31.08.2012 - 04.09.2012
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.
Riga was a city I was incredibly eager to come see. It has the largest collection of Art Nouveau architecture in the world and I couldn't wait to see it but first after our exhausting night getting to Riga, Ruby and I checked into our hostel and then went to sleep.
We had planned to do the free walking tour of Riga but we didn't wake up in time so instead when we finally woke up we set out in search of food and the most logical stop was not the macca's on the ground floor of the building but the amazing central markets just a few minutes away. The markets are housed in German Zeppelin hangars that they relocated after the war (as they were too poor to build new buildings) and they have an amazing array of fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, fis, baked and dairy goods and then flowers and souviners. We bought a great lunch of plov and goulash for about $3 from a stall inside the markets. We also stocked up on some fresh vegetables to make a salad which I ate for the next 3 nights for about $3 for the 2 of us. Fantastic!
After our lunch we ventured into the old town to have a look at the shop and to find a coffee. I finally succumbed and had a coffee as I felt so tired I could barely concentrate on walking. We then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around looking at shops in the old town and the central area and also stopping again at some cafes for drinks.
That night after our amazingly fresh salad we had drinks with some Scots, some Germans and a kiwi staying in the hostel and then headed out into the town. Latvians traditionally go home for the weekend to spend it in the country side with family and friends. The country has one of the highest percentage of green space to urban so no wonder they spend it outside. It was the last weekend of summer and so lots of people had left for the weekend so the nightlife was semi-empty but we had a fun night out anyway (and the drinks are pretty cheap too!)
Once again we woke up really late and subsequently missed the walking tour again. So once again we went on our own explore heading through the park that surrounds the old town towards the 'Quiet District' where there is a lot of beautiful art nouveau architecture. We wandered around in the cold fairly un-impressed. We just weren't feeling it. There was only one street that was the centrepiece of art nouveau that was really cool. We didn't really know what else to do so after lunch at a cool little restaurant in the area and we had gotten ourselves warm again we went wandering around the streets just because. Riga was a strange place, we found a couple of cool looking shops and lots of run down wooden buildings (which are traditional of the area) but otherwise we just wandered aimlessly for a few hours until we ended back up at the hostel. Although there was a lot of attempts at convincing us to go out, Ruby and I just wanted to stay in and hang out with people but then go to bed!!!!
Sunday was a beautiful sunny day and as Ruby was leaving for Tallinn I decided to go on a day trip to a cute town, Sigulda about an hour away. I had no clue really about what there was there but it sounded pretty in Lonely Planet. There was a huge cycling race happening and there were people and bikes everywhere!!! I was definetely glad to be walking around instead of on the bike. The small town is spread out and is surrounded by forest so first I went to a small castle ruins which were pretty unimpressive and then I caught a cable car across the river and forest valley below to the other side (and on this cable car you can go bungee jumping, in which I was seriously tempted). Here I went walking through the forest past more castle ruins and then down into the valley along a little lake and some caves which were heavily carved with people names and past all the cyclist. I grabbed a take away cup of tea from a small little rotunda in the valley and then proceeded on my walk. I was going through the forest now along a dirt path and the ridiculouslness that I was doing this with a cup of tea didn't escape me. Eventually (after realising how horribly unfit I am becoming) I made it to the top and went to a large open air museum which had a scultpure park, a historical village and most importantly a medieval brick castle. Woohoo another castle. (I am seriously over castles and even more over churches!) It was quaint enough and the view from the top of the tower looking out over the forest was gorgeous. I made it back to Riga 2 hours later and was quite happy to have a very quiet sunday night in watching movies and getting some sleep.
My 4th day in Riga started with pouring rain, but I was determined to do the walking tour so after commandering an umbrella from the hostel I went out and did the walking tour. It was very fascinating as it doesn't focus on the traditional old town but instead we walked around the Moskovitz area, filled with communist style buildings and where the main street traditionally pointed towards Moscow, hence the name. Here there was some monuments to the victims of the war and also strangely a black market, where people were selling any sort of brick-a-brac. Old cameras, kitchen sinks, fan belts, old (and proberly stollen) bikes and the list goes on. We then headed into the central area and looked at many art nouveau buildings which was much more fascinating now I had back-stories and context. I find I always enjoy a city more after doing one of these walking tours and Riga was no exception.
2.5hrs later we finished and I caught the train to an area called Jurmala which is famous for its beaches and spas. The town itself with its main street was very boring and I could no way at all afford the spa treatments they were offering but I did go for a walk along the very long beach and put my feet in the cold baltic sea. I reality of how far I've travelled really hit me doing this felt as a month ago I was swimming in the meditterrean. The beach itself had soft white sand and is covered in outdoor bars set up for the summer. After spending a couple of hours in Jurmala I headed back to Riga.
When I got back there it was someones birthday in the hostel and the staff had baked a cake so I had cake before heading out for dinner. For dinner, as I hadn't eaten out yet, I went out to a local latvian pub/restaurant in the old town with Zoom, a Texan who refuses to go by his real name and who I refused to called Zoom. We had an amazing feast of Latvian anti-pasto with fried bread, bacon, cheese, gherkins, carrots, champigons and radishes and then I had a delicious pork cutlet with potatos and mushrooms for main. The beers in Latvia are really nice too! We headed back to the hostel where we sat heavily on the couch for a good hours before heading out again with a huge bunch of people from the hostel, there were germans, swiss, americans, canadians, chileans, english, french and me, the necessary australian. It is always such a strange thing going out with travellers, you spend half your night finding out what peoples travel plans are and then the rest of the night mixing them all up and forgetting them. I had a good time but headed home relatively early as I knew I had to pack in the morning.
After breakfast and packing I headed to the Riga Art Nouveau Architecture museum. I have no idea why Ruby and I didn't visit this the other day. It was a very small musuem inside an art nouveau building where they had renovated one apartment back to original condition and displayed furniture, objects and clothing from the time. I found the base rooms, their floors, their windows, their ceilings and the art work painted onto them much more fascinating than the objects in the rooms but it was a interesting little place. The centrepiece of the museum was the stairwell for the building which was an ornately decorated spherical stair that wound its way up to the top. After buying some fragile souviners (seriously my bag is becoming a fragile nightmare!) I headed back to the hostel where I picked up my bags and headed to the bus station for my bus to Tallinn.