Chris and Paty have moved out to Galway, Ireland for several months. Like me, Chris is also on the sugar-mama plan with Paty going to work each day as he finds new ways to kill time. During a moment of particular productiveness he hatched the idea to take a weekend trip up to Riga, Latvia and asked if we’d be interested in meeting up there. We’d never heard of Riga before but we had such a great time in Tallinn last year we figured another visit to a capitol city in the Baltic states in winter would be equally as fun. We were wrong. It was FUNNERIST.
Cast of characters.
Don’t be fooled by this empty street. There was a lot going on in Riga.
One test I try to give myself when we go to a new place is to quickly judge how different from the US a city is by looking at the people in a public place. It always starts at the airport. My test is to imagine if I were somehow magically transported to this place with no idea where I was, would I be able to simply look at the people and know I’m not in Kansas anymore? The answer in Riga is a resounding ‘yes’. In fact, based on stereotypes, you could probably even correctly guess you were in Eastern Europe. For example, most dudes look like they could be contract killers from the movies with their black leather attire, stern looks, and unshaven mug. And whereas skin tight jeans and boots for ladies are generally just a suggestion in Western Europe it seems they are required by law to be worn in Riga. These generalizations hold fairly true until you get to the older generation and then it’s all huge oversized furry coats and hats in the Soviet style. No obesity to be seen and even less racially diverse than Switzerland. As with Tallinn, a big chunk of the tourism is coming in the form of drunken English dudes on their stag party weekends. This was very well catered to as we would soon find out.
The view from our room at Hotel Riga.
Chris and Paty had already been there a day and a half by the time we arrived on Friday afternoon so we had immediate tour guides to show us the highlights. The “old town” of Riga is very, very cool.
Old ladies selling hats, gloves, and amber. Amber is huge here.
House of Blackheads. From what I read, the Blackheads were essentially a gang created in the 13th century to serve the wealthy but also were the first line of defense when Riga was threatened.
Latvia has a pretty brutal history of occupation and exile. Today the population is about 45% Latvian and 45% Russian. And only a percentage of the Latvian citizens are native Latvian. Despite these percentages, almost every conversation Chizzy overheard was in Russian. Sadly, she never had occasion to use her skills other than this handy eavesdropping.
The Dome Church in the heart of old town. Chris and Paty hooked us up with tickets to the organ concert here the first night. This church is home to the 4th largest organ in the world and the sound was indeed impressive. However, the organ was undergoing renovation so we couldn’t actually see it and the music left a lot to be desired so we made our blatant exit before it had finished.
My lack of camera equipment prevented me from getting these three buildings (which stand side by side) in one photo, but they are collectively known as the “Three Brothers” and number 17 (the white one) is the oldest standing residence in Riga.
Riga Castle. Home of the President.
I don’t know anything about St. Peter, but he certainly seems to be the most likely one to have a church named after him. Here is his spire in Riga. Not bad.
You’re going to have to do better than that St. Jacob.
It wasn’t all old. Chizzy in the mall.
But it is the market where all the self-respecting Latvians do their shopping. It was an enormous display that was housed in and around 4 or 5 large Zeppelin hangars.
mmmmm…Is your mouth watering Shelbs?
Paty was not cool with these eel. They were still slithering around here. It put me and Chizzy in the mood for sushi though and even though Chris and Paty are not fans they did indulge us with a stop at a Japanese restaurant for lunch.
This is probably where we all secretly wanted to go though. But it would have been tough to get a table in perhaps the most popular restaurant in the city.
By pure coincidence we found ourselves in Riga on Independence Day and there was a lot of activity around the Liberty Monument right next to our hotel.
We first got the impression something might be going on when we woke to this view.
There were several events surrounding this monument throughout the day and even the President herself made an appearance at some point. We know because we saw her on the news that night when we were in a bar.
We didn’t catch much of the happy celebrations though. Just this somber laying of flowers.
After everybody had left, some guards watched over the flowers.
Also, it was nice to finally be in a city that was more inexpensive than Seattle. It wasn’t dirt cheap but it was a nice change from Zurich for sure. $4 for a beer in a bar ($1 from the store). $5 for a nice big breakfast. $14 for a taxi ride from the airport. Less than $1 for a big pickle at the market.
I mentioned the stag parties before. I don’t have photo evidence for this, but just know that the nightlife in Riga is sufficiently impressive. A couple restaurant/bars we visited actually featured go-go dancers on the bar. Yeah, there was a not-so-subtle sex trade going on as well (a self proclaimed ‘gigolo’ actually propositioned Chizzy as we walked down the street) but the harmless fun variety was very prevalent. If any of you reading this are into a crazy fun nightlife filled with ultra-attractive people, I’d suggest you put Riga very high on your list of places to check out.
Thanks for picking such a great city you guys. We had a really good time and hopefully we’ll be able to meet up again before you leave.
Oh, and to get more pictures and a second opinon on the city keep an eye on Tobin Blog.