Kā vecie svilpo tā jaunie danco. (Latvian proverb)
translation: The young ones dance as the old ones whistle.
I like starting my posts on the blog with quotes, lyrics or even proverbs that somehow remind me of my time in the city and this Latvian proverb does just that. Back in April, due to a certain singer being in town, I had the chance to visit Riga, the capital city of Latvia. The concert was a blast, the young people of Riga definitely know how to party, on the other hand I will never forget the old woman standing at the crossroad near our hotel singing to make a little money; she was there day and night, in sunshine and during the bitter cold evenings…
I think I first became aware of Riga in 2003 while watching the Eurovision Song Contest being broadcast from there. They showed some pictures of the city and it looked really nice. So when I got the chance to go there this year, I just couldn’t refuse. We spent two nights in the city, we stayed at the Wellton Centrum Hotel and SPA, a big and modern hotel right in the old town of Riga and at walking distance from the bus and train station. My plan for Riga was to simply get to know the city, basically walk around the old town and soak in the atmosphere, and that’s what we did. What I noticed right away was that the city was very touristy, but in a good way. It was quite clean, well looked after and in the old part of town there were a lot of cafés and restaurants, many of them with an eastern feel to them. But as soon as you leave the old town, the city is less ruled by tourism and you get to experience the real Latvian life. What slightly surprised me were the prices, which were not as low as I expected. They were still lower than in my home country Switzerland, of course, but much higher than in Lithuania, where I just came from.
We started our walk just next to our hotel, on Town Square to see the House of the Blackheads (Melngalvju nams). This house was built for the brotherhood of the blackheads, a guild for unmarried German merchants. Isn’t it pretty? Unfortunately, at the moment, you cannot enter the building.
Walking on the narrow cobbled lanes of the old town we then reached the cathedral square. The whole old town of Riga is pedestrian which makes it an agreeable place to stroll, but wear comfortable shoes as the cobbled pavement is quite uneven! All along the streets there were little shops selling souvenirs and Latvian handicraft. We then passed by the three brothers, a building complex of typical Latvian dwelling houses, another must-see when in Riga.
In the area there are also many interesting churches to visit. We then went to see the old city walls that I found quite fascinating. On the one side they had some beautiful arches, and on the other, along torna iela (torna street), they faced the prettiest yellow buildings. At the end of the street don’t miss the powder tower.
We then decided to cross Bastion Hill and the canal running through the park. It was quite cold back in April, nonetheless there were quite a few people walking in this beautiful green area. I can imagine that it gets quite crowded during the summer, it’s certainly a good spot to rest for a while…
On the other side of the park, quite by chance, we came across the Nativity of Christ cathedral, an orthodox church. Wow! It has the most beautiful golden dome! I bet it’s pretty nice inside too. The church is in another park where you can also find an art museum and some interesting modern art sculptures.
We then reached the Freedom Monument where we spent some good ten minutes watching a little boy imitating the guards’ walk, and then went on to Livu Laukums, a very nice square with many restaurants and cafés. Despite the cold weather, there were quite some people sitting outside and I have a feeling that as soon as the temperatures rise this square is the place to be for some people watching while drinking a latte or sipping a cocktail later in the evening.
Riga is definitely a nice destination for a weekend get-away if you live in Europe, if you come from further away you may want to combine it with a visit to Tallinn in Estonia or Vilnius in Lithuania. I know that there are different cruises that stop in Riga, so why not go on a little cruise and maybe stop in Helsinki, Stockholm or St. Petersburg too! If you visit in summer I read that there are some pretty beaches just north of the town…