Riga

Trip Start Feb 10, 2008
1
10
45
Trip End May 13, 2009


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Where I stayed

Flag of Latvia  ,
Thursday, April 3, 2008

The bus to Riga is called a Euroliner and is very swish indeed - there are power points for every seat and an internet server on board, so you can connect your laptop (I don't have one) and email while travelling.
It's always interesting, and a bit confusing when you get to a new city - and a little stressful if you arrive late at night and don't know where you're staying. Fortunately I arrive in the afternoon and have plenty of time to orient myself and find the Riga Hostel in the old part of town. Directly below the sign for my hostel is one that says Doll House Gentleman's Club and as I go in I'm unsure which is the right entrance.
The Riga Hostel has big signs on the walls saying "Don't go to the Doll House and other strip clubs".
Riga has become a popular destination for stag parties and there are a lot of strip clubs around. Apparently a number of British men have been lured into strip clubs with the offer of free drinks (easy to lure British men anywhere by offering them this), before being beaten up and forced to hand over cash. Club owners say that the British tourists are behaving badly and they are just trying to control them.
Underneath the warning sign was this little homily (obviously written by a Brit): When I first started getting hair in strange places my dad took me on his knee and said 'son, you're about to go on a magical journey, but whatever you do don't ever buy a stripper a drink'.
Often while strolling the streets at night I was asked whether I wanted to go to a club, and there were many big white limousines cruising around taking lambs to the slaughter
Ok, I'm not trying to pick on British men but the other issue that was exercising the newspapers was that over a period of time several British men have been caught pissing on the Freedom Monument, and sundry other places. Paddy Whelan's, the only pub in Riga, gets packed out on weekends with Brits on boozy holidays so I guess they've got to piss somewhere. In the past they were given a small fine and let go but Latvians have become fed up and the last one caught was put in a police cell for 5 days.
A few facts about Latvia I didn't know before: The Latvian language is an Indo-European, non-Slavic and non-Germanic language, and is similar only to Lithuanian. Latvia has a population of 2.3 million, Riga 730,000 - nearly 60% Latvians, 30% Russians. Highest point in the country is 311 metres. Riga was founded around 1200 by Germans and ruled by them for around 400 years, then Sweden for 100, then Russia until it eventually gained a brief period of independence in 1921 until WW2, when it again came under Russian dominance until 1989.
People ride on swings in Latvia in the belief this will ward off mosquitoes in summer.
Back to my activities:
I take it easy my first evening and just have a preliminary wander around town to get my bearings, then go to a cafe and have a meal of 4-5 types of pelmeni (similar to ravioli) with soup, several types of sauces, and a glass of sour milk.
When I arrived at the bus station I noticed these huge hangars nearby. I find out they are the central market and go there next morning and while away a couple of hours browsing and watching people, and eat a couple of pastries, pomegranate juice and more sour milk. I decide to be lazy and follow the suggested "tourist walk" itinerary - another reason is that I'm only here for 2 days so I don't have the time to wander around as I usually do. I cover the main churches (get a great view from the top of St Peter's), lovely old buildings, a couple of museums, etc.
In the early evening go to Alus Arsenals (Beer Arsenal), a great pub/restaurant in a cellar about 4 metres underground and decide to have a a couple of snacks with my beer.
Here is a sample of the menu:
- Special offer to beer. Gentle minced meat house sausage length in 1 metre prepared under ancient recipe.
- Abundance of meat snack for man company.
- Seagifts allsorts for the company.
- Allsorts from best cheeses recommended by us to wine. Served with walnuts and cheese balls in coconut crumbs.
- Unpeeled prawns unpeeled fried with thrashed pepper and lime.
I end up eating sweet-sour bread fried in pan with garlic and salt and served with juicy cheese sauce, and (wait for it) pork noses preliminary boiled in fragrant grasses and spices, and oven baked with garlic and pepper. I guess you're wondering what they were like - just like what you'd expect - soft and mushy, and not strongly flavoured. After I had a Medovaja Percem vodka which was fantastic - amber coloured and very spicy.
I went back to my hostel, studiously avoiding the gaze of the bouncers at the entrance to the "Gentleman's Club" downstairs, but the kitchen/lounge was choc-a-bloc with people so I ended up going out again and having a progressive dinner.
I was considering another restaurant until I came to this:
Fried chicken wings in ginger-honey marinade (so far ok), with whipped cream and lingonberry cream.
In the end I found another, whose name escapes me - it was very modern and I was the only guest. I had rabbit tongues and escargots (I'm not making this up - tonight seemed to be the night for eating unusual parts of animals) in red wine sauce, roasted swede, carrot puree and cranberries. The dessert menu offered items such as Pluto's Apocalypse and chocolate & carrots but I had chocolate fondant with truffle oil, chicory ice-cream and pistachio sauce. After all this I needed another digestive so I had the famous Riga Balsam, a dark brown bitter liqueur, to the background of Roy Orbison singing "Only the Lonely", one of my favourite songs (very few people know I'm a closet Roy Orbison fan, and when no-one's about at home I used to put on a cd and sing along).
My last morning I walk down to the Art Nouveau area some distance away. Riga has the largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe, built around the turn of the 19th Century (to the 20th).
I make my way back to the bus station and head off to Vilnius to complete my trip through the Baltic countries.
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