When folks decide to visit Europe, they usually think of London, Paris, Rome… I am here to tell you that while those places are all fine and good, it is the smaller places that you will really get the feel for old Europe; Like Riga in Latvia. the first thing you should know when doing a search is that the country is really spelled Latvija. You can pull up a lot of information buy searching with the English spelling, but you can more by using the correct spelling. Just so ya know…
Latvia is a ferry ride away from us in Sweden, so not such a long trip at all. There is so much to see and do there that I am sure I will return in the future to explore more. Two days was not near enough time to see all of Riga. So, for now, let me tell you about the Old Town part of the city.
Vecriga sits between two bodies of water, making a very nice breeze to cool you down while wandering around and ogling the buildings on a hot summer day. the Pilsetas Kanals are on one side, and the Daugava River is on the other side. the Daugava is a feeder from the Baltic Sea. This is the route the cruise ships take to get to the port in Riga. The fact that Riga even has a cruise ship port should tell you that this is a city worth visiting, no?
Do not bother renting a car here. You really do not need one. Everything is close enough to everything else that even a gimp like me with Rheumatism can get around. You will be so busy oohing and ahhing along the walk that you won’t even notice the distance. There are plenty of benches and other places to stop and rest. Also, the streets are very narrow and many of them are cobblestone, so you would have a hard time navigating a vehicle down them anyway. If you really wuss out, you can always hop one of the many old-style trollies or trams for as little as 20 santimes, which is pretty much nothing.
At the edge of Old Town stands the awesome Freedom Monument. It was opened in 1935 and stands in honor of Latvia’s fight for freedom. It stands an amazing 42 meters high and is an excellent photo spot. This monument is to Latvia as the Statue of Liberty is to Americans.
After photographing Aunt Martha at the Freedom Monument, it is time to gasp in wonder at the many restored ancient buildings that make up Old Town. If you are into architecture at all, this will have your jaw on the ground all day. Oh man are these some cool buildings. I am not of a religious mind-set at all, but even I can admire the amazing beauty of the old churches and cathedrals. Wow are they breathtaking.
Set inside these great buildings is excellent shopping and dining. And the prices! Holy cow, we are in clearance heaven. Only this is not a clearance sale, it is everyday pricing. I could not believe all the deals we got. I am used to paying about 50 bucks a carton for Marlboro cigarettes in Sweden and various cities across the USA. In Riga, they were like 17 bucks. We were able to bring back 4 cartons each, and Lars is going back tomorrow for 5 days so will load up with another 4 cartons. SCORE!
Being a tourist junk queen, I also managed to load up the suitcases with ashtrays, various items carved from amber, wonderful medieval-style boot knives… man, just sooo much stuff. All of it at way less than anywhere else we have been in our travels, and we have been a lot of places in the world.
Hopefully you followed my advice and did not rent a car because you will have to walk off all those extra pounds from sampling all the delicious food. I mean as far as restaurants go, close your eyes, spin around, and point. Go ahead and eat there. You just cannot go wrong. These folks in Riga know how to cook a meal, and prices for food outside the hotel are amazingly low like the shopping is. You can find a restaurant serving just about any kind of European food you are in the mood for; from German Schnitzel to Swedish Meatballs.
You can dance off the weight at one of the various nightclubs, or check your email at an Internet cafe. Museums are plentiful; In the14th and 15th centuries Riga was like the main-stay of the Hanseatic League. To this day they remain a very important part of the Baltic area and a favored stop for vacationing Europeans. Because of this, they have some cultural event going on pretty much all the time so do check the website for current events.
Do not miss Riga Castle sitting there all majestic on the bank of the Daugava. This beauty was built in 1330, and later restored and added on to in the later part of the 18th century. It is now where Latvia’s president lives. Wow is it ever cool.
For a medieval freak such as myself, Riga, Latvia was just an amazing place to visit. The city was founded in 1201 and you really and truly feel like you have stepped back in time when you get off the ferry here. If you are planning a trip to Europe, make sure to include Riga in your travel plans.