To Riga!


After my Scandinavian trip  from back in June left to drive on to 
St Petersburg I was left without a purpose for 10 days. My boss had said he would fly me from Tallinn back to our crew house in the Netherlands but I casually asked if I might be able to postpone the flight until the 23rd, and maybe I could fly out of Warsaw instead? He said yes right away and booked me a flight! Awesome, now I just had to decide how I would fill in that week.
 
Cafes in Tallinn
I spent a few more days in Tallinn, mostly just recuperating from the trip. By this I mean
spending hours on Skype updating various people whom I hadn’t spoken to in weeks, taking hours to have a lazy breakfast in a café with a book, watching movies at night and walking with no purpose or direction around the city just taking in the sights but not really doing anything at all. This is how I rest after a trip, il dolce far niente.

Tallinn
I did browse some beautiful shops, Tallinn has a lot of local crafts stores with metal work,
wood work, textiles and jewelry. They are particularly known for their amber jewelry and from every other store window came a glow of golden honey brown or silver flecked green calling me in, but I have learnt with these tempting beauties that it is better to not to even  look.
Tallinn’s main square
After a few days I was ready to move on and my trip leader Monika had suggested to me
that buses down to Riga in Latvia were cheap and easy. At the end of the trip the RS goes on through Riga and Warsaw and I thought it would be fun to see a bit more of the trip route if I could. The bus to Riga was only about 4 hours, I rocked up at the bus station asking for a ticket and one was leaving in 20 minutes!
Riga

As I drove into the city I realized a few things. I didn’t know what currency they used, what time zone they were on or the address of where I wanted to stay that night (Monika had given me a name). Professional right here! It’s like I said before though, part of being a constant traveler is just being able to take it in your stride. I started scanning the advertisements on billboards and found that all the prices were in Euros so there was one answer. My phone automatically updates the time when country jumping and it was telling me I was still on the same time zone as yesterday so my second question was answered and when I got to the bus station I went to the Info guy and asked for directions to the Naughty Squirrel. He drew it on a map for me and I set off. It was so close to the bus station so I was surprised when I couldn’t find it on the street he had directed me to. After going up and down the street a few times I went back to the other hostel I had passed, Old Town Hostel. I walked in there and the first thing that happened was a guy offered me a chocolate covered pineapple lump. Good start. I asked for a room, saying that I hadn’t booked as I had intended to go to the naughty squirrel. reception was surprised because they were the sister hostel and it turns out that my directions I had been given were wrong. Oh well. I checked in here.

Riga

The staff were so awesome. This girl checked me in, Showed me all the way up to my room (I needed a bit of help with the stairs, my bag and my hand still in a cast) and talked me through the facilities, then once I had settled in and come back downstairs she poured me a free beer and we sat down with a map and she drew on it to show me all the things I should be doing and seeing. I was enjoying the vibe in the hostel pub and wanted to watch the word cup soccer match on soon so I just dashed out to grab some takeaway and when I came back asked to join the group of guys who had offered me the sweets when I had walked in. After a few hours of talking it turns out they were the owners of here and the Naughty Squirrel and knew a friend of mine from Topdeck. How small is this world?

Riga

The next day I started with pancakes at a place the hostel had suggested and they were

delicious 🙂 Berries and caramel and banana goodness. Again it was a slow breakfast, my favorite kind, as I was waiting to join a walking tour. I LOVE free walking tours. They are such a good way to get to know a city, a good way to meet people, and a great way to find out about what’s on. Our guide was tough looking but soft spoken and called us ‘my dear friends’ in a sweet accent. He took us around for a few hours and at the end we were offered shots of Black Balsam, Latvian Jaeger, and were told about events happening that night around the city. I am always happy to tip at the end of a tour because I have never been disappointed yet. (Ok, one exception was a free ghost tour in Edinburgh but I’m going to let that slide).
The Hangers/ Markets
Markets
 My next stop for the day was the markets in little Russia, (you can pretty much assume that everything I did was following the hostels recommendations). These markets are housed in huge warehouses that used to hold Zeppelins. Crazy to think of. There was nothing flash about them like the markets in Barcelona or Florence, some items literally looked like the store holder had gone out into the woods and foraged for them this morning. Some items I didn’t recognize, pinky-red tomatoes, strange salad leaves, Tiny yellow mushrooms. I bought a few things for lunch with the intentions of going to a park for a picnic. But as I left the hangers the sky opened on me and I hurried back to the hostel as the rain poured down to eat my feast upstairs.
Markets

Just as a side note, I had several people come up to me to chat whilst I was eating, most of them wanted to ask about my feast. One guy I chatted with was a friendly person from Melbourne if a little eccentric. That’s OK, you are allowed to be eccentric, but, I asked what he did and he told me he kills people for money. I laughed with him, but seriously, joking about this with a girl travelling alone I think is taboo. Its like joking about bombs at an airport. you don’t do it. That gave me an off feeling but lucky I’m a confident person and could shrug it off after he left. Please people, don’t do this.

My lunch  feast

Once the rain stopped I collected my book and went up to the park and to a café that had

been circled on my map as a favorite. It was perfect. Right on the edge of the river it was a circular building with all glass walls and a top level that is a complete ring of cushions. Shoes off, coffee ordered and reading my book whilst overlooking the river was just perfect.

 

The sweet little cafe
 From there I walked to The Radisson hotel where you can go up 26 levels to their sky bar
for 360 degree views of the city and its surrounds. Of course you can have a drink as well or you can be like me and just press your nose up against the windows and marvel.
View from the radisson

The next thing I did was something I had been looking forward to since the guide this morning had told us about it. There was going to be a pre-midsummer festival in the park that evening. For those that don’t know, for many of the northern countries, midsummer is the biggest festival of the year. Drawing from ancient pagan customs they celebrate the longest day of the year. Apparently a long time ago the celebrations would involve lead up celebrations for months but now the lead up is only a week or so and in the park I found a few hundred people in national costume singing, dancing, playing games, making head wreaths and building various items for their ceremony. The park was decorated with huge bright symbols hanging from the trees and general merriment. I wandered, soaking it all up. The songs they sung were repetitive and bright, the sort you feel you can join in on even though they are in another language. In the end I was looking at all these people in bright skirts and beautiful flower crowns and thought, ‘if Claire or Mum were here you would be in there making wreaths with them, what’s so different about doing it by yourself?’ So I dived in and had great fun weaving my own crown. I wore it in the park and there were so many people on the streets of the city wearing them that I wasn’t even looked at twice as I walked back to the hostel. My friends from the previous night were in the bar again and they thought I was a bit funny in my crown but I was pretty happy and I wore it for the rest of the night.

Festivities in the park

I had good touristic intentions for my second day in Riga, there was another walking tour

that had interested me in another part of the city but when I woke to the steady beat of rain on the window of the dorm I changed my plans and smiled as I realized what I was going to do. I headed out all rugged up back to the café from yesterday. Again with the rain beating down outside and a relaxing and warming playlist washing over me I spent a few hours skyping and writing. It was still raining as I left but I kicked myself in to gear and walked down to the Occupation museum in old town. The museum told the story of the multiple occupations that Riga and Latvia have gone through since the 30’s. It was a sobering experience, but that is one of the kinds I appreciate. I like that when I read about atrocities like this it makes me feel something, it makes me appreciate what I have, where I am from and really that we are the lucky country.
360 cushions in the cafe
Breakfast

That night I went to a traditional Latvian restaurant and ate at the bar with several glasses of cider (I’m in Spain now and even Calimucho cant take away the longing for cider). I had a mushroom and goats cheese tart to start and then chicken with mushrooms, tomatoes and cheese for mains. It was all delicious and so cheap! 15 euros for 2 courses and 2 ciders. I had an early bus in the morning to catch down to Warsaw so I took myself off to bed early after another soccer match. Riga was so good to me, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back, I left plenty to do 🙂 

Midsummer decorations



Making wreaths


 
 
My crown!


 

 

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