Riga, Latvia - July 2010

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July 22nd 2010
Published: October 26th 2010
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I was really looking forward to visiting Riga, I’d heard great things about it and can also trace family lineage back to Latvia on my mother’s side…. Pretty sure one of my Great-great-great Grandmothers was a Princess of Latvia and I am due a castle there somewhere…… ;-)

Latvia has had a somewhat troubled history, and it’s hard to believe that it only shed it’s Russian stranglehold less than two decades ago. Despite years of intense suffering under Soviet and Nazi occupations, Riga appeared to have a definite feel of serenity and a whole lot of charm to boot - we were definitely impressed!

Still somewhat off the tourist path, Riga is set on the 500m-wide Daugava River, and combines quaintness with impressive Art-Nouveau architecture of its own, a historic old quarter and large parks. You don't want to leave once lost on the winding, sun-dappled cobbled streets. Riga manages to couple its toy-town cuteness of steeples and turrets with a vibrant nightlife and thriving restaurant scene. The Old Town is currently a Unesco World Heritage site, and this fairy-tale city was once dubbed the “Paris of the East”.

The weather while we were in Riga was pretty awesome, (the heat wave continues - yeehaa!!) and the old town of Riga is pretty special. It’s very quaint, with multi-coloured buildings, pretty town squares and medieval, cobbled streets. We visited the Riga Cathedral to see the huge organ, which at one point, was the largest in the world. Stopped to see the so-called "Three Brothers" (Tris Brali), or Maza Pils numbers 17, 19, and 21, the oldest stone houses still standing in Riga, and an excellent example of medieval architecture. Built between the 15th century (White Brother) and the middle of the 18th century (Yellow Brother), the tiny houses really make you wonder if people were shorter back then, or if perhaps Tolkien's hobbits were once real. We went on a brief walking tour, but kept losing Martin when he stopped for photos. We also saw the "Black Cat House" - the black cats being a famous symbol in the city. The house has two black cats--one on each of its two cupolas. During the height of the Hanseatic League, the owner of the house was not invited to join the Great Guild for Riga's business leaders. The Great Guild headquarters was directly across the street from his home. He was so insulted by the Guild's snub that he turned the two cats so that their rear ends were pointed towards the Guild building. Eventually the owner was invited to join the Guild and the cats were returned to their original position. Nice!

Afterwards we ambled around the old town, then, having received a text message from our lawyer that morning regarding the London flat we were in the process of buying, we made our way to an internet café, and with the power of internet and skype, managed to contact insurance companies and lawyer and ‘complete’ on our flat. Exciting stuff!!! That done, we ambled around the town a bit more while Martin sampled the local beers on offer. It was a stunning day and awesome place to be, we could have spent a lot longer there! There are some gorgeous canals through the city with beautifully landscaped parks flanking them…. It really was a gorgeous town and perfect for whiling away the afternoon. It had us much impressed! Even the police were nice …. Mmmmm yes, apparently you can’t drink in the parks which a kindly police officer informed Martin as he was trying another of the local beers. But they were really cool about it!

With lavish beauty, timeless elegance and a restless fusion of old and new, Rīga has a charm as potent as the Rīga Black Balsams liquor it's known for.

A highlight of our cruise to the Baltics, we definitely recommend a visit to this very cute town!

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26th October 2010

let's go find our castle and live there!

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