One thing I’ve always loved is travelling. So when Adam came to me with the idea of going to Latvia (perhaps one of the lesser travelled Baltic countries) my answer was of course ‘Why not?’. Though it seemed a strange choice for a couples holiday to many the self-proclaimed ‘Paris of the north’ made perfect sense to two students on a budget and so off we went to Riga to see exactly what it was all about.
It was not a mistake. Even though Latvia’s economy is now booming and its culture is flourishing now its out from under Soviet rule people still haven’t heard of this haven. The minute we got off the plane at Riga airport I was struck with one of the main themes of Latvia ‘this place is friendly!’. As I said, Latvia is recently free (only within the last century) from the Soviet Union, a fact you can feel emanating from every brick in Riga. There is a feeling of hopefulness and optimism and pride that I don’t think I’ve felt anywhere else. People were excited to tell you about their country and to show it off, like a person who has been given the most beautiful gift in the world.
(One of the few pieces of graffiti in an otherwise spotless city, like weirdly spotless.. you could probably eat off the street and only get one or two diseases)
It hit home why this was such a big deal when we explored Riga. The KGB museum was a haunting reminder of the cities past while the Freedom Monument just a few miles away proclaimed Latvias intentions for the future. As a tourist destination it is ideal, there is so much to do and see that Adam and I became like culture zombies, bleary eyed but dead-set on getting to the next church, the next museum, the next escape room whenever we could.
It’s worth mentioning the escape rooms. Adam and I discovered them when we went to Valencia, the aim is simple; you pay a person to lock you in a room with various clues. They give you an hour to follow the clues and figure out how to escape. If you escape then ‘Yay!’ if you don’t then ‘never mind you can try another’. These rooms are definitely of european origins and are now taking off in England but are few and far between compared to the rooms smattered in amongst the picturesque buildings and open walkways of ‘the Paris of the north’. We did three in our time there. Something I’m not proud of (but I am really) as a team of two the odds are stacked against you and we escaped all but the last one that was actually made up of three rooms!
It’s very easy to talk endlessly about how cheap Riga is, it was part of the reason we went! The Skyline Bar is the tallest bar in Riga. As it is directly behind the Freedom Monument it presents wonderful views of the Old Town and new and is worth a trip just to orientate yourself to the city. Considering it’s, of course, a hot spot for Latvians and tourists alike you would expect it to be pricey. But a drink of coffee is about two euros and a drink is about 5! Take that London Gherkin!
And the food! It was beautiful. So beautiful you couldn’t tell if your mouth was watering or tears were just streaming into your mouth. It was imaginative, (tomato ice-cream, who knew?!) delicious and once again incredibly cheap. A three course meal at The Riviera was only about 30 euros and it was an idyllic environment to spend an hour or two on a hot and lazy afternoon. Billowing white curtains and cobbled streets, wonderful. I could rant on about the food but I think my pictures speak for themselves. As a place for foodies I would rate is as outstanding!
(The middle left photo and upper right come from The Black Magic Bar this incredible chocolate bar thats decked out like a shop from Diagon Alley! It was down this really small alley, we went in this really cute and rustic back door way. They do have a shop front too it transpires but you don’t get to feel exclusive that way!)
Long story short Latvia was amazing. I am so happy for them as a country, that they are in NATO and getting the support they need (we saw US troops in our hotel lobby while we were there!) to stay independent. I’m pretty sure in a few years everyone will have found out about it so I’m so glad I can give you an exclusive preview into Riga. Hooray for Latvia and thank you for having us 🙂