There she goes again – where to now? Riga, Latvia. I suspect the rest of the world knows where this is, so for my fellow Americans it is part of the Baltics, the section my generation grew up as being under the Soviets, the USSR, before breaking free in 1991. It is in the north eastern part of Europe – found it? Ok! So if you have the newest version of monopoly you’ll probably have heard of Riga, the capital of Latvia, as it replaced one of the blue squares for Park Place / Boardwalk.
This morning we saw the sun! Hallelujah!! Though I’ve become so accustomed to cloudy days that I’d forget how the sun makes photography a bit more of a challenge. My gloomy shots regardless of angle were fairly straightforward. It was high 20s this morning with the goal of getting to the mid 30s. Paired with sun, that’s pretty exciting! At this point, my nearly frozen fingers would prefer I either buy gloves finally or the temperatures get warmer…hmmm…
My fancy hotel thanks to United Airlines came with breakfast – very exciting. I am a huge breakfast person but a more budget conscious person so I’d been forgoing big breakfasts so far. The breakfast buffet at the Koventa Seta Hotel wasn’t something to call home about, but it was decent – scrambled eggs, toast, hot dogs, salad, coffee, yogurts, etc. I stocked up a huge plate full of free goodness and given no tables were free ended up making new friends with this lovely Norwegian who teaches classical music. He spoke fluent English and had spent every summer for a number of years in Colorado so we had some common ground.
Today was all about seeing the remaining highlights of old town Riga that I’d missed from the day before. I started by walking to the east to visit the Church of Gertrude then the KGB Building. It was previously known as the corner building and had an interesting history. It was primarily a prison where they would take anyone who seemed like they would be against the Soviets (regardless of race, age, status, religion, etc.) and incarcerate them, most of them being confined to very small overcrowded cells and eventually executed. People during the time feared everyone as they were incented to turn others in, meaning if I turned you in, I could save myself. So many people felt they had too, and the prisons got filled with all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. Tragic. If they were lucky, they got deported to Siberia for decades. Can you imagine that is what lucky looks like? Damn, WE are lucky to live today.
After the museum I headed over to the park that houses the art museum and Nativity Cathedral. Wow the Cathedral looks gorgeous all plated in gold and shimmering in that lovely sun we saw today. Then I visited the museum of Occupation. Ok so my museum choices today were a little depressing. The Occupation Museum has purely written boards, no mock ups of how things were or architectural or historically significant structures to view (which btw are my favorite kinds) so it was a lot of reading. I started to realize how low my capacity for reading and absorption was getting being in my fourth country and reading about WWII again, but I tried to look for the pieces that were special to Latvia, what did they go through.
After that I passed by the Freedom Monument which is a statue of a lady with her arms in the air. It straddles a lovely park with a river in the middle where boats would pass by. As you can image the 30s temperatures were not conducive to boating so none were out. I will take this moment for a tangent to say – I’m sorry in my true American fashion I use Fahrenheit meaning it’s like a little below 0 for the Celsius folks. Anyhow, from there I walked over to the Powder Tower which was a nice brick silo looking thing. It led over to a beautiful brick wall which I suspect used to be part of the city wall. Nearby was the Old Town Gate which was quite lovely.
At this point I’d seen most of the key sites in old town so walked to the periphery to see the warehouse district, which by the way, must be more lively in the summer, because the guide books said to visit but in the winter it was pretty empty and dead with very few things open. The central market was nearby and if you’ve been amused at Asian markets before this one will not even compare. It’s certainly a mainstay for the locals and not really designed for tourists. Still neat nonetheless.
After spending the day on my feet walking around and realizing I hadn’t managed lunch and it was already 3pm, I decided to get a glass of wine to tide me over. The guide book recommended Vina Studija which happened to be in the mall. I’m not terribly fond of malls, but I figured I still needed gloves so what the heck. I did find a good replacement for my gloves as well as a hat (my cold ears were so happy!). Then off to that much needed wine! They had small bites, mostly antipasto things like bruschetta and cheese and meat plates. Perfect sized bite as to not spoil dinner.
Some how the day had flown by and it was already 6pm, time to start thinking about dinner. The most well known restaurant in town is Vincent’s and supposedly it’s definitely worth trying. So I of course tried to get in a last minute reservation for one. First, no one seems intrigued by the revenue one person could bring. Understandably. So the only thing on my side is it’s crazy cold outside and it’s off season. Though that wasn’t enough. No to Vincent’s and the other three I tried getting into. Fourth option was a Russian restaurant called Tevocis Vana a few blocks away still in the old city.
Enter into old world Russia with floral wall paper and the place setup to look like a Russian house. Book shelves separating the sections with Russian knick knacks. They did an amazing job on the décor, really impressive. My waitress spoke as much English as I spoke Latvian or Russian so the only thing that saved me was the English menu. It’s funny, when the person speaks English it just makes me feel a little bad but when the person speaks no English it makes me really feel like a lousy American, that here I am, in their country, and can’t seem to say anything other than ‘yes’ ‘no’ and ‘thank you’. Feels pathetic… I wish I was better at languages I really do, but no matter how hard I try it doesn’t seem to be in a well exercised part of my brain.
Anyhow, the food was delightful and the portions were larger than I could consume. I started with the baked eggplant covered with tomatoes and in a white cheese tasting sauce. It was so good. Very filling and the flavors were great. Followed by pork slices in a white mushroom gravy with mashed potatoes and slices of carrots for garnish (carrots!!!!). I was far too full for dessert, so quite satisfied with my meal I stumbled back to the hotel. BTW there’s lots of stumbling on this journey and it’s not to do with alcohol consumption but rather the cobblestone streets! All in all a perfect day for a perfect sleep ahead…
Ps I’ve got questions on what shoes am I wearing that I’ve been walking many miles each day, every day, without issue. Those my friend would be my tried and true Born boots. Not the cheapest, but they’ve certainly earned their value over and over again. Love them!