Sunday, 8 February 2015

Riga's Really Cool, But...

The bus took just over 4hrs to get from Tallinn to Riga, and I was sad to be leaving Tallinn behind, even if the snow had turned to slush and the rain had joined us. My arrival in Riga didn't make it any better, either. It was dark already, and had been almost since I left Tallinn. The journey into the city passed by run down houses, smashed windows, tarpaulin draped across abandoned looking buildings. Places I didn't want to get out at, basically.



I was automatically on guard when I got off the bus, and asked directions out of the station. Google Maps had neglected to mention any underpasses, and when I walked through the dimly lit underpass I could see why it had neglected to mention it. I walked as quickly as I could through the underpass. When I came up I was greeted by more buildings covered in tarpaulin. Trying to read the street signs quickly, it took me maybe 8 minutes to get from the bus station to my hostel.

Security at the hostel was pretty immense, they had a camera with a speaker phone that you had to call to be let in. The key card didn't work after midnight, either, you had to be let in by showing your key card to the camera. The whole time I was being checked in, the girl was looking at said security camera's checking who was around, which added to my whole "not feeling safe" issue. I had considered going out on the pub crawl, but decided against it. Particularly after she stood crossing out area's on my map, 

"This," she told me, looking at me for the first time since I arrived, "is a no- go zone. You go here, you come back without your kidney's, got it?"

I nodded. 

Walking along to Freedom Monument 
The following morning, I decided daylight would be a better judge of things and headed out for some coffee, breakfast and a walking tour. This, it turned out, was the best idea I'd had in the last 20 hours or so. It turns out that in spite of that sinister feeling, there really is cool stuff to see in Riga. 

Our guide was great on his history of Riga, telling us how the city had been Germanised during the occupation by the Nazi's, and explaining the names of street's to us. We also saw the Bremen Town's musician's monument, which was a gift from Riga's twin city (that'll be Bremen, then). He showed us awesome things like the Swedish gate. This is the last remaining gate of the city walls, which apparently got its name from the courage the Swedish soldiers who protected the city in 1710 during the siege of the Russian Empire. 



My favourite cool- not- so- well- known- fact- about- Riga was that Richard Wagner had lived there when he was young, before he was an awesome composer. He spent really rather a chunk of time racking up some serious debt and ended up working in this now- abandoned- but- government- owned theatre. Apparently it's up for sale, and they want something cool to be done with it.  The street is even named after him. 

We also passed by this cool building with a cat on the roof. The cat is kind of awesome. The building built by an architect who had been refused to get into the guild (he was Latvian, and the guild was solely for architects of Germanic descent) across the road. The cat a-top of the roof used to face the other way, with it's ass pointing at the guild- tho' the architect was ordered to turn it on the building's completion. 

After the tour, we went to The Museum of the Occupation. It's depressing, it really is, except the end where (SPOILERS) Latvia are free! Though it's definitely a great way to understand Latvian history, and how things have been for this country squashed between Russian and German occupation, for years. The museum has recently been moved, and if you turn up at the old one, the people in the shop across the road will be happy to point you in the right direction. Basically head towards Freedom Monument (yep, there's one here, too) & turn left. Entrance is FREE, but a donation is welcome.



From there we went to another gorgeous orthodox cathedral. The Baltics are full of them, but they're so gorgeous I don't think I'll ever see enough of them. When the Soviet's ruled here the church was converted into a planetarium, cinema and cafeteria. It's since been renovated and is full of fancy golden hues. There is almost always a service going on, it's incredibly serene and silent inside. You should visit, just make sure to keep your head covered. 

That night was spent with friends made on the walking tour consuming waayyy too much food in a renowned place called ALA. The place has the most amazing traditional Latvian menu, the portions are insane! Plus beer. In jugs. Massive 3l jugs. I mean we shared one between 5 of us, but it was great. 

I'm really glad that I spent time in Riga, it was beautiful, the architecture was stunning. That said, I've never been somewhere I've felt uncomfortable being alone like I did in Riga, so it's not somewhere I'll be heading back to. 

Have you visited Riga? Was it a city you enjoyed?



25 comments:

  1. The walking tour sounds great! I visited Riga last year by bus from Vilnius and I absolutely loved it. It is too bad that you felt so unsafe there because I felt fine - but wasn't told about areas not to visit (which would have made me nervous too!).

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    1. Yeah, I mean I know every city has dangers, and everything but it was the way it was said. "Don't go here. You will come back without your kidneys." I mean what? It's a shame because it put me on guard my whole trip, and I feel I could have enjoyed the city more without that.

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  2. I was blissfully unaware of said dangers when I was in Riga a few months ago, thankfully! We really enjoyed the city and met some great people. It's a beautiful city!

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    1. Yeah, it is, the architecture was absolutely stunning. The history pretty fascinating, too.

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  3. I have yet to go, it sounds and looks fascinating!

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  4. The walking tour sounds super - safety in numbers huh!

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    1. Yeah, but I am a fan of walking tours anyway. They're a great introduction to a place, and a great way to meet other traveller's. In fact I met a girl on my walking tour in Riga that I then met up with on two other walking tours in two other countries!

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  5. Ha! The cat building sounds like fun. Good idea to go on a tour, especially since the city made you nervous. How did you find it? I'm impressed by your ability to make new friends to hang out with.

    Off to see what you had to say about Talinn now. Never been to Riga, but Talinn is great.

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    1. Most cities offer walking tours, look to Trip Advisor if you want to know what's on in the city you're visiting. Most hostels will be able to tell you about them, too, as a lot of traveller's like to go on them :)

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  6. I've been to Riga a couple of years ago and to be honest, I didn't get the sinister feeling you are writing about at the beginning of this post, however that could be because we were with a group and might be staying in another side of town. I really enjoyed spending 48 hours there, it's already quite some years ago so I'm sure it has developed to become a better place for tourists even more now that so many visitors seem to be heading out to the Baltics.

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    1. I think a lot of it was owing to arriving in the dark, and not knowing where I was going AND THEN having that girl check me in telling me that I could lose my kidneys if I didn't avoid certain area's. Like it doesn't start you off with the best of impressions.
      It was beautiful,as I said in the rest of the post, but I just didn't feel particularly comfortable there in the end.

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  7. That's too bad that you had a bad introduction to the city like that. Glad you were able to turn it around and have fun though--the tour sounds like it was fun!!

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    1. Yeah, I did enjoy my stay there in the end, it just wasn't the best of starts. That kind of impression takes a while to leave you, you know.

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  8. I would have loved to visit the Occupation Museum but it was such a lovely spring day when I visited the city, that I rather stayed outside..... would love to come back though :)

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    1. Yeah, I enjoyed wandering around the gorgeous architecture. The occupation museum only took up a couple of hours and was really interesting, if not very sad.

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  9. I hate arriving someplace new at night. And although I consider myself a moderately brave traveler, if my introduction to a city included the possibility of losing my kidneys, I think I would give up.

    It does look pretty though!

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    1. Thank you, that is pretty much my point. Like even at the end of my trip, my friend and I went to the bus station together, her bus left half an hour before mine and we sat in the waiting area. There were all these guys opposite us with broken noses (some of which were clearly fresh), all donned out in ripped leather jackets, and ripped jeans, tattoo's across their hands. Some were missing teeth. I was just like, ugh, I'm glad to be getting out of here.

      It was super pretty, and I'm glad I visited, but I won't be going back.

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  10. I have yet to visit Riga or anywhere in the Baltic area but I see a great deal of publicity surrounding the area at present - Maybe I should visit before too much changes!

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  11. I've heard really good things about Riga and the architecture! I really should get out to the Baltics...

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  12. Gosh, I thought we were at the start of the movie "Hostel" for a second there...Glad you ultimately enjoyed your stay in Riga and didn't get your kidneys stolen!

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  13. I've been three times to Riga and while it is undoubtedly a beautiful city I never was truly charmed by it, I'm more a fan of Tallinn and Vilnius. And I also always had some safety issues there. But I'm willing to give it another chance and discover a cool side of it, hopefully still this year!
    And can you believe I've never seen the house with the cat on top? I was trying to find it but with no luck!

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  14. Eek! Thanks for the heads-up. I'm always 'on-guard' when I travel, but I usually don't make it a point to visit places where I would feel that my safety was constantly in jeopardy! At least you came back, alive... and with your kidneys!

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  15. I haven't been to Riga but would love to go explore it. Maybe with a friend though given your concerns.

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  16. Oh for crying out loud. What was that hostel girl thinking? Riga is incredibly safe! What neighborhood was your hostel in? The area to the south-east of the train station is called "Little Moscow," and yeah, I probably wouldn't walk around there after dark. But why would anyone except the residents? There aren't any sights or popular restaurants in that neighborhood. I've been walking around Riga for seven months with my DSLR slung around my neck and haven't had a single problem. I'd reconsider your pledge not to come back - and just stay someplace else!

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