Written by costas1234 on 19 May, 2010
The main language is Latvian, but you will find that most receptionists in hotels and hostels and other establishments will have a basic understanding of English. It is a fascinating city, which can be compared to other European places such as Prague. I found that…Read More
The main language is Latvian, but you will find that most receptionists in hotels and hostels and other establishments will have a basic understanding of English. It is a fascinating city, which can be compared to other European places such as Prague. I found that the place was slightly more comprehensive compared to Sofia in Bulgaria, and on a par compared to other European destinations such as Cologne, Prague, Brno. I also find that the value of the restaurants in Riga is not as good value compared to Sofia which I have learned from my limited travel experience. The currency is latvian lats, and when I visited I bought the currency from foreign exchange sites in London, and received a rate of 0.79 latvian lats for every £1 that I exchanged. The exchange rate was not good like it was around 2 years ago, where 1 latvian lat was equal to £1, then again life changes fast.All of the hostels, restaurants were non smoking places and we had to smoke in designated areas, or in the streets far from buildings. Drinking alcohol is not allowed from what I saw, so this was restricted to drinking sociably in alcoholic premises and restaurants. The city in the centre has a fabulous old town area, which has lovely town houses, it has a really nice park especially where the National opera house and there is also a nice hotel there as well. There are a few suspension bridges that are interesting to look at which has a reasonably big river. The city centre also has fine looking churches, museums, town houses. The art nouveau area of Riga was very interesting to look at. I was told by a regular visitor to Riga, that there are plenty of things to be aware of, including pickpockets which represent the slightly miserable picture of the city. I did not carry too much cash and also tended to travel light and nearly always was wary of people asking me things in Russian and also in English. Hostels from experience are very cheap in terms of price, the facilities from what I saw are basic, which would be expected. If I return to Riga, I suppose the best option would be in selecting a good hotel, or a serviced apartment. I was also informed not to accept invitations from strangers posing as introducers to pubs and nightclubs, as often they will try to entice you to a pub in central Riga, and will raise the price of the drink to extortionate levels. I also was told to go to good clubs including the Four White shirts Latvian club as they played good music and the prices of drinks were reasonable, and this was one of the places to go during the evenings. For drinking Paddy Whelans pub in the old town is interesting, but the type of crowds this place draws in, is somewhat off putting, as there are many loud people who sometimes act in a funny way. Paddy Whelans pub is worth visiting at least for one drink, but the price of Guinness here is 2.90 latvian lats, which is a premium compared to other pubs and restaurants. For cigarettes people from the United Kingdom are allowed to bring just one carton of cigarettes, but the prices of these in Latvia are very cheap indeed. Another aspect of my visit, was that I learned and saw programs broadcasting ice hockey, and the Latvian people in general tend to watch this sport regularly and with a lot of interest. This is perhaps their most popular sport.Regarding the transport to the city centre from the airport, use the bus number 22 priced at 0.70 sentimes around £1, or use the faster and easier Airport express van which charges 3 latvian lats, but this will save you around 10 or 20 minutes as the number 22 bus uses a more scenic route and stops at a few bus stops on the way to Central Riga. Close
Written by Shady Ady on 09 Dec, 2007
The proud Baltic city of Riga has fought many battles in their struggle for independence. First it was the invading red army of the Soviet Union. Next came the Nazi’s, followed again by the Russians. Many perished in these struggles and the damage caused is…Read More
The proud Baltic city of Riga has fought many battles in their struggle for independence. First it was the invading red army of the Soviet Union. Next came the Nazi’s, followed again by the Russians. Many perished in these struggles and the damage caused is still evident, especially in the harsh stone faced looks of Communism that many still inherit. Sadly it seems another conflict is quickly engulfing this historic urban centre, taking it further into the gutter than ever before. This threat isn’t from old enemies. Instead a new crisis, just as potent, is looming its ugly head; English drunkards. You could say these morons have already taken a few giant steps towards victory, most notably by stopping the cities Independence Day celebrations in 2006 when one intoxicated Englishman decided that the Freedom Monument, the centrepiece of celebrations and a symbol of the nations past tortures, was the perfect place to relieve himself in front of watching publicans and TV cameras alike.Stag and hen parties now fill the streets of the city’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with many locals retreating to the quieter bars on the outskirts, away from scenes that I can only describe as an utter embarrassment to the country of my birth. The only natives left seem to be stunning prostitutes cashing in on intoxicated lusts of love, and skinhead members of the Latvian mafia who seem intent on eradicating unsociable and unacceptable foreign behaviour by all means violent. I can’t really blame them to be honest. If I was the Latvian cultural minister, a ‘slaughter of the stag’ initiative would be the first thing on my agenda.After arriving at Riga International Airport, catching a bus into the city centre and checking into my hostel (Argonaut Backpackers, http://www.argonauthostel.com/) I picked the closest traditional restaurant for my evening meal. Upon entering I sheepishly edged my way to the bar and in my best Latvian asked the bartender if he spoke English. Upon finishing this innocent little question the whole bar erupted in the kind of laughter only savoured for idiots who state the obvious. When you watch other ‘holiday makers’ ask for food and drinks in thick northern English accents without any hint of trying to learn the host language, you realise what a dumb question I asked.As I sat back and enjoyed the live snooker being shown on the large screen plasma TV, I was faced with the surreal notion that this could be a restaurant anywhere in England. Even my traditional Latvian fair of sausage and mashed potatoes seemed vaguely familiar. Conversation was free and fast -flowing amongst fellow guests, and I certainly felt like rejoicing when overhearing a boasting Bolton lad proclaiming in a loud brash accent of his randy exploits with a hooker the previous night. As he continued in a shrieking pitch, his friends, open mouthed and listening intently, nodded and clapped like excitable school children at every lurid detail that left his foul mouth.With a long days travel already behind me I decided an early return to my hostel was needed. If I was expecting an early night I was gravely mistaken and certainly wasn’t ready for antics I never envisaged when booking into accommodation voted eighth best in the world by Hostel World. Although the hostel clearly states no stag parties are allowed, birthday parties were deemed perfectly acceptable and I found myself opposite eight strapping young gentleman from the Dublin vicinity. I remember admiring their camaraderie spirit at managing to squeeze into a room supposedly sleeping four. I’m not normally one to moan but being kept awake until 7.30am by these birthday perpetrators obviously believing in the well known urban myth that sleeping is indeed cheating was not one of my expectations. After hours of endless spook knocks, naked corridor runs, and listening to the harassing of female guests with the highly original chat-up line of ”I’m in the IRA”, I really thought things couldn’t get much worse. It did, with the ingenious idea of a waste basket placed outside the bedroom door as a makeshift toilet. Walking an extra ten metres to a selection of real lavatories was certainly out of the question for their spaghetti legs and blurred vision. Bloodshot eyes and a room smelling of vomit and cider was something I hoped would disappear quickly, as I left the hostel, watching the cleaners puzzled face to what the liquid substance sprayed against the wall and over the waste basket could possibly have been, and which was now dripping down her apron from a hole in the bag. Like Jekyll and Hyde, Riga is a stark contrast by day. With the majority of tourists left nursing hangovers, the early morning streets seem eerily silent with only a handful of hardened locals willing to brave the freezing temperatures. Riga is a very stylish and affluent city, even if venturing outside the touristy old town area. European fashions of scantily clad hot-panted women walk hand in hand with the old Communist icons of head scarves and aged fur coats. It’s not hard to fit most of Riga’s beauty within a single days worth of walking, exploring the narrow cobbled streets of the old town. The central market housed in and around the Centraltirgus, four huge Zeppelin hangars and one Europe’s largest markets for me was the highlight, getting the chance to see the local variety of foods on offer. These included fresh live eels, salmon caviar and a wide array of wild cranberries, mushrooms and animal furs for sale. It’s quite easy to get bored with the various churches, architecture, Noveau artwork, and religious buildings on offer, with St. Peters and the Dome Cathedral being the best. Scaling the heights of St. Peters Tower allows immense views over the old town of Riga and well beyond towards the shipyards and forests surrounding the city. After taking in other historical sights of interest such as Swedish Gate, where condemned men walked through on the way to execution, the House of the Blackheads, Three Brothers and of course the Freedom monument, it doesn’t leave that much more to be seen. If there is still time, a trip to the Latvian Museum of Occupation is certainly worthwhile and probably the best museum in the city.After a full days worth of activities, another Latvian feast was needed to revive flagging energy levels from the lack of sleep of the previous night. After debating whether to order a whole pigs leg I decided on the cheaper dishes of grey peas, fried rye bread with garlic, sauerkraut soup and raw herring. This was all swallowed down by the horrendous tasting local Black Balsam liquor, a taste similar to that of soy sauce mixed with vodka. In hindsight, I think a single pig leg would have been a tad tastier.With a free Saturday and not interested in paying for any sexual exploits I decided upon a trip to Latvia’s only English pub, the only place in the city where the Rugby World Cup Final could be enjoyed. I understand it’s hard to believe something can be called a World Cup when only a handful of countries actually play the sport, but when you consider the American world series of baseball, then I think it’s justified.The game started with a tense atmosphere. This seemed to bring out the emotions in some of the watching public. A guy sitting next to me blabbed about his Riga experience of being head butted and punched by random Latvians in the 24 hours since arriving. After listening to his woes and as a sign of gratitude he bought the rest of my beer for the evening. English fans certainly don’t take losing very well (strange considering how often it happens), which could explain the barrage of abuse directed towards a Latvian TV crew who had come to film the vocal support of a peculiar sport. After failing to make a single clip they were forced out the door with an ear lashing of choice expletives.As England lost to a far more powerful South African team, an obnoxious gloating South African asked my girlfriend if she would prefer to go with him or stay with a loser like me. I thought this was over stepping the mark in good natured banter but I was more than happy when my girlfriend answered, ‘I’d rather stay with the loser!’ Being called a loser has never felt so rewarding. Like the rest of the English in Riga that night, I walked back to my hostel to think what could have been. Unlike the rest of my fellow countrymen I was probably the only one that was tucked up in bed before midnight without paying for a pair of naked breasts to be thrust into my face. Sometimes it’s good to be different. 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
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!
Written by unorthodox traveler on 29 Nov, 2000
Black Magic is a very strong drink, produced in Latvia, and nowhere else in the world, since 1755.
At the Cafe, Marrutku Maizites, I was introduced to this drink, with a warning that I had better have a strong heart.
What's in this drink??? Who really knows...its…Read More
Black Magic is a very strong drink, produced in Latvia, and nowhere else in the world, since 1755.
At the Cafe, Marrutku Maizites, I was introduced to this drink, with a warning that I had better have a strong heart.
What's in this drink??? Who really knows...its recipe remains a closely guarded secret. Some of the ingredients include oak bark, orange peel,wormwood and linden blossoms and apparently around 25 other things unknown to the drinker of this concoction.
The claim is that this drink settles your stomach, and stops a cold in its tracks. I spoke to a number of old Latvians who all claimed that this drink has kept them alive. Stop at any stand in the city and you will see Latvians having a shot of black magic, often with their coffee.
According to historical tradition, black magic was served to Catherine the Geat when she came down with a mysterious sickness while visiting in Riga in the 18th century. Two sips later she made an instant recovery.
A Riga druggist by the name of Kunze apparently created this concoction. Its name originates from balsamon, the ancient greek word for a sweet-smelling medicinal balm.
This drink is 45% proof and is guaranteed to "knock the hind legs off a donkey".
I brought home to Connecticut two bottles of this "witches brew"..the bottles are opaque ceramic, labelled with a black and gold Riga skyline.
These bottles are still unopened. I'm not sure why...is it because the bottles are really unique or is it a fear that, since I have an irregular heart beat, that a shot of this stuff could put me into cardiac arrest???
It's worth a trip to Riga, just to try this drink, if you dare.
Written by Breathmints on 13 Mar, 2002
In Riga, there is a place where food of top quality and characterized by freshness surrounds you from every angle. From fish to chcolate to yogurt to honey to bread to meat to pigeons, this rigan food bazaar is basically seen from roofs everywhere…Read More
In Riga, there is a place where food of top quality and characterized by freshness surrounds you from every angle. From fish to chcolate to yogurt to honey to bread to meat to pigeons, this rigan food bazaar is basically seen from roofs everywhere in the city. It's a few, maybe 3-5 HUGE open domes with food just packed inside. Everything is fresh but you have to watch out, the asle people are not friendly, but rude, picky, impatient and disgusting people in general. Nevertheless, when I go, I buy out the entire bazaar. It's just amazing: all cuisines and everything is fresh. Close