Most of our time in Latvia was spent on the bus. We had a very short stopover in Riga — just over 12 hours.
Bearded subway mural heroes not withstanding, to be honest, I wasn’t that enamoured. But we probably weren’t really there long enough to give it a chance. Most of the stuff we saw was a bit nondescript, and there was a lot of touristy crap. Plus it was completely overrun with Bristish (English) stag groups. I was surprised at this — I thought a stag do in Riga was a bit 2004. It generally felt a bit seedy and unwelcoming, perhaps because I’d read in the guidebook that it was a bit dodgy walking around after dark in some places. Walking around after dark was how we spent most of our short visit.
Riga seems a bit more brash and busy than the other Baltic capitals — it’s where we saw our first (so far only) wedding stretch Hummer.
We did have fun going to a ‘Baltic cafeteria’, which had all of the specialties in handy help yourself form. We went all out and had a selection of salads (I know, calm down), pancakes, fish (in Arthur’s case), beers, and desserts. The one half out of shot below was ‘bread soup’, which was much nicer than it sounds. It was sort of a sweet, spiced, cold soup made of a really dark bread, kind of syrupy, with christmas cake type fruits in it. The other dessert was some kind of crazy apple flavoured goo.
In the stairwell on the way to the toilets was a very large wooden hedgehog based tableau.
After stuffing our faces we walked around the town, and visited a rather underwhelming ‘Museum of War’. It sounded interesting in the guidebook because it covered conflicts in Latvia going back to the 12th Century or so, and was housed in a tower that was part of the old city walls. Perhaps we would have enjoyed it more if we had had the courtesy to learn Latvian before we came — there were only a few bits of English information, and they didn’t relate to the exhibits in an obviously discernible way. We were also being followed round the building by several visibly perturbed members of museum staff, who were closing doors behind us every time we left a room, which was a bit off-putting. (We arrived 45 minutes before closing time.)
We paid a brief visit to the Sun Museum too, which probably would have been better, but we didn’t go in as it wasn’t super cheap and we didn’t have much time to enjoy it. I don’t know that I’ve seen a Sun Museum anywhere else. It’s interesting that they had one in Riga, because we noticed a sun symbol on a lot of buildings there, and since then we’ve noticed them in Tallinn and in Russia too. They’re often accompanied by that creepy illuminati delta eye thing.
One of the best things we saw in Riga was an exhibition of dockside photography which we discovered in one of the city squares. There were lots of interesting pictures of the docks past and present, and some nice arty shots of people standing next to massive propellers and so on. Not to defy my hastily formed judgement of Riga, it also included a picture of a dockworker ‘stumbling across’ a female model having a naked photoshoot on a shipyard pontoon. That may actually have been the caption underneath it. Very carry-on-shipping.
We fell for the classic ‘scam tourists by not showing any prices’ trick in the first bar we went to, in the long evening we spent waiting for our night bus to turn up. After that we went looking for something a bit more interesting, and less extortionate. With the help of our Rough Guide we, eventually, after we’d begun to think we must be lost, found a much better bar in an otherwise unpromising bit of town. It was a classic scuzzy student place called Chomsky, with a mural of its namesake on the wall of the courtyard out front. The beer was Latvian, very good, and cheap. And they had grotty 70s soft furnishings and drunk students spouting nonsense at each other, occasionally in English. Much more us!
After the bar we had to go and get our bags from the left luggage at the train station, which closed at midnight. Heavily laden, we didn’t feel like going back to a bar, so we hung out at an all night pelmeni place instead.
It was all I could manage not to fall asleep on the table, but the kefir was a nice night cap. The pelmeni were so cheap and tasty that we had seconds, before heading off for another night on a bus. Next stop Tallinn!