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Published: July 10th 2010
As I write this, I can hear the music festival going on a couple buildings down from my hostel - there is a guy singing a rock version of “Hero” (Enrique) in a strong accent. Ahaha, I love it.
So, oh my goodness it is hot here - I could’ve gladly spent another day lazing on the beach… or submerged in water, either or.
But no, I was tough - I walked the city.
In fact, I did a walking tour, one of those great free ones - I always find them the best since the guides are young people working for tips, they really get into it. They show you sites a little off the beaten path and have great background info and funny little tidbits, much better than other tours where they just kind of drone on…
The tour lasted 3 hours - how we all survived, I don’t know haha. We started briefly in the Old Town where we met up - beautiful churches they have here. While waiting for others to show up we all got to talking and intro’d ourselves and such. There was a girl from Dallas, so we had a
Aka Stalin's Birthday Cake
nice chat - sigh, never heard of Ottawa though… no love. There’s never any love. I’m sad that I actually get excited now when I tell people and they’ve at least HEARD of Ottawa.
Anyway, we started with the City Market - when the Nazis were here they had built 5 airport hangers, they have since been renovated and our now home to one helluva market. Each building has it’s purpose: one is fruits and veggies, one is bread, one is meat, one is various good, and the last one… the stinky one… is fish. That was quite something to walk through… I should go back to take pictures - they had every type of fish you could imagine there. Some were rolled up, others were just heads, some were in slices, but like little round circles and more the skin than the actual meaty part (not the way you’d buy back home, that’s for sure), and they even had flattened fish. According to our guide, that is one of the Latvian foods to try… hm, does not look at all appetizing.
From the Market we headed off to the Russian suburb. Lots of Soviet-style buildings around, but
The names of all those who either helped Jews escape, secretely housed or fed them.
one of the first buildings was the huge “Science Academy” - it was built during the Stalin years, so looks pretty Russian - it was even nicknamed “Stalin’s Birthday Cake” for awhile lol. Pretty cool looking building though.
We walked deeper into the ‘burbs - he told us some of the history from when Russia occupied Latvia. We saw a wooden church which had burnt to the ground 3x before… no surprise there.
The next stop was one of the sketchiest places I’ve ever been haha, but it was hilarious!! We went to the Russian Market, aka the Black Market. Our guide warned us ahead of time not to take any pictures if we wished to keep our cameras in one piece… apparently a lot of the merchandise isn’t exactly legally acquired, ahem… so understandably they don’t want photos being taken of their goods.
They had everything… and when I say everything, it’s not a hyperbole. Yes, they literally had a kitchen sink. They had toilets, every car part imaginable, car radios (ha! How many of those were stolen…), mechanical parts, wires, light bulbs, “home hardware” stuff, purses, clothes, books, videos/dvds, TVs, various electronics, yada yada yada.
They even had war pins, medallions, etc. (Our guide noted that in the back they even have Nazi daggers… oh my God haha) They also had a lovely selection of cell phones, a handful of blackberries, rolex watches and an iPhone… the iPhone was about $30... yeah. Totally unreal.
I also had to laugh when one of the girls was pointing out one of the watches, I was like oh yeah, it’s sparkly! This big, burly, shirtless Russian guy (in his mid-20s) walks over to the three of us girls, and while looking at me (of course, sigh): "Heyyy gurrrrrls. You's want somethin' preeeetty to match your eyesss". Oh my, it was so hard not to laugh… I kept my composure though and politely declined.
(Our guide later noted we prolly could’ve got a good price haha - apparently if you speak English, you can barter them down pretty low - when the price isn’t already super low, iPhone as an example - because a lot of them are afraid you know the real price if they‘re trying to rip you off. Smart.)
We ended our tour of the ‘burbs with the WW2 memorials - showing both
the darkness, and the light. The remnants of Riga’s largest Jewish synagogue which was destroyed by the Nazis, and beside it is a large white monument with the names of all those who risked their lives to help Jews in Latvia.
After that we headed back to the Old Town, stopping first at the Train Station to get much needed refills on our water supply lol. Totally melting at this point. The rest of the tour was basically spent wandering around the city centre - we walked by the Freedom Monument, and then through a few parks. One of the parks had a cute little bridge on it covered in locks - apparently it's become a tradition to put a lock on bridge when you get married for good luck! How cute. We also tried Kvass which is a bread drink made from baking bread and then fermenting it... uhm, perhaps it's an acquired taste..?
I wanted to go see a movie (… yeah, I wanted A/C thank you very much). I asked which movies are being shown in English, without being dubbed. The girl replied the only two NOT being shown in English were Toy Story 3
Bridge of Lovvvvve haha
It's become a tradition to come put a lock on a bridge when you're going to get married. Cute!
and Shrek. I gave the girl a blank stare… “because they’re for children”. I took great offense to that haha. Those were honestly the only two movies I had any intention of seeing. There goes that idea.
(Russian or Latvian Woody just would not be the same… although a Russian Shrek would be hilarious)
Anyway. I wandered back off towards the Old Town, being sure to keep to the smaller pedestrian roads in the much needed shade. I went to the Occupation of Latvia Museum, a very good museum - it’s all about the Soviet and German occupations here in Latvia, and a lot of history on the deportations/resettlements and Russian gulags. I have to admit, I don’t know much about that part of history, so it was interesting to learn about… of course it’s all dark and horrible, but still important to know.
By the end of that, I was totally done haha. I lazed at the hostel for about an hour before heading out to Lido for supper - so good! It’s Latvian cuisine (well, mostly…) and you walk around with a tray and just add what you’d like to eat. There’s a big salad
and fruit bar, and then all sorts of potatoes, fries, other side dishes, and the meat you see them cooking and you just ask for what you want. You even pour your own beer from the tap thing. Very cool. I had a great big dinner (tons of veggies, strawberries, this weird cucumber thingy, potatoes, another mystery side-dish, and two huge meat patty things), a local beer, and dessert (pancake stuffed with goat cheese, and raspberry sauce) for about $9-10. Not too shabby.
Seriously loving the prices here - it’s a nice break after almost 3 weeks in Scandinavia. In Norway that would’ve bought me like, a hotdog and a coffee. Haha.
I decided I also had to try some Black Balsam - it's their liqueur here, 45% - natural herbal stuff mixed in pure vodka. Holy cow, that'll wake you up. I had it with coke, and it was still eye-opening haha. Tasted nice though, it has a great sweetness to it for containing vodka.
So, that’s Riga for now - tomorrow I’m off to Tallinn, Estonia for the next 5 days. Hopefully one of those days I’ll pop over to Helsinki on the ferry, but
not sure yet.
Can’t believe the trip is starting to wrap up..!
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