half days so made a detour to the seaside resort of Jurmala via Latvian railways. All I will say is that if you can find which window to buy a ticket from in Riga central station, find your way to the platform and then find out which station to get off at (due to the lack of station signs) you must be a native Latvian and a railway enthusiast to boot!
We were also enthusiastic in our attempts to try Latvian cuisine which consists of pork and potatoes and dumplings. Yes it was stodgy and yes it seemed to have the same aversion to spices that is prevelant in this part of the world so please don't expect massive things of it but when you are in Riga give it a go. The Riga Balsam on the other hand is something I have no qualms about recommending avoidance.
All in all I can say that Riga is a place I would be happy to suggest others visit and I look forward to visiting Vilnius soon.
Tomorrow our friends arrive from the UK and I am really looking to showing them a little of Finland. The weather forecast is good for Friday so maybe a BBQ picnic on Suomenlinna is in order.
By the way I was reading another blog post and the issue of who owns what on the web came up. Therefore I would like to point out that I found the photo of Riga from a Google search and if the owner would like acknowledgment I would be more than happy to oblige. This also applies retrospectively to most photos on this blog and my apologies for lack of credit, no harm was intended.