Today we spent a lovely time in Riga, the capitol city of Latvia. We strolled through the old part of the city where buildings were built in the Art Nouveau style has been beautifully preserved. It is quite remarkable that so many ornate buildings survived the Soviet period where ugly utilitarian high rises were so often built in other former Soviet republics. Riga shows almost no sign of its former occupiers, in contrast with the cities we have visited in recent days where the memory is much fresher. Riga displays many modern bridges and other structures which give the city the feeling of a very modern and progressive metropolis. Although unemployment remains a problem, the general feeling one gets is of a quite prosperous society. This is a beautiful Hanseatic City dating from 1201. The city is dominated by its eclectic architecture from a variety of periods. Interestingly, none of the buildings got destroyed from World War and Latvia was lucky enough to still stand strong after. I enjoyed taking way too many photos of the unique details each building had.
The historic city center is a World Heritage Site, recognized for its finest collection of art noveau buildings in Europe. I spent the morning walking around the quiet end of town where many of the embassies are and more residential area. At about 930am I wandered into a small coffee shop, mostly just to check it out. To my surprise, they did not take Euros or Visa/Mastercard. I was out of luck. Suddenly two fine looking men approached me and offered to buy me a coffee. They actually tried to get me to try the cheesecake and all sorts of other baked goods they had. For 930am I had to decline. I settled on a nice latte, and after saying no thanks, finally agreed to let them buy it for me. I chatted with them for a little. At the time I didn’t piece together that it was almost 10am on a Saturday, and they had probably gone out the night before. They tried to convince me that their beverages, a nice cup of hot chocolate, a shot of spicy rum, and a lemon, was a typical Latvia morning delight. Hahaha. I watched as they took the rum, sipped the coco and then bit some lemon. Wow. I wanted to stick around and chat with them more, however, I was worried the bus was going to take off and leave me on the outside of the main city. I said thanks and rushed off to find my bus, which was pulling away as I turned the corner. They let me on last minute.
We drove around the city which was actually quite scenic and not boring at all. The buildings are all full of different colors, statues, and decorations. Back when they were being built, there was wide beliefs in spirits, and many building had certain decorations carved on the outside to help with protection. For example, sculptures of dogs could be found at the top to protect from evil, mad or sad faces, different birds, etc. They were all beautiful and really add to the look of the city.
Next I went onto Old Town, the more popular area of the city, full of cobbled streets and a tall copper green cathedral. I watched kids perform “Dzintarins” which showed what I think was traditional Latvia dance. Children under 18 performed some dances in Heidi looking costumes, with their hair done up and tied with ribbons. It was excellent and nice to see some culture and kids. I also visited a church and saw some wonderful organs play. It’s a weekly Saturday routine for the organs to do a show of three songs every Saturday at noon. Many locals came to hear it as well. After all the sight seeing I decided to sit down an people watch a café. I tried the local drink, a liquor which was described similar to Jager. I had it mixed with black current juice and warmed though so the actually liquor taste was probably minimized. It was okay, I probably would not get it again though. The potato pancakes I had though were to die for. The best potato pancakes I’ve ever had! It’s popular in the Baltic to have potato pancakes with salmon on top. I also tried some kind of cooked vegetable disk too. It was similar to eggplant, cut in half, then topped with more vegetables and some kind of cheese. Delicious! Latvia is known for the black bosom liquor, some chocolate that is filled with alcohol, and a cheesecake that is also based special with some kind of liquor. I tried the liquor, but the rest will have to wait.
I really enjoyed seeing Latvia, especially because it was sunny with no cloud in sight. I’m glad we got to see the area, learn some history, learn about the buildings, and just hang out in the town. I’d recommend stopping by if you ever get a chance. I also enjoyed photographing.
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Some other facts:
– There is a McDonalds
– Guys must bring their date flowers or else it is considered rude. Because of that there are flower stands in the main street that are open nearly 24 hours.
– Black Bosum is the national drink (liquor)
– Laima is their chocolate-famous for it
– There are many coffee shops on every corner, no Starbucks, but they do have a popular chain