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July 15th 2010
Published: September 7th 2010
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The Russian border crossing took 3 1/2 hour;, sitting in silence on the bus awaiting the return of our passports before lugging our bags off and putting them through the X-ray machines. It was difficult to tell who was more concerned about the crossing, as both the Russian and Latvian border guards went over the bus and all the passengers with a fine tooth comb. We were sad to be leaving Russia so quickly as we both felt that there was so much more to see, but we weren't sad to be leaving our hotel in Veliky Luki which had seen better days and was the kind of room you don't want to touch anything.

The warm weather followed us to Latvia, and after an easy drive through the pretty countryside we arrived in the capital, Riga where we would be spending the next two nights. Our hotel was an easy bus ride into the centre of Riga and as two members of the tour were sick in bed we headed into the Old Town to see the sights and have some dinner on our first evening. Like the other capitals of the Baltic States, Riga has an Old Town that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to the largest number of buildings in art nouveau in Europe.

The centre is very pretty, quite cute even, but so small that it is hard to escape the hoardes of tourists who sit in the outdoor cafes and browse through the markets. During our full day in Riga we did a walk around the major sights of the Old Town; the Blackheads House, the Cat House, the churches and the castles before visiting the stifling Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.

The poor Latvians seem to have been occupied by all sides and screwed over by just about everyone before essentially being forced to become part of the Soviet Union. It was fantastic to be able to put this all in context, having just been to Russia and having heard their history from their perspective. To then see the opposite interpretation, was powerful. The museum, despite being extremely hot, was excellently presented and held so much information and some haunting personal accounts of Latvians experiences through the wars and is a must-see on a visit to Riga.

For views over Riga and the Daugava River we took the lift to the top of St Peter's Lutheran Church. From where we could see our next destination, the Central Market where Latvians were shopping for fresh fish and cheeses from shop keepers who had some of the most amazing she-mullets we've ever seen!

Dinner and some beers (and a little pottery shopping) was the last we saw of Riga before we left this new nation for its neighbour and fellow Baltic State, Lithuania.

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