First Copenhagen, then Berlin…then I took the side journey to Riga to start my tour of the Baltic region. For much of this journey I wouldn’t be alone, as a very cool Estonian woman I met in Malta, Hanna, was traveling with me for much of it. Solo travel is good, but traveling with others gives a different dynamic and lets you see a novel, shared perspective of a city…and it makes taking pictures of yourself in various poses that much easier. 🙂
Riga is another one of those ‘everything good’ cities. Everything was good…nothing was terrible…and nothing was great. Cities like these, especially those where you come in with normal expectations, can yield a not-too-crazy, yet nice and comfortable time. That’s how I’d describe Riga, and other cities like this…the first ones that come to mind are Cologne and Belgrade.
I don’t want to sound cheap, but the first thing I noticed here were the prices. I took a 25 minute taxi ride from the airport to the hotel, and it cost me only 11 euros. I’ve heard this about the Baltics, and Riga didn’t disappoint as one of the more affordable cities I’ve been to in Europe.
The town certainly had a beautiful, medieval look to it.
I get the idea Riga is trying to ‘westernize’ itself a bit, though I don’t think they need to. We ate at a ‘rockabilly’ restaurant, which showed its view of the USA with motorcycles hanging on the walls, a confederate flag, and Elvis music blaring. There was also a poorly-placed T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant in the main city centre…nothing medieval about that. Many of the pubs/restaurants had a British vibe to them, so I didn’t really eat any local food here. I was happy to find a Subway….nothing like a foot-long veggie sub on a cold, Baltic day!
The main church in town was the St. Mary’s Dome Cathedral, the largest medieval church in the Baltics. It was nicer on the outside than the inside, but it did have some cool artifacts on display.
The final stop was the most unique…the sun museum. I’m not sure why this museum is in Riga, I would expect a museum like this in Egypt maybe, where they actually have a sun god. The museum itself was strange, as it was a mixture of science and art. Some of the museum focused on the science of the sun, and researchers who studied it…then there were different artistic depictions of the sun, and a gift shop that sold sun-related jewelry. The coolest thing was at the end, when you were able to paint your own sun using watercolors. I’ve never claimed to be an artist, and I think the photo of my hand-painted sun provides evidence of that. 🙂
It snowed quite a bit during our time here, and like the rest of my Christmas trip daylight was short and nights were long. Riga is the hub for travel in the Baltics, as it has the largest airport, and bus connections are cheap and plentiful. The first time I walked to the bus station at night, I was confused as there was no crosswalk…turns out there was an underground tunnel to get to the other side. Instead, I dodged traffic as I crossed a busy, snowy road…and got quite a few ‘must be a tourist’ looks from the locals.
My last night here I crashed at a hostel, awaiting my journey to Estonia the next morning. I briefly debated travel with an Indian guy who was staying there. He was a ‘quantity over quality’ traveler who enjoyed traveling to the cheaper areas of Europe like Bulgaria and Moldova…and interestingly enough he’s the only person I’ve ever met who went to Transnistria, the semi-independent region of Moldova that is more Soviet than European. He told a great story about trying to exchange some of the local Transnistrian currency after leaving, which has as much value as monopoly money. We had some good conversation, but I’ll still take an expensive week in France over the areas he was talking about.
Thank you, Riga, everything was good!