Riga: Art Nouveau, snails and lots of food

Quite a few people told me I would really like Riga, and despite the fact that I saw even less of it than I did Tallinn, I entirely agree. For the record, I should say that I’m quite easy to please if you bribe me with sugar, and within my first two hours in Riga I had been given a free bar of chocolate. I had meet Eric from the States getting off the bus, who happened to be staying in the same hostel as me and we were walking around town together when a man approached us on the street. Now usually I’m quite wary of people who may be asking for money in the street, but when they’re carrying a bulging messenger bag and dressed all in purple with ‘Milka’ emblazoned across their chest you’re probably safe. He told us Milka were promoting compassion, or something, and we should hug and kiss our loved ones more often, so I gave Eric a hug and we were both rewarded with free large bars of chocolatey goodness. Then I hugged the Milka guy, because frankly anyone who gives me chocolate counts as a loved one. So really, after that how could I not like Riga?

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Riga is sort of similar to Tallinn in that it centres around an old town – here there are fewer mediaeval buildings, but around 800 Art Nouveau ones.

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We didn’t see anywhere near all of them, particularly since we were too busy chatting to notice much on the first afternoon, but the next day we went to seek out this lovely lady who (assuming we managed to find the right building) was voted Miss Art Nouveau in a city wide beauty contest.

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I don’t have a lot else to note from day one, but in the evening we meet up with Eric’s friend Dean from Israel and we went out to eat in Ala, which was a pain in the bum to find, but had unbelievably awesome and cheap food, and very strong hemp and ginger beer.

We then went out to find a sports bar at Dean’s request as Tel Aviv were playing Real Madrid in the basketball final – it wasn’t easy to find a bar playing the game as there was a local team playing ice hockey at the same time but it was worth the effort when a very last minute overtime victory led to Dean hugging the television.

(I’m not going to pretend I understand basketball now, mostly I was just staring at the players wondering how human beings can be so stretched out and gangly)

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On the next day we took a free tour (we had to look for a guy with a yellow suitcase, which I guess is a good way to stand out, but must be annoying to carry round). Mostly we were taken outside of the old town to be shown the alternative side to Riga. This would have been great if I was here for a while, but I think we were both hoping to hear a bit more about the old town as we knew nothing about it. Still, it was a decent tour and you can’t argue with free.

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This is the central market, which is freaking huge and would be awesome to buy a picnic in, if we weren’t already fixated on eating burgers for dinner (it was worth it, we went to Street Burgers, where I loaded up a beef burger with bacon, blue cheese, caramelised onions and pesto and easily could have died happy afterwards. This was a bit different to the fast food Hesburger joint where Eric went yesterday in desperation and had a burger tortilla. If it’s possible to roll up a burger, that should be giving off pretty heavy warning signs)

We bought an apple and rhubarb pastry to share for bus breakfast, which sounds pretty stingy until you realise that it was about a square foot in size. I also bought some halva in a plastic bag to take home which is rapidly crumbling and looking less and less legal as the days go by.

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A rather wistful looking snail gazing out at the new library building – one of many around the city which are supposedly raising awareness about how slowly the new art museum is being built. Nobody seems to have noticed that if they put the money they spent building snails towards the museum instead it might be going faster…

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This is a rather disappointing picture of the orthodox cathedral. Hmm. Sorry about that – we saw it twice before and the gold domes were glittering in the sun and looking gorgeous but each time we headed over there to take photos and got sidetracked by lunch or cider (oh how I love being back in the world of cider), so by the time we eventually went back the sun was a bit low.

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Saint Christopher, who is the patron saint of Riga, maybe. They claim he was a giant who used to carry people across the dangerous local river and one night he heard a child crying alone and carried him across to the other side, where the child magically turned into a sack of gold. Then because he was so selfless Christopher used the gold to build the city. This might be a bit of Latvian exaggeration, since he’s also the patron saint of a bunch of other places who also have similar legends, so maybe he just got very savvy about secretly golden children and kept repeating the process at every dangerous river crossing he found. He’s also the patron saint of travelers, so maybe I can thank him for getting me safely back to Europe.

(He looks like he’s asking for a tip for that)

As for one final piece of advice about Riga, perhaps you were wondering if your horse could join you in these lovely restaurants I’ve been recommending?

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Sorry, apparently not.