Written by Koentje3000 on 06 Sep, 2007
Cesis is a small but picturesque town, 90km northeast of Riga and 40km from Sigulda. The town of around 20.000 inhabitants is the capital of the Cesu District. About one quarter of the district is taken by the Gauja National Park, with Cesis completely surrounded…Read More
Cesis is a small but picturesque town, 90km northeast of Riga and 40km from Sigulda. The town of around 20.000 inhabitants is the capital of the Cesu District. About one quarter of the district is taken by the Gauja National Park, with Cesis completely surrounded by it, making the town an important gateway to the park. The town can be reached infrequently by train or more frequent by bus from Riga and Sigulda (around 2€ for Riga or half for Sigulda). As many towns in Latvia, including Riga, a castle was built by German crusaders called the Livonian order to Christianize the pagan locals. It was named Wenden in German after a local tribe called the Vends. The hill fort was located near major Baltic trade routes, so soon a city developed around it. One of the first buildings to be constructed was the nowadays still present Romanesque St. John's church near the castle, in order to help spreading Christianity. In the 13th century the Germans were in full control of Livonia, an area roughly consisting of present-day Latvia and Estonia. The Germans expanded the castle many times, but the Livonian war of the 16th century left it in ruins. As a result of the war Livonia ceased to exist and its territory was divided between the rivaling sides. Cesis came first under control of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but several other lengthy conflicts between the Commonwealth, Sweden and Russia followed and the town was nearly destroyed. Russian rule proved a blessing for the rebuilding of the town and several new buildings were constructed, including a new castle next to the ruins of the old one. Count Sievers, who owned the castle grounds, also built the castle gardens and a brewery, making the well-known Cesu brand of beer. The city was largely left untouched during the first Latvian republic and later Nazi and Soviet occupation, so nowadays the restored town center has retained its medieval character. The small city can easily be covered on foot as all sights are within walking distance of the town's major attraction, the beautiful ruins of the old Livonian Order castle. The Count's new castle with its beautiful gardens and pond now houses the Cesis Art and History Museum. Nearby Riga Street and the beautiful Rose Square still contain many medieval buildings. The 13th century St. John's church is just around the corner in Skolas Iela. East of the castle is the May Park with another pond and a few interesting sculptures. Two of Cesis' numerous hotels, Hotel Kolonna and Hotel Province (firstname.lastname@example.org) are just next to the park. Both offer excellent accommodation for around 50€ a double room. For people on the cheap, there are two campsites 2km west of the city near the Gauja river. For a full listing see the official Cesis tourism website. Remember that there are two main seasons, in which rooms can be fully booked, namely summer from June till September, and winter in December-January. Close
(continued from part I)From the Sigulda Tourist Information Poruka road runs westwards for 100m towards the only cable car in Latvia. A short ride across the Gauja river valley, offering excellent views on the National Park and the town, will cost around 2€. In summer,…Read More
(continued from part I)From the Sigulda Tourist Information Poruka road runs westwards for 100m towards the only cable car in Latvia. A short ride across the Gauja river valley, offering excellent views on the National Park and the town, will cost around 2€. In summer, the cable car is even used a few times a week for bungee jumping! On the west bank are the interesting ruins of the 16th century Krimulda castle. From here roads and trails lead into the National Park and towards the beautiful brick Turaida Castle. You can also walk back to Sigulda town centre by the bridge that crosses the Gauja river.Just south from the east bank cable car station is a summer-only Ferris wheel, offering a bird's eye view on the landscape. Nearby is a bicycle rental shop, an excellent option for exploring the Gauja National Park. A marked bicycle route starts near the Gauja bridge and will bring you to some interesting places in and around Sigulda, including Gutmana Cave and Krimulda castle. The Sigulda Campgound, excellently located on the river banks, offers kayaks for rent (around 40€ per boat per day) to explore the region in a different way. It is also possible to take a dip here in the always cold Gauja river or in the next-door swimming pool. In winter Sigulda offers some downhill skiing, but don't expect a second Aspen or Switzerland. Nevertheless, a bobsleigh track is available for both winter and summer fun only 500m south of the camping. For another great experience, a few km south of Sigulda, on the Riga highway lies the Baltic states only Vertical Wind Tunnel, the Aerodium Latvia.A big tourist magnet like Sigulda does certainly have its share of accommodation. However, during summer (June-September) and winter (December-January) seasons everything is heavily booked so it's advisable to arrange your rooms at least a few days in advance. For a full listing you may look at Sigulda's official website. The Hotel Sigulda and next-door Melnais Kakis both offer excellent double rooms, including breakfast, for around 65 and 50€ and are located close to the tourist information. Livonija Guesthouse, south of the train station, offers good double rooms for below 30€. Food is widely available in Sigulda and always cheap: the upmarket hotels still offer main courses below 10€, while the many "Kafejnica's" have hearty pub-like meals for much cheaper. Every sight mentioned above will always have at least some snacks available to appease your hunger. Close
As the Gauja National Park gateway town closest to Riga, only 50km southwest, Sigulda attracts its fair share of tourists, and deservedly so because it is one of the nicest small towns in Latvia. It is located on the banks of the Gauja river that…Read More
As the Gauja National Park gateway town closest to Riga, only 50km southwest, Sigulda attracts its fair share of tourists, and deservedly so because it is one of the nicest small towns in Latvia. It is located on the banks of the Gauja river that winds through the forested hills. The town's history is similar to other places in the Vidzeme region (northern Latvia), including Riga and Cesis. The area was settled around 1000AD by the Finnic Liv people. They constructed many wooden forts, including at least seven in the Sigulda region, in order to defend themselves from the crusading German Teutonic Knights. The Germans constructed a technically superior brick fortress called Siegewald (Victory Forest) in present day Sigulda and in 1200 they controlled the whole area. Under German control the town was a flourishing trade centre, only ending with the Livonian war of the 16th century. The town came under Polish-Lithuanian control, but this war and several other conflicts between the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania, Russia and Sweden left the town in rumbles, only to be restored during the Russian rule of the 19th century. WWI and WWII damaged the town heavily again, but during Soviet rule over Latvia after WWII the town flourished once again due to the growth in tourism from Soviet officials. Since Latvian independence the apparatchiks have been replaced first by local tourists, but nowadays many foreign tourists followed them in order to see the historical town and the nearby Gauja National Park.Despite the fact that most people immediately wind through the town en route for the National Park, Sigulda's long history justify a visit of at least a few hours to the town. The main street, Gaujas Iela, houses the helpful Tourist Information, offering leaflets, maps, accommodation info, etc. about the town and the park. The white 15th century Lutheran church next to a small lake is only 50m away. A little north is the Pils Parks (Castle Park), containing the 19th century Sigulda New Castle. The castle houses public offices and a restaurant, and offers good views of the surrounding national park. Behind it are the impressive ruins of the 12th century Siegewald castle. The Gaujas Iela goes into the Gauja river valley and offer access to other great sights of the area. Northeast of the castle a few trails lead past some viewpoints like Paradise Hill towards the pristine Vejupite river valley, running through rocky scenery. Next to the river is the cracked surface of Peter's Cave.(continued in part II) Close
Written by Owen Lipsett on 21 Dec, 2004
While you could easily spend a day just wandering the streets of Vecriga (though I’d advise avoiding the narrower ones, where I saw quite a few unsavory characters) to sample its architectural brilliance, if you’re a bit more pressed for time, you shouldn’t miss these…Read More
While you could easily spend a day just wandering the streets of Vecriga (though I’d advise avoiding the narrower ones, where I saw quite a few unsavory characters) to sample its architectural brilliance, if you’re a bit more pressed for time, you shouldn’t miss these four buildings. They’re notable not only for their architecture but also for the stories surrounding them, which reflect Riga’s diverse history.
The Cat House (Mestaru iela 19) is Riga’s most famous building, emblazoned on innumerable postcards and other souvenirs. Indeed, it’s such a symbol of the city that Riga In Your Pocket used a close-up shot of its famous feline for its first cover. The house, built at the beginning of the twentieth century, originally belonged to a wealthy Latvian merchant who was enraged that the nearby Great Guild Hall (a social club for the city’s merchants) refused to admit him, as he was not German. Consequently, he had small statues of cats, with their backs up and tails arched, placed on the building’s highest points, with their rears facing the Great Guild Hall. After a lengthy court case, the merchant was admitted to the guild in exchanged for turning the cats around. The Great Guild Hall (Amatu iela 6), which today houses the city Philharmonic Orchestra, is worth a look, as is the Small Guild Hall (Amatu iela 5), a former artisan’s club which is now a conference center.
The 123.25m-high spire of the Gothic St. Peter’s Church (Skarnu iela 19) offers a fine view over Vecriga, although the elevator (which costs 2 Ls.) only takes you 72 meters up. First mentioned by the chronicles in 1209, a mere eight years after Riga’s foundation, its tower dominates Riga to this day. Indeed, until it collapsed in 1666, it had the highest wooden church tower in Europe. After it was rebuilt the next year, the builders threw a glass from its spire—the more pieces the glass broke into, the longer it would last—which unfortunately hit a pile of straw and therefore emerged unscathed. Lightning burned the tower down the next year, although this version remained intact until 1941, when German or Soviet artillery fire (it’s unknown which) destroyed it yet again. The present tower dates to 1973 and retains the same Baroque design as its predecessors.
Another historic building rebuilt after the ravages of the Second World War is the House of Blackheads at Ratslaukums 7. Originally built in 1344, it provided accommodation to traveling members of the German unmarried merchants guild, who were nicknamed "blackheads" after their patron, St. Maurice. Although such buildings are typical features of most former Hanseatic cities (the equivalent in Tallinn is known for its extremely attractive green door), Riga’s is particularly notable for its striking Dutch Renaissance façade. In fact, the original was so ornate that the Soviets tore down its remains in 1948 (the original had been largely destroyed in 1941) because they deemed it too decadent. It was completely rebuilt in 2001 to celebrate Riga’s 800th anniversary, when the statue at its front of Roland, the medieval defender of the accused was added. The interior may be visited for 1 Ls., but the mediocre exhibitions make it a poor value.
Written by marif on 20 Dec, 2004
Vecriga is the Latvian name for Riga's Old Town. Crammed with cobbled streets, alleyways, medieval churches and century-old residential buildings, it can rightly be called a sanctuary of history. Add to these the various museums that depict the Latvians as the victims of totalitarianism and…Read More
Vecriga is the Latvian name for Riga's Old Town. Crammed with cobbled streets, alleyways, medieval churches and century-old residential buildings, it can rightly be called a sanctuary of history. Add to these the various museums that depict the Latvians as the victims of totalitarianism and you can't help feeling pity for a nation which strived hard since the beginning of the 20th century to gain everlasting freedom. There's no better way to taste all this than to stroll along the streets of this romantic sanctuary which displays with amazing clarity the history and culture of Latvia.
The best starting point is the Freedom Monument on Brivibas iela, outside the Old Town. Constructed in 1935, ironically five years before Latvia's freedom was taken over by the Soviets and deportations to Siberia were not uncommon, this monument is a bronze casting of a woman, fondly nicknamed Milda standing on a high pillar and holding three golden stars in her hands. The stars actually symbolise three Latvian regions but during Soviet occupation, the stars were meant to represent the three Baltic states held in the good (read: iron) hands of Mother Russia.
If you walk southeast along Brivibas iela for about 100 metres, you reach Kalku iela, the street that divides the Old Town neatly into two and leads as far as Akmens tilts which spans the Daugava River. Continue straight along Kalku iela for about 150 metres until on your right, you reach Filharmonyas skvers, an irregularly shaped square and a top venue of outdoor restaurants and snack bars. Push yourself against the crowds and walk across the square until on your left you reach Amatu iela, a narrow street full of Old Town charm and character. The restored building of the Great Guild is on the right side while the Small Guild is housed inside a Gothic building on the left. Amatu iela leads into Skunu iela which runs northwest and opens into Doma laukums, the big square mostly occupied by the massive Dome Cathedral. This brick box-like structure dates back to 1211 but it has undergone multiple facelifts over the centuries. What you see today is the reconstruction of 1776 when the cathedral's tower was raised to a height of 90 metres. You have the opportunity to listen to the wonderful tone of its famous organ if you attend one of the organ recitals which are held daily in the cathedral.
From Doma laukums, walk northeast along the whole length of Smilsu iela until you reach the Pulvertornis, the only tower of the old fortifications that is still standing. This historical tower houses the Museum of War, worth a visit for its permanent exhibitions about Latvia's involvement in World War I, the proclamation of the Latvian state and the tough road towards independence. Like all historical museums in Latvia, the exhibitions portray with astonishing clarity the systematic attempts to destroy Latvia and the sufferings the people had to bear under the Soviets and the Nazis.
After visiting the tower, turn left and walk along Tornis iela past the long stretch of wonderfully restored barracks on the right side and fragments of the old defensive wall on the left. After about 100 metres, you'll reach the Swedish Gate, a small gate added to the fortifications in 1698 to celebrate the Scandinavian occupation of Riga. Pass through the gate and walk along narrow Aldaru iela until you come across Troksnu iela on your right. Troksnu iela leads towards one of the oldest churches in Riga, St.Jacob's Church, opposite which you'll find the Renaissance-style Latvian Parliament. From here, small Klostera iela leads towards three medieval residential houses nicknamed 'The Three Brothers' which adjoin each other along Maza Pils iela. Walk west to the end of Maza Pils iela, turn left and continue north until you reach a big square with a small central park. This is Pils laukums or Castle square. The big building on your left is the east side of Riga castle, the official residence of the President of Latvia.
If this walk along the medieval streets of Riga was not enough to satisfy your appetite for history, there are still more historical attractions to admire and more architectural styles to discover. The House of Blackheads on Strelnieku laukums was built from scratch after World War II and now looks wonderful after recent restoration works were completed. Nearby, a couple of metres away, a black modern glass structure houses the excellent Occupation Museum which portrays the history of Latvia from 1940 to 1991 through numerous original photos, documents and correspondence.
From Strelnieku laukums, you can't miss Riga's landmark: the tower of St.Peter's Church, a huge Gothic structure that was rebuilt several times through the centuries. Walk towards the church, visit its modest interior and take the lift up to the observation platform from where you can enjoy a wonderful bird's eye view of Riga. From St.Peter's Church, Skarnu iela leads south towards the Dominican Monastery and the adjoining St.John's Church. The Baroque altar, the stained glass windows and the statues that adorn the altar niches are wonderful works of art worth seeing. Enter St.John's courtyard and walk through the numerous passages of the Convent's Yard (Konventa Seta) which has now been artistically restored to house a hotel complex. In the basement, there are some souvenir and handicraft shops which double as exhibition centres displaying a wide choice of handmade linen, amber, silver jewellery and other Latvian works of art.
Written by dangaroo on 13 Jan, 2009
Cesis is a small and quaint town in Northern Latvia with a specific flavour due to the majestic hill-fort, medieval buildings and the Gauja valley below. I visited it last spring on one of many Baltic trips and was rather impressed by it.There is very…Read More
Cesis is a small and quaint town in Northern Latvia with a specific flavour due to the majestic hill-fort, medieval buildings and the Gauja valley below. I visited it last spring on one of many Baltic trips and was rather impressed by it.There is very little happening in the town itself but it is most certainly worth a day-trip and could perhaps be combined with a trip to Sigulda.History=====The oldest building is the fortification on Riekstu hill which was first built by the Baltic tribe the Vends in the 12th century and can still be seen today even if it is a little hidden by the castle next to it which was built shortly after by the German invaders of the Livonian Order in the early 13th century. Cesis during this time was the capital of Livonia and acted as a major trade town between East and West and the castle was the residence of the Order's Master. In 1577 the castle was burnt by the garrison to keep Ivan the Terrible's mucky mits off it!Cesis then changed hands like the rest of Livonia between Polish and Swedish, the castle was re-built during this time but was once again destroyed by the Russians during the The Great Northern War. In 1777 the castle became a private residence and beautiful grounds around it were built during the 19th century. After WW2 it became a national museum and now has a wonderfully peaceful feel to it.Cesis is also home to Latvia's oldest brewery and story has it that Latvia's flag was born here as the king of the Letgal tribe was placed on a white flag which became stained red due to his wounds.Getting There===========Cesis is 90km north east of Riga and it's about an hour and a half drive depending on the traffic leaving Riga. There are plenty of buses and trains between the two cities.My final opinion==============As I said at the beginning, it's impressive and nice at the beginning but you could get bored here after a while and it's probably more of a day-trip than anything, saying that there are quite a lot of health spas in the neighbourhood which are often used for relaxing holidays. I think I was there on a Sunday and that might be the reason I thought the town itself was incredibly quiet. Close
Riga International is the largest airport in the Baltics and is owned by the Latvian government, they have 3 terminals, one for incoming Schengen flights, one for outgoing Schengen flights and one for None Schengen flights.I had the pleasure of flying to Riga International Airport…Read More
Riga International is the largest airport in the Baltics and is owned by the Latvian government, they have 3 terminals, one for incoming Schengen flights, one for outgoing Schengen flights and one for None Schengen flights.I had the pleasure of flying to Riga International Airport from Glasgow Prestwick last year, after a rather uneventful flight we arrived in Riga International smoothly at around 10 pm. The walk from the tunnel leading from the aeroplane to the passport control was quite long for a small airport but the passports were checked quickly and our bags were already waiting for us.I was very impressed with the efficient service, I then headed outside where a friend of mine was waiting to meet me. We took bus 22 to the centre for about 40 santimu (40p), there was an Italian guy who had got the bus without any Latvian money and the butch women selling the tickets wasn't particularly pleased about this but eventually let him ride anyway. They leave every 10-30 minutes and it takes about 30 minutes to make the 13km trip to the centre. You may have to pay more for very large luggage about 1 lat 20 santimu (1.20 pound*). If you wanted to take a taxi instead, expect to pay about 8 lats.I didn't notice a particularly good choice of shops but there are some, however I wouldn't get your hopes up! Close
Written by Liam Hetherington on 09 Oct, 2007
John Lennon was right. Happiness truly is a warm gun. In Riga with a group of lads, it was maybe inevitable that we would end up gravitating towards an afternoon playing with guns. There are numerous tours available in the city advertising shooting…Read More
John Lennon was right. Happiness truly is a warm gun. In Riga with a group of lads, it was maybe inevitable that we would end up gravitating towards an afternoon playing with guns. There are numerous tours available in the city advertising shooting excursions, usually emblazoned with a picture of the world's most famous rifle, the Soviet-made AK-47 ("The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherf**ker in the room. Accept no substitutes" to quote Samuel L. Jackson). Rather than booking a tour, we decided to make our own way to find Regro S shooting. This necessitated a tram ride across the river into Pardaugava, and then a period of wandering trying to find the place (it is on the main Daugavrigas Iela, sandwiched between two petrol stations). If it is hard to find, there is a reason. The shooting range is located in Cold War era underground bunker. A set of blast doors leads to a stairway of sweating grey concrete. So far, so James Bond. Downstairs there is a combination armoury / weaponry shop. You will have to provide ID and sign to state that you have read the safety instructions. Then you can peruse the menu. You pay for the bullets, not the gun. So for example each shot with a Glock 9mm handgun costs 0.80 Lats, the AK-47 rifle 1 Lat a shot, the Uzi machine pistol or Winchester pump-action shot gun 2 Lats each. They also offered the Magnum revolver ("Do you feel lucky punk?"), the SPAS assault rifle, and Marlin rifle. We opted for five shots each on Glock, Uzi and shotgun. And of course 5 more shots on the Kalashnikov. Having attended a exhibition on 'Kalashnikov - the Man, the Arm, the Legend' at the Artillery Museum in St Petersburg I was keen to experience the world famous AK-47 for myself. In total this added up to 29 Lats, but the man rounded it down to 25 per person. A good deal - the organized shooting activities we had seen advertised offered 10 shots on Glock, and ten on AK-47 for the same price. Extra weaponry cost extra on top. The safety precautions were, I have to admit, minimal. A short talk from the main guy before he handed us over to the non-English-speaking Vladimir Putin lookalike who demonstrated with gestures and grunts what we should or should not do with each weapon. We were supplied earmuffs - vital as the movies do not show just how loud these guns are, particularly in the close quarters of the underground chamber we were based in. This did limit the audience for our movie-based jokes however. We got no goggles. This disturbed me, especially when shotgun cartridges eject before your eyes and flashes of flame spurt from the muzzle of the AK-47. We were each allocated a man-shaped target to aim for. First was the handgun. Thankfully I was not as bad as I feared - seems that those evenings at Scouts with an air pistol were not wasted. Then came the Uzi, made famous by the Terminator films. I was disappointed here - I found it hard to aim and there was very little recoil. The Kalashnikov found more favour. The kick of the recoil and the muzzle-flash let you know you were firing a gun. They let 11-year-old Afghanistani kids use these? I'd have been knocked flat on my back at that age! Finally the Winchester pump action shot gun, which I think I preferred even to the AK. Pumping the stock as cartridges were ejected before your eyes, the muzzle heating up... frankly there was something all too phallic about it! We were able to inspect our targets between each round of five shots. Chris and Ian quickly marked themselves out as the men to watch out for. Chris peppered the target's vitals with bullet holes, whereas Ian had concentrated on tearing out the paper man's guts. My target was most noticeable for a neat round shotgun hole right between the eyes - something that produced an approving nod and handshake from Vladimir. Ed's target had emerged completely unscathed, something he attributed to his being a pacifist. Now I consider myself a civilised, sensitive individual. I read the Guardian. I have Casablanca on DVD. I cried when I heard that Joe Strummer was dead. However, there is something about shooting guns that made me feel like such an alpha male. The other guys (apart from Ed maybe) also felt this. Pumped up on adrenalin and testosterone we did not regret travelling all the way out here. In fact, I found myself wishing that we'd plumped for more shots, and more guns. Certainly, I regretted that the presence of targets had introduced a level of competitiveness. Instead of carefully aiming for each shot I would have liked the chance to let loose on full-auto and mow down my paper enemies. All together, an excellent and enjoyable afternoon. It was a shame that we were not allowed to take photos, not even of us posing with unloaded weaponry, but the fact that we were allowed to take our targets home partially compensated. I would certainly recommend Regro S for a couple of hours of fun with guns!Details:Regro SautaveDaugavrigas Iela 31Pardaugava(+371) 760 17 05 Close
Written by Piscean Amber on 01 Mar, 2005
Remembrances of Latvia – September 1, 1995
Riga is getting ready to celebrate its 800th birthday in 2001. There is scaffolding around the President’s Palace and work seems to be in progress everywhere. I was grumbling about a large crane that was messing up my panoramic…Read More
Remembrances of Latvia – September 1, 1995
Riga is getting ready to celebrate its 800th birthday in 2001. There is scaffolding around the President’s Palace and work seems to be in progress everywhere. I was grumbling about a large crane that was messing up my panoramic photos of Old Riga. Let’s face it, a big crane looks out of place with church spires dating back to the 1200s!
When you stand in the middle of the Dome Square, you can see three golden roosters on the spires of St. Peter’s, St. Jacob’s, and the famous Dome Cathedral. The legend tells us that the rooster used to warn the townspeople of approaching enemies. At St. Peter’s church, you must climb to the third floor, and then an elevator takes you to the tip-top viewing platform some 250 feet up. The views are breathtaking. No cars are allowed in Vecriga (Old Riga), so it is a marvelous place to stroll and sit in sidewalk cafés, which nestle up to ancient brick walls and towers.
The residents hate the big blue rectangle that is Hotel Latvija. It messes up the skyline of Old Riga and is a leftover from the old Soviet days, when it was an Intourist hotel. These structures were built for utility, not beauty. This same utilitarian approach is seen in apartment buildings all over the city – ugly rectangular bee hives.
If a building is over five stories high, they built an elevator. In a five-story building, you get to lug everything up and down yourself.
Riga is about 53% Latvian. You hear a lot of Russian in the streets. Other cities, like Jelgava, only have about 36% Latvians. Lots of Russians who have lived in Latvia a long time have never bothered to learn Latvian. But then, they were the rulers until 1991. Why should they bother?
My cousin's husband was on vacation and took me on extensive city walks. There is a park alongside the city canal that borders Old Riga. There are large granite stones marking the spot where victims of the 1991 freedom fight fell. This was when Boris Pugo’s black berets drove tanks down the city streets and fired on unarmed civilians. This was too much for me. I dissolved into tears. I told him of my involvement with the Baltic American Freedom League, the letters and faxes, and why I take Latvian independence so personally. Also, I told him why I am so dismayed to see that they have adopted the bad as well as the good from the West.
Other quirky things that caught my eye include an Elvis bar in Old Riga that plays the King’s music all day and all night long. Also, changing the spelling of English words into Latvian on store names, such as DZENTLEMEN for a men’s clothing store, was interesting. I was intrigued by the way retail business is conducted in a shop called Sakta. You pick out what you want behind the counter. The clerk hands you a slip, which you take to the cashier. She takes your money, hands you a paid receipt, and you go back to collect your goods. Also found in the shops were Barbie Dolls, Sheba cat food, Pedigree dog food, and Tide. Barbie was fetching 14 lats ($28.).
Riga has sister cities that have given her gifts. One is Kobe, Japan, which gave a large clock built into a pedestal. It seems a bit modern for its location. The other is Bremen, Germany, which gave a black wrought-iron sculpture of the Bremen town musicians stacked on each other’s backs, just like the children’s story. It sits by St. Peter’s church in old Riga.
The Freedom Monument has two honor guards posted. They stand at attention and are not allowed to speak. People bring flowers and lay them at the base of the monument. Flowers are a big deal in Latvia. It is customary to bring flowers for any and all occasions, but it must always be an odd number. Even numbers are only used in mourning.
The Riga Market is a mind-boggling experience. Our health department would close it down in 10 minutes! We walked through the fish building – no refrigeration, no ice, no glass cases – where there were flies everywhere. Most of the fish was dried, but they also had fresh salmon filets laid out in the open.
The meat department was worse, where there was meat hanging on hooks or just laid out on tables. People can walk by and just touch everything. I think that I would become a vegetarian very quickly in Riga.
The dairy building was the same – huge slabs of cheese and butter, sour cream, milk – all sitting out without refrigeration. People can walk by and cough or sneeze on this stuff.
I saw a big pot of black grainy stuff, Kanepu Sviests, which is butter mixed with crushed hemp seeds. No, you don’t get high from eating the seeds, which are loaded with protein and vitamins. I tasted a tiny smidge. It’s rather good, a texture similar to poppy seeds. The old people used to eat this stuff on bread.
The vegetable and fruit building seemed okay, until I saw big barrels of sauerkraut sitting out in the open and the proprietor reaching in, taking some kraut with her fingers and popping it in her mouth.
Believe it or not, the regular shops are much better. They have refrigerated cases for meats and dairy. I can’t understand why the people that shop at the central market haven’t all died of food poisoning.
There are two casinos in Riga featuring roulette, blackjack, and poker but no craps. Riga is also turning into a major banking center but has already had a major banking scandal of disappearing funds. The Russian mafia runs scams in Latvia, too.
The great river Daugava divides Riga into the chic side (Old Riga) and the "wrong side" (where the new Radisson Daugava Hotel is situated). On the other hand, all the great views of Old Riga come from across the river. Our ninth floor room faced the river, and the views of Old Riga were magnificent. It is said that the devil lives in Daugava. Every 100 years, he comes out and asks the residents, "Are you ready?" They all shout, "NO!" and he goes back for another 100 years.
Riga's daily indoor food market on Pragas iela, behind the railway station, is housed inside five huge Zeppelin hangars built for the military in the 1930s. The products for sale range from vegetables, fresh fruit, and flowers to meat, fish, and dairy products. Everything is…Read More
Riga's daily indoor food market on Pragas iela, behind the railway station, is housed inside five huge Zeppelin hangars built for the military in the 1930s. The products for sale range from vegetables, fresh fruit, and flowers to meat, fish, and dairy products. Everything is fresh and prices are cheap, but the quality of the foodstuffs may not be up to standard. However, even if you don't buy, looking around is worth the adventure.
Much better, though still cheap, is the big outdoor market that surrounds the Zeppelin hangars along Centraltirgus iela and Negu iela. There is no food here, but the wide range of clothes, shoes, bags, pot plants, and collectables is the biggest in the Baltics. If, however, you are looking for authentic, yet inexpensive, Latvian souvenirs, visit the row of stalls and stands located behind the Dome Cathedral on Doma laukums. The display here includes woolen sweaters embroidered with Latvian folk symbols, handmade linen, amber jewellery, leather products, and more.
Latvian shopping is not limited only to markets or outdoor venues. Since the country has opened its doors for business and foreign investment, department stores and specialised shops have emerged everywhere, particularly along the most frequented tourist streets in Riga's Old Town. Located on the town's most prominent street at Audeju iela 16, Centrs is a five-storey department store that houses an excellent food supermarket on the ground floor; designer fashion clothing, books, and Latvian souvenirs on the next three floors; and a health centre on the top floor. Mols, at Krasta iela 46, a huge shopping mall where you can easily spend a whole day, is outside the city centre, but easily reached by one of the free buses parked near the central train station.
Outside the Old Town, but within walking distance, Palazzo Italia, at Barona iela 2, is a five-storey shopping complex specialising in Italian designer fashion clothing, while Plaza Boutique in the Old Town, at Smilsu iela 18, is an elegant two-storey boutique specialising in creative clothing for kids and adults alike. For authentic Latvian linen woven by hand, head to Livs, at Kaleju iela 7, where you can even attend a weaving demonstration and view an extensive exhibition of handmade linens. Mara at Kaleju iela 9/11 has the widest choice of Latvian linens in town, together with a huge display of amber jewellery and traditional souvenirs. For collectables, such as stamps, coins, medals, postcards, and antique pieces in bronze, silver, and leather, visit Roma Antiks, at Kalku iela 28. Better and bigger than Roma, Volmar, at Skunu iela 6, is a two-storey antique shop specialising in late 19th-century bronze, silver, coins, and china. The place is also the venue for a permanent exhibition of Latvian paintings, drawings, and old prints worth seeing even if you don't intend to buy. If you do, however, don't forget to obtain the necessary permit for the export of antiques from the State Inspection Board of History and Cultural Monuments at Pils iela 22.
Unlike an original Latvian painting, a box of sweets or Latvian chocolates does not cost you a fortune. The best assortment of Latvian chocolates packed in souvenir boxes and elegantly wrapped, ready to reach home fresh and in the best condition, is found inside Laima, at Smilsu iela 16. For a cheap drink, go for the fruit-tasting Kvass, a delicious and refreshing light alcoholic drink. Or, for a splurge, why don't you invest in a bottle of Riga d'Or Brandy or a limited-edition Riga 1201 Vodka? Those who cannot afford so much should at least buy a bottle of LB Vodka, the top-selling brand in Riga going for less than 3 lats (US$10).
Before leaving the country, spend your extra lats to buy a bottle or more of 1752 Riga Black Balsam, a unique liqueur made from 24 ingredients and prepared with herbs, flower juices, and medicinal roots. Available from all spirit shops and most supermarkets, it is a black, thick liqueur that goes down better when mixed with vodka.
Enjoy a Latvian shopping spree and take back home a piece of Riga!