Latvia

Riga: our first step in the Baltics

Riga (Latvian: Rīga): capital of Latvia, 696,618 inhabitants, -20 degrees on winter, 22 hours by bus from Krakow and more 30 minutes to understand how bus and trolley work around the train station. Between Krakow and Riga, lots of things we wanted to visit, Warsaw, Gdansk in Poland, Kaunas and Vilnius in Lithuania, but we had to get forward on our trip.

Once in Riga the main attractions: the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum, the art nouveau buildings and the Museum of Occupation (that was closed for a diplomatic dinner).

The Ethnographic Museum is 30 minutes by bus far from the center and it takes several hours to be discovered so we decided to go in the morning even if it was raining. On Jugla Lake’s shore, 118 buildings from all historical districts of Latvia have been relocated, reconstructed and furnished from the end of 17th century up to the 1930s. We walked in the splendid pine forest and we saw the colors change from gray in the morning to gold after the rain; we smelt the wood and the flowers; we could discover a culture that still follows the seasons. All the buildings are made in wood and it is stunning to observe their architecture and their construction that minimize the lost of warmth with the use of small windows and low ceiling.

Riga has also the largest collection of art nouveau buildings in the world and most of them are located in Alberta Iela (Alberta Street). When we arrived there we were surprised by the contrast between the buildings that are in restoration and those which have already been reformed. We had the feeling to be in movie set because we are not used to see such bright colors and perfect shapes in art nouveau constructions and decorations. It’s more or less the same sensation we felt in Dresden where everything is rebuilt since the end of the war.

The day we left we went to the main market near the train station, a world animated by women who sell any kind of stuff, from small utensils to caviar, smoked fish, cakes, socks… Latvians are known for their ability in knitting gloves and socks with geometrical patterns, those are the best souvenirs you can buy there.

One of the purposes of our trip is to meet people and learn different cultures and we are still trying to be an active part of Couchsurfing. We went to our first meeting in Riga and we could talk about the city and its soviet past. One thing touched us in a particular way: Russian immigrants who arrive in Latvia before 1991, when Latvia was still part of the Soviet Union, don’t have Latvian citizenship, or Russian. It means that they live in Latvia but they are non-citizens and that’s the case for 21% of the population of Riga. They are not Russians but they are not Latvians either.

Addresses:

  • Skyline Bar, Elizabetes iela 55, Rīga. In the 26th floor of Radisson Blu Hotel, not such expensive as we thought and, for sure, the best view you of Riga.
  • Martina Bekereja, it’s a chain with goods pastry for breakfast and salted cake for a quick lunch.

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