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9/22 Five days in Riga, Latvia

We are wandering our way across the Baltic states and central Europe on our way to Munich for Oktoberfest, moving from expensive Scandinavia to less expensive Estonia and Latvia to MUCH less expensive Poland before reaching reasonable Germany.

We heard good things about Riga so it was on the list to visit.  This time we decided to take the bus from Tallinn to Riga and chose Lux Express after doing a bit of research.  The ride was 4.5 hours long, cost 28 E each, express from Tallinn, with comfy seats, wi-fi, power in the seats, and videos to watch. We opted for the slightly higher priced tickets only so Mark could have more leg room. The bus left on time and arrived on time; the scenery was good – lots of birch forests and wooden house; nothing we would call a city between Tallinn and Riga. Note also… the Tallinn bus station is very nice with clean toilets and a few shops to buy sandwiches.

Luxe Express bus seats

Inside of the Luxe Express Bus, complete with video monitors to watch movies in a variety of languages and wifi.

Tallinn is charming –  a medieval Old Town still in good shape. Riga, on the other hand, is much more cosmopolitan even though it, too, has a small, charming Old Town.  Parks abound in the city filled with beautiful gardens and interesting sculptures. A canal winds through the city as does the Daugava River. The leaves are falling and seem to be raked up daily.

paddle boarders

This group was paddle boarding on the canal on Sunday afternoon and then started doing yoga on their boards.

One of the many gardens in the parks.

Riga has over 600  Art Nouveau buildings which are beautiful, hiding in plain sight all over the city. Looking up became a pastime to find all the magical and mysterious touches to buildings. The pictures below were all from one block full of buildings near where we stayed. I’m sure the people who live on this street get tired of everyone staring at their homes and offices.

He/she has a matching partner on the other side of the door.

Riga has embraced the shopping culture since shedding the Russian influence. We passed numerous shopping malls in our bus rides around the city.  They still make use of the old Central Market with fish, meat, and veggies. It was packed on a Sunday afternoon.

We have no idea what these fish are even when we went for a translation. At the price, though, they must be plentiful – about $1 per pound.

The Central Market is housed in 5 German Zeppelin Hangars for indoor space. There’s space outside where the veggies seemed to be. Watermelon was a big seller this time of year.

Smiling is not big in this ex-Russian dominated city. After what they went through with the Russians, Germans, and Russians again, a serious demeanor could be expected.  The younger people are a bit more genial although we’re still waiting for the mid-20’s lady in the Costa Coffee shop to crack a smile.  She didn’t even ask us what we wanted to order but we noticed she didn’t ask the locals either!

One day we took the bus out of town to the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum to see buildings from all over the 4 distinct areas of Latvia. This building collection began in the mid-30’s, quite a forward-thinking idea at the time. This preserved old buildings from destruction and allows everyone (school groups included!) to understand a bit of life in earlier times.

We visited in the middle of the week during the off season and had the place pretty much to ourselves.  That being said, we missed any demonstrations of  life in the villages that may be done during the peak season, according to friends and the website. One fact we took away was bath houses and saunas have been popular for a LONG time!

The Open Air Museum is set in the woods next to a lake. Walking around was calm and peaceful in the middle of the week.

Wooden building with thatched roof

Just a sample of the buildings you find at the Open Air Museum

Laundry … our AirBnb had a lovely washing machine and a lovely 4 hours wash cycle if you’re so inclined!  We opted for a shorter one – about 1 hour this time. Did  I mention the elevator?  The building in the Embassy part of town had an elevator, too!  I love those when it comes to carrying the suitcases in!  We were around the corner from the Greece embassy and about 2 blocks from the Russian embassy – noticeable by the fence, guard box, and cameras all around!

Here are a few other highlights from our visit to Riga.

champagne cocktail

Black balsam is a spirit made in Latvia – very traditional. We think it’s like moonshine with a bunch of different herbs and roots added. At 47% alcohol, it’s strong! I tried mine in a cocktail mixed with prosecco. (It’s the back stuff floating on top of the prosecco before I stirred it all together.)
Mark had his in coffee.

High seat in a city bus

This seat was in a city bus. We have no idea who it’s designed for but it was used by a variety of people from old to young and short to tall.

Ore new favorite snack – dark rye bread grilled in butter and covered in smashed up garlic. It’s a common snack to go with beer.

St. Gertrude's Church

Susan’s grandmother’s middle name was Gertrude so I dragged Mark around Riga to find St. Gertrude’s Church. She is also a patron saint of travelers. How appropriate!

Nativity of Christ Orthodox Church

The Nativity of Christ Orthodox Church in Riga is the biggest Orthodox church in Riga and has been completely restored since the Russians left. They used it a a restaurant and a planetarium at various times.

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