Fairly uneventful trip down to Riga in Latvia from Helsinki. A quick ferry which was packed full of people going for a day trip to Tallinn. Most of them seemed to be carrying trollies in order to carry booze back to Finland. It really is that expensive there.
Anyway we didn’t have long to wait in Tallinn and were soon on our bus. Absolute luxury on the bus, our own TVs, wifi, toilet and even hot drinks! The trip was only four hours or so and in what felt like no time we were in Riga (border control between the two countries appeared to be non existent).
It had obviously snowed recently and when we arrived everything was covered in the beautiful white stuff and as we walked to our hostel we were both immediately taken by the architecture and the general look of the place. We had a little bit of difficulty finding our hostel and ended up in a dark alleyway trying doors. We had to laugh as we realised the types of places we have been staying in obviously haven’t been of the highest standard if we expected the front door of the hostel to be down a dark alley and unlit!! Soon enough we found our place and it was perfectly nice and welcoming.
It was pretty late and we were cold and hungry so I will admit we stopped at the first place we could find which turned out to be a blues bar. No bands playing but the beer was local and good and the food was pretty cheap so we had a quick feed and went back to be ready for the next days exploration.
I have gone on about the weather a bit in the last months worth of blogs and this will be no different. Feels like temp of -12 and 20cm of snow due. Perfect if we were on a skiing holiday but not ideal for wandering around sightseeing! Our tactic was to get out and do it, so we stocked up on our free breakfast (no where near Tallinn’s high standard), put on all of our clothes and set off.
We were taking pictures from just outside the door of the hostel. Riga is certainly a very beautiful city, in fact you feel like you are in a fairytale, it seems like another world. The snow certainly helps make everything seem otherworldly but the buildings in themselves really are very interesting.
On our walk to the Old town we passed by a huge church/cathedral and decided to pop in. We were in luck as it was Sunday and there was a mass on complete with choir singing and a fairly packed crowd. The main thing we noticed was that there were no pews and everyone just stood, listening and praying. The singing was quite beautiful but we had places to be so set off towards the centre of town.
The Old Town in Riga is set on the side of a river and a canal encircles it to make it an island. We first walked through a park which couldn’t have been prettier covered in snow and then delved into the city of old town. (Passed McDonald’s). We wandered around the old cobbled streets gazing at the old buildings and the huge cathedrals until we came to our planned stop in the Museum of Occupation where we planned to warm up whilst learning the history of Latvia. No luck, closed for renovations and relocated to the other side of town. Boo.
Still we were able to see the Blackheads House where in 1510 a group of bachelors hauled a pine tree up to the clubhouse and decorated it with flowers before burning it. So began the custom of decorating a tree for Christmas. You learn something new everyday!!
We finished our walk across town and found the central markets which were mostly housed in old aircraft hangers. I say mostly because outside lining the streets there were venders manning stalls in the snow! I reckon the fruit and veg would have been frozen!
Inside there was relative warmth and we managed to find ourselves a couple of hot chocolates to help warm us up as we wandered around. There was the usual fare of fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese, nuts etc but the really interesting section was the fish.
So fresh that some of it was still alive!! There was plenty of salmon and other varieties I wouldn’t even know but the best was the array of smoked fish. It all just looked so tasty and we could have easily bought a load of stuff there and stuffed ourselves silly. The weather however wasn’t conducive to having an outdoor picnic so we set off back into the snow to the Museum of Occupation.
The walk back across town was chilly and snowy but we still managed to enjoy a few of the sights along the way. The Museum itself was brilliant. It has to be said that it was a similar story to the one we had seen in Estonia but this time it was a lot better explained.
The history of Latvia (and to a certain extent Estonia and Lithuania too)
1918 Latvia claimed its independence after WW1
1939 There was a secret agreement between USSR and Germany dividing up the land between the two countries and so when WWII started Latvia and the rest of the Baltic states fell under Russian power.
1941-2 Hitler started his war against Russia so took back the Baltic States and they fell under German control. This was originally seen by the Latvians as freedom from the rule of Russia and many believed that Latvia would be its own country again. 70000 Jews were killed and control was imposed by the Germans until the end of the war when Latvia and the Baltic States once again fell back under the banner of the USSR.
1945-1991 Latvia was part of the USSR and this started out very badly for anyone who even seemed like they might oppose the might of the USSR. The museum had some incredibly harrowing accounts of the experiences of the people who were rounded up, taken from their homes and sent all over different parts of Siberia where half of them died.
Over this period of time 700000 Soviets were relocated into Latvia thus changing the ethnographic make up of the country substantially.
All the while in Latvia there were various resistance groups and eventually the people got the independence they wanted in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet empire.
One of the most striking forms of resistance and uprising was the formation of the “Baltic Way” in 1989 where over 2 million people joined hands to form a 600km long line from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius.
We certainly felt we understood a bit more about the history in the Baltics which really has been quite harrowing and hard.
Lunch was again in one of these superb canteens where we got soup and mains to warm us up before getting back out into the cold. It has to be said that we have wandered about for 10 km in this weather and so felt that we deserved a rest and a warm up. T
The street outside our hostel, and really a typical street in Riga.
The Nativity of Christ Cathedral where we heard the choir. Felt sorry for this guy outside begging, one of a few unfortunately.
The park on the outskirts of the Old Town.
A row of gingerbread houses.
The central square in Riga. There were obviously some important people about requiring a bit of protection.
Both still braving the snow and enjoying the sightseeing.
The main Cathedral in Riga.
Some more gingerbread houses. The place was absolutely magical to walk around.
This market really does operate come rain or shine or snow!
Smoked fish mmmmm.
The beautiful park on our way home.