Rīga, Latvia: Beauty in the Baltic

Thursday: 21 May 2009

I then met a couple guys heading to Riga who were actually taking the same flight from Riga to Charleroi. We walked together from the bus station toward the old town and I got a room in the first hostel I saw. Good vibes, pleasant atmosphere with a bar in the lobby. I then said goodnight to the two Belgian guys as they set off for something a little more secluded. Unisex quarters, numerous bunk beds in each room and a single bathroom would be great for just the night. I paid 7 Lats = $14 and got changed, freshened up and headed downstairs to have a drink but not before walking down to the water. Making my way to see the bridges all lit up at night was first on my agenda; probably not the best choice given the area I was in but had to get a few shots of this electric blue outlined architecture that stretches from one side of river to the other. Walking along the river Daugava which drains into the Gulf of Riga was dark, lonely and mystical all in the same instance. As I made my way back to the hostel I passed men in taxis waiting for their next customer, empty city streets and a dark bus station where a few people wait for their next destination. Through a walking tunnel that passes under the city streets I walked solo as a single guitarist sits playing his song with beautiful lyrics and amazing acoustics that capture my senses. He sings in English; possibly a young man traveling around Europe and earning his way by performing his music on the streets of various cities. I am sure his story is something spectacular and his strength to just go and explore and do what he loves is something to be envious of.

As I sat and ordered a drink in the bar beneath my hostel I met this guy named Andy from Los Angeles who was passing through Riga after some work in Rome. He was very interesting; we chilled out, chatted and had a few drinks. We also met two other guys from Sweden who were drunk, slightly strange and slightly annoying. I had three Vodka pineapples and then headed off to sleep around 3am to make sure I was up and ready for the next morning. After saying goodnight I crawled into my bunk hoping not to wake those around me. As the hours passed I could hear random people stumble in; giggles, whispers and the sounds of those ending a good night out on the town as they crawl into bed at all hours of the night.

Friday: 22 May 2009

As I awoke from a good nights sleep, I felt well rested and ready to go out and do some exploring despite the poor weather. It was raining slightly so I decided to eat in this cute café where I indulged in bread, salad and an omelet with vegetables & cheese that had this amazing sauce made with dill. It cost me equivalent to $6 which is amazing for the amount of food I had. I then began walking to see the churches and city center. I followed a tourist map which I got from the city center that marked key locations of places to see. I would have to say I really enjoyed Riga especially the statues, architecture and river side views. One of the most beautiful cities in the Baltics and quite peaceful. As I walked along the river or stumbled down small narrow ally ways that hosted little boutiques and various shops I felt as I was on a movie set; something surreal. Summer travelers fill the city sreets but it did not feel like a tourist trap as Tallinn had made me feel in its old town. Riga was not what I expected but more than what I could have imagined despite some of the warnings I received about pick pockets and being aware of your surroundings. In general when you are traveling you should be aware of your surroundings and be careful especially at night and no matter where you are in the world.

I then came across the Freedom Monument which was located near a charming little park and waterway with beautiful flowers in various colors, trees with little white blossoms and ducks making their way upstream. I found it interesting that on one of the bridges were the same sort of locks that I had seen in Lithuania with names, hearts and a specific date. Come to find out this bridge is covered with what is known as love padlocks. Each city might have a different perception but in Latvia it is believed that when a couple gets married they put their lock on a bridge and throw away the key into the water below…a sentimental way of saying that the marriage is there to last.

There were many high school kids walking around all dressed up; boys in suits and girls in knee high stockings, short pleated skirts, tied up white button shirts and pig-tails. It was the last day of school and everyone was celebrating; ready for the beginning of summer and school to be over with for the year. I chatted with a group of girls that were incredibly kind who told me all about why they were dressed up and posed with me for a few pictures. After walking for a few hours the sun came out and the city of Riga blossomed as well. The sky was the purest blue; so surreal…so perfect. The complete opposite of what the morning weather had displayed on this beautiful city.

I then continued to watch the changing of the guards at the Freedom Monument; an elderly woman walked up to the base of this structure and placed flowers before it. A somber look upon her face while she held her head down; possibly remembering someone or a particular moment in time that will forever place an impact on her life. It withstood the soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940 and remained standing the entire time under communist rule; giving people hope and remained a symbol of national independence to the people of Latvia. The monument is topped with Lady Liberty holding three gilded stars which represent the three constitutional districts of Latvia; Vidzeme, Latgale and Courland. People lay flowers at its base to remember those lost in war and who fought for their countries freedom.

I had a few hours to spare before my flight…so I was on a quest to find some of the famous Art Nouveau Architecture that make many of these buildings so unique. Many of these pieces covered buildings from the ground up and as I walked down Elizabeta Street I took in all the amazing designs, colors and statues that decorate the sides of these buildings. These structures were magnificent with great detail and interesting depictions of artistic images; Egyptian Sphinx, peacocks, and dragons…the nude female figure and strong masculine warriors.

I then headed back to the hostel to grab my belongings before heading out to the airport where I will be arriving in Bruxelles in only a few hours.

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