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Adventures of a short vet

Rocking Riga

LATVIA | Sunday, 5 June 2011 | Views [323]

The four hour bus trip from Vilnius to Riga passed relatively quickly and before long I was in Latvia. The local currency, the Lat, is surprisingly strong – on a par with the British pound, but things cost about half what they do in the UK (beer for 1Lt, coffee for 1.50Lt). I arrived at the Naughty Squirrel hostel around 3pm and met another Kiwi in my dorm – Adam, a military guy from Christchurch. I joined him for a late lunch/early dinner at a local eatery called Lido’s which had been recommended by the receptionist at the hostel. It was great – a buffet system in which you pick your food and then pay based on what you’ve taken. I ended up with my new favourite cold beetroot soup, sausage, roast veggies and cider for 4.50Lt! It was interesting to talk to Adam about the places where he’d served and the different cultures there.

Back at the hostel we had a couple of beers from the hostel bar and then a group of us, including 2 Kiwis, 2 Aussies, 1 American and a crazy Scot, headed out at around 11pm to a beer garden. And it was still light! We hit a couple of clubs but it was a quiet Sunday night so we soon gave up and headed home. Though our Scottish friend was starting to pole dance on street signs so it was probably just as well!

The following day I decided to join the free tour at midday so had a bit of time to kill in the morning. After breakfast in a little café I walked over to the “Museum of Occupation” only to find it didn’t open until 11am, so instead ended up doing a bit of shopping to buy some singlets to combat the increasingly hot weather. Before long it was time to meet our guide, a young guy with a rat-tail plait hanging from his short hair and looking a bit like “Where’s Wally” with his white and orange striped beanie. Most of our group from the previous night where there so I had a few friends. Once again it was a bit of an alternative tour, so instead of checking out the Old City we headed through the Central Market situated in old Zeppelin hangars (which had to be cut in half as they were so tall) and into the “Russian Quarter” where we saw the Night Market, old warehouses, a massive wooden church, and Stalin’s “Cakehouse” – a big ugly building erected for Stalin on his birthday. We ended the tour by  walking through the Vermane’s Gardens to the Freedom Monument, where in Communist times you could win a trip to the Gulags by placing flowers at the base. The guide then showed us some good places to eat, and the Scottish girl and I followed his advice and bought some ice-cream from a little shop and spent a couple of hours chilling out in the park. The others ended up heading to an old bunker where they blew some money shooting AK47s, shotguns and handguns. Not really my scene. We then headed out to dinner at Lido’s again, where we stuffed ourselves before heading up to Skyline Bar 26, an amazing bar on the 26th floor, for an “expensive” (but still cheaper than in the UK) mojhito while overlooking the city as the sun slowly set around 11pm. On the way home we stopped at a local square for a beer while watching young people dancing local dances to a live band that sounded as they were playing a combination of Scottish and Country music (certainly didn’t sound Latvian!). We had to end our night out with a last drink at “the oldest bar in Riga” – a tiny dark “underground” pub where the owner insisted we try the “best beer in Riga”. I preferred to the beer he referred to as “number 5”.

After a bit of a late start, I caught a bus out to Sigulda, reputedly the “prettiest town in Latvia”. I seem to find a lot of these "prettiest towns in the country". This one certainly was beautiful.  After popping into the information centre for a map, I decided to walk some of its marked trails and chose a 6km route that took in the local sights before heading over the river via the cable car to the town of Turaida. The first stop was the Sigulda New Castle, situated just in front of the Medieval Castle, which unfortunately was under renovations and so closed to the public. I passed the Walking Stick Square filled with its display of giant walking sticks. These are the major product of the town on account of the steep hills surrounding it. After a little detour past a massive painted ferris wheel, I found the cable car and took it across the heavily forested valley, where there was even a giant monkey tied to the top of a tree. A doll that is, and I have no idea how they managed to get it up there! After checking out the Krimulda manor house grounds I wandered down the “Serpentine Road” and past Gutman’s Cave, the biggest erosion cave in Latvia. It wasn’t that big, but the old engravings and etchings in the wall were interesting to see – the earliest vandalism I could see came from 1824! I then trekked out to the Turaida Museum, the renovated old castle located in the beautiful manor grounds, where I learnt about the legend of “Rose”, who tricked her potential rapist into killing her by convincing him that a “magic hanky” would block his sword from cutting off her head, choosing to die rather than lose her “honour”. Ouch! 

Tags: beer garden, buffet, jigulda, krimulda, riga, russian quarter, walking sticks

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