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Published: July 28th 2009
The Cat House
Black cats adorn the roof of this house in Riga. The creator of the cat sculptures fell to his death while placing them on the roof. The story goes that 100 years ago, the Latvian owner of the building was "not welcomed" into the the powerful Great Guild across the road. To be insulting to his enemies, he ordered the cats to be turned around, ... tails up and backside showing... A lengthy court battle ensued, "the cats" were eventually turned around and he was admitted to the Guild.
I had been to Latvia before some years back on my friend's obligatory stag do to mourn the passing of his final days of batchelordom and to celebrate his impending marriage. I'm making him sound like a condemned man, honest she's lovely!I really liked the country and the people, so I was determined to come back to Eastern Europe again and see a bit more for a bit longer and a bit less drunk this time! Oh well, we'll pass on that last comment!
I mentioned to people I work with that I was coming here and they had uninformed comments about a grim post-soviet country, obviously they don't get out much, it was anything but that. I organised a week long break for a great bunch of guys who I work alongside at the airport, doing all the planning and emailing and booking to get the holiday up and running, so I was quite disappointed when one by one two of them dropped out. I didn't lose any money as I was paid for the flights I had booked for one of the boys, but it's sad when people let you down at the last minute to go do
Some guys outside a pub dressed in middle eastern clothing consume vast amounts of alcohol to celebrate their friend's upcoming wedding.
something else. I suppose that's the pitfalls of trying to organise so many people, sometimes you have to work around the curve balls thrown your way in travel. Our group of four was dwindling fast, but my good friend Alastair stood in at the last minute to save the day and decided he would come along for the trip. I'm so glad he did as he was a great travel companion with a wicked sense of humour, something that is indispensible when you are a long way from home and sharing the same roof for a week.
I flew into a rainy soggy Riga airport with Alastair "last man standing", on an Air Baltic flight from London Gatwick. First time I had used this budget airline but oh so much better than that Irish one that I won't mention by name. I had arranged previously beforehand for somebody to meet us at the airport and drive us to our apartment. I was a bit worried that all my planning would be undone by our taxi not being there to meet us, but I need not have been concerned as I saw a woman standing there looking rather forelorn holding
up a large card with my name written on it, scanning intently all the arriving passenger's faces for any hint of recognition of their names. I waved over to her and she smiled broadly beconing us to follow her and she took off at quite a pace for an older woman. I'm not sure if she was trying to beat the thunder storm rapidly approaching or was just keen to beat the rush hour traffic.
The two bedroom city centre property we rented for the week from Riga Apartments
was superb, right in the heart of the old town behind St Peters church and directly opposite the Irish pub "Paddy Whelans". Perfect location for a lads break! It was obviously somebody's home but they had moved out for a few months over the summer and rented it out to make a bit of extra cash, a good move as the city centre can become rather noisy with all the drunken revellers moving around in the early hours. Not too good for a night's sleep if you have to get up early next day for work, luckily we didn't, so this was not a huge problem for us.
Alastair enjoys the impressive view from the 26th floor Skyline bar.
rainy weather we had on our arrival was the only bad conditions we experienced on the whole of our week long stay.Every day was warm and sunny which really adds to the enjoyment, especially if you do a lot of walking like we did. The historic old town of Riga is very compact and easy to see on foot, except you always seem to take a wrong turn as every narrow cobbled street starts to look the same as the other, so a good map is essential.
We usually started our evenings off at the iconic Skyline Bar which on the 26th floor of the Reval Hotel had the most incredible views of the sun going down on the old town below. If you want to get one of the prime highly sought after floor to ceiling window seats, you really have to get there early as these are snapped up very quickly by the party crowd, but this is not too much of a hardship as they serve killer Bacardi Mojitos here, of which we had quite a few! The staff can be a little lethargic and brusque at times, but don't let that put you off, it's
just an eastern European thing and also perhaps it’s due to the high altitude location they enjoy.
The heart of Riga must undoubtedly be the square where the Freedom monument or 'Milda,' as she is affectionately known is located , the sculpture was unveiled in 1935 and is a national shrine for Latvians with friezes around the base depicting Latvians singing, working and fighting for their freedom, while the three stars in the maiden's hands represent the three historical regions of the country: Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale. Locals are always placing flowers at the base of the monument, piled under the carved words Tevzeme un Brivibai: Freedom and Fatherland. In Soviet times people joked that the statue was a travel agency, and leaving flowers at Milda’s feet was a serious act of disobedience to the state and would buy you a one-way ticket to a Siberian gulag. I had also heard stories from people about a rather inebriated tourist who thought it would be funny to urinate on the monument and flowers and test this claim....undoubtedly not one of the brightest idea of his life! He didn't end up in Siberia, but spent a rather uncomfortable time in a
local jail missing out on his holiday and having to pay a hefty fine.The honour guard is an impressive sight and changes every hour on the hour from 09:00 - 18:00.
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