Saturday, September 26, 2009

Destination: Riga, Latvia

Last Thursday I made a spur-of-the-moment decision and booked a trip to Riga, Latvia for the weekend. My decision was spurred by 1) a need for a break after 2 long, stressful weeks of work and 2) my Dad's (great!) recommendation to visit the Baltic countries. This spontaneous decision turned out to be one of my better ones... Latvia was possibly the best weekend trip I've taken in Europe.

Day 1 was spent in Riga (the capital). The town is absolutely charming. Having only recently broken free from a Communist regime, I was expecting the cement "block-like" houses seen in other ex-Soviet countries. Instead, Riga is filled with gorgeous old & new buildings designed in completely different styles. There is everything from gingerbread house to fairytale castles to art nouveau styling (ex: one building has dogs as gargoyles, another has 3 men holding up a globe on top, another has statues, like those of Easter Island, carved in the side). Riga does a fantastic job preserving it's historical monuments and writing placards about the events that happened at each site, which is great for tourists.

The food options were just as diverse as the architecture. Riga is only the 2nd city in Europe which I've seen to have restaurants offering all types of food (even spicy food which is a rare find in mainland Europe) and do a wonderful job in cooking it. Most bars and restaurants have unique decorations which match to their cuisine. One restaurants looked like a doctor's office with operating beds as tables, another looked like the Bayou with crocodiles. All restaurants had live music. The best part about Riga was the evenings. At night everyone goes to the outdoor (and heated in winter) beer halls* in the center squares and listens to live music. Sitting in the square, enjoying the warm weather, having a drink, watching other people, and listening to live jazz was the perfect way to end the day.

*Latvia prides itself on it's beer. The beer halls in Riga serve all the micro-brews. Riga's beer halls are more like outdoor picnic areas with live music. It's a must-do for toursists.

Pics1-3: Blackhead's House; the 3rd pic is from a postcard - it looks amazing at Xmas time!
Pic4: "medical" restaurant
Pic5: beer halls in square around Riga Dome
Pic6: "Grocery store" for Riga. There are no grocery stores in Riga. Instead people sell produce at a central terminal with 5 huge halls (like at a convention center). Each hall has a different items (like fruit, veggies, bread, meat, etc).
Pic7: Amazing flowers that were sold on every street corner.
Pic8: Random sculpture in the town park; sculptures as unique as this are everywhere.

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