With a few days leave to use up, I decided that I would make whistle stop visits to two of the few European countries that I was yet to visit.
First destination was Latvia’s capital for a two night, 36 hour jaunt with Wizz Air. Widely regarded as the best of the Baltic State capitals, I was pretty certain that I would be onto a winner bearing in mind how impressed I had been with Tallinn & Vilnius.
I was not to be disappointed. The €2 airport bus took me to within a couple of hundred metres of my lovely hotel named Justus. I rank my two nights there at €40 a night as a bargain – perfect location, very nice & friendly staff, delicious breakfast.
First night was pretty much dinner, a short wander around the old town and then bed – I intended to have a full-on experience next day.
Down for a solo breakfast at 8 and out of the door at 8.45 to wander the old town by daylight and view some of Riga’s most famous landmarks such as St Peter’s Church & The House Of The Blackheads.
I also wandered down to the cold riverfront (River Daugava) and spent an age waiting for a train to cross the cantilevered bridge.
I then availed myself of the free walking tour provided by ‘Tours in Riga’. The two-hour walk was led by our enthusiastic guide Toms Broduzs. I am not usually an advocate of such tours, but with time limited I went along and was very glad I did.
Toms was engaging and fun, giving all tour participants a profession to frame his story of merchants, battles and the construction of Riga.
Independent since 1991, Riga has in times been part of the Swedish Empire, the Polish/Lithuanian Empire and of course most recently the Soviet Union. Over 40% of Riga’s inhabitants are Russian and there remains a cautious watch at the goings on in Ukraine.
Riga is a strategically desirable location due to its easy access to the Baltic and has a history of prosperity, being an original member of the Hanseatic League, an ancient trading group of North European power-houses, most notably German cities such as Bremen & Hamburg.
The wealth was there for all to see as we viewed merchant’s houses and businesses, the Catholic & Lutheran churches and the old town walls & towers.
After a lunch of soup overlooking the freedom statue and the central canals, it was time for more marching.
First stop the central market. The giant buildings that house the market intriguingly used to be zeppelin hangars. A great use for the concrete, metal and glass constructions.
Next up it was a 45-minute walk to the Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) District via a huge educational establishment and Riga’s main Orthodox cathedral.
The architecture of the district was wonderful, even if I was a little perturbed by the Art Nouveau Museum being temporarily closed for ‘technical reasons’. A shame, but a reason to have to return with Mrs Wilbur next time.
I managed to rest up back at the hotel for an hour, before setting off for my first ever ice hockey match.
Toms had alerted me to the fact that Dinamo Riga were playing Dinamo Moscow at 7.30 in the Kontinentala Hokeja Liga. I procured a ticket from tourist information and hopped into a taxi.
The experience was fun including pre-match burger & beer, although I doubt that I will be rushing to a second game. Riga won one-nil for the record, so the locals in the 5,766 crowd went home happy.
There was time to go to the top floor bar of the Radisson Blu Hotel for a nighttime view of Riga. The view was great, but unfortunately the bar insisted on playing some awful (to me) music so it was just a quick beer and back to the Justus via the central canal.
Next morning I had a 10.30 bus to catch to the airport. I awoke to blue skies and sunshine so decided I wanted to go the summit of St Peter’s church for the promised glorious view.
The dilemma was that the church did not open until ten and the lift up to the top only ran every ten minutes. I decided to chance it and paid the €9 fee. I managed to squeeze in ten minutes at the top of the church tower, and was glad I did as I was afforded some wonderful views.
Riga gets a big thumbs up from me – I am hoping that Bratislava does the same next week.