Pickled vegetables in a zeppelin hanger…Riga

As we rolled into the Latvian capital of Riga, the sun was shinning and there seemed to be flowers everywhere. Not only were all the parks and gardens choc a block with multicoloured tulips and pansies, but there seemed to be flower sellers on every corner, or someone clutching a bunch. So we discovered Latvians like flowers…we were also to discover they like pickled vegetables, smoked meats and drunkenly fighting at bus stops (obviously not all Latvians, just two gentlemen in particular) but that was all to come!


Riga has become the home of the cheap stag party holiday and being there at the weekend we were keen to avoid the ‘Brits on tour’. Luckily for us the city had far more to offer than only cheap beer! The Old Town is in the heart of the city and offered architectural delights from across the centuries, from the medieval, to the wooden nineteenth century and Art Nouveau creations. In fact the city boasts the greatest number of Art Nouveau buildings of any city in Europe…all I can say is Latvians obviously had a taste for scantily clad ladies on the outside of their buildings at the start of the twentieth century! Wandering down the cobbled streets we would find hidden courtyards, archways, churches and grand buildings at every turn… it certainly made for an interesting walk! Slightly less impressive, but worth a mention none the less, was finding a pianist with a special talent of shouting “Yaaaaaaa” in the middle of his own songs, presumably to give himself encouragement?…


The Old Town is encircled by a canal with beautiful gardens, filled with a lot of flowers, and little bridges and even a waterfall. It made the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere, take a picnic (or in our case take out noodles) and people watch. We would see students and old men hiding their beer in brown paper bags, broke backpackers busking on the pavements, and of course an occasional British stag party! I think this was one of the nicest ways to spend an afternoon in Riga, as long as the sun is shining. Also nearby was the Museum of the Occupation, charting the history (similar to the other Baltic states) of occupation by different imperial states, then the Soviets and Nazis. The exhibition showed videos of survivors of the Gulags and forced exile to Siberia of anyone feared of being against the Soviet regime. It was fascinating and harrowing in equal measure, made more interesting as little had been displayed on the subject, that we saw, while in Russia.


Learning that over fifty percent of the population of Riga (thirty percent of the country as a whole) spoke Russian as their first language, explained the amount we had been heard spoken in the city, and also explained the sheer amount of pickled goodies to buy in the beautiful Central market… tenuous link, but true. The market is still the beating heart of the city and resides in five old zeppelin hangers, each one housing a different product, such as meat, diary or fish. On the advice of a local we stocked up on some Latvian specialities including smoked chicken (tasted pretty smokey) and more pickles that you could shake a stick at. It was a great spot to pick up a cheap and tasty lunch and to see a little more of real Rigan life. Just outside we also saw three guys in their wheelchairs, stopping the traffic to have an argument in the middle of the road! Well I guess it was something which couldn’t wait…


After several weeks in some great cities we were both after a break from the hustle and bustle; green trees and fresh air was what we needed. So we went to find some…but thats for next time




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