We had plenty of things to do in Rīga: Relax, get to know the city, buy hiking stuff that was missing, find a barber to bring José’s beard back in shape and – oh yes, we also needed Russian visas for Kaliningrad, and hoped to get them during our stay. We imagined that the Latvian capital deserved as much time as the Estonian one, therefore we had reserved four (!) rest days for Rīga, and booked five nights in the hostel.
Right on our arrival day, we already surrendered to the city pleasures and spent our usual daily food budget on cake and iced coffee in a cute tea house in the park. In the hostel, we could use their washing machine and dryer, so we did our laundry, which had accumulated since we left Estonia. After everything was in the washing machine, we had nothing left to wear but our summer clothes. It had been a warm day, but summer dress resp. shorts together with flip flops were a bit too optimistic. As we had a dinner date for the evening, we had to make do with them anyway.
Tõnu from the Estonian hikers association had connected us with Aldis from Rīga, a hardcore outdoor guy and seasoned hiker who was born and raised in Australia and moved to Latvia after its independence. We had a lot to share and talk about; not only about long-distance slow travel, but also about the link between Australia and Latvia – but more about that in a later post. The night was still young when we left the restaurant (thanks to the upcoming Summer solstice), but too cold to walk around in Old Town (thanks to long trousers drying in the hostel), so we tried some Latvian beers in a nearby Aussie bar.
Our first full day in Rīga started with sleeping in and enjoying the breakfast offered by the hostel. Then we went to a travel agency across the road, recommended by the hostel staff, to start the visa process. A couple of people had advised us to apply for a Russian visa through an agency, but we didn’t expect it to be that easy: One passport picture each (taken in the photo studio next door), an address in Rīga (our hostel), our passports, travel dates – done. We paid an express fee to be able to pick it up before we left Rīga and really, on the last day of our stay, we had the visas in our passports!
That was about all activity for the day; we had a lazy walk through Old Town, a real beef burger for lunch, blueberry pie for dessert and back we went to the hostel. It was a bit like staying in an apartment – with the plus of meeting different people – the shared kitchen was in excellent shape, so we could prepare dinner when we felt like it.
The next day, we skipped breakfast at the hostel and went to a Turkish Café instead. Since our trip to Istanbul we had not seen such a variety of baklava and other sweet and savoury pastry! We wanted to learn a bit more about the city and were too lazy to read our guidebook, so we joined a free walking tour of Rīga Old Town. The tour was really good and we even met the first Portuguese and the first Brazilian on our trip. Afterwards, we had enough appetite for lunch and what better place for that than the Central Market? It’s the biggest market in Europe with over 70,000 square meters distributed over five market halls and a huge outside area. Each market hall is dedicated to one kind of produce – fish, fruit and vegetables, dairy, baked goods, and meat and one can’t get enough of walking around and admiring the beautifully exposed merchandise. We had a bit of a hard time finding a market restaurant (maybe we imagined something like Lisbon’s Mercado da Ribeira), but finally discovered a small bistro where we enjoyed a fish platter.
The rest of the day was spent reading and writing in the hostel, before we left for a second meeting with Aldis. This time, we got to know Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs, a place that makes you want to spend hours sitting around and having beer – once you have made your way down the stairs into a dark basement and through a long and empty corridor. While we were waiting for Aldis, we gave Black Balsam another try. We had heard so much about it in our city tour, that we ordered a glass of the two varieties we hadn’t tried before – Blackcurrant and Elements – and these turned out to be very tasty!
No need to tell you that we started the following day quite late. José managed to find a barber – but got the appointment only in the afternoon. Until then, we set out to discover the famous Art Nouveau district and were not disappointed – one façade more impressive than the other and all of them very carefully restored. We got so much into the Art Nouveau spirit, that we even visited a flat entirely furnished and decorated with objects of the era.
Back into the present, we still had some shopping to do. We found a good outdoor shop in one of Rīga’s less touristic areas and could stock up on Merino wool clothes (they are all you want to wear on a longer trip), hiking pants (those zip-off legs look funny, but they are sooo practical!), and our first cooking set (small titanium pot and foldable silicone cup for hot beverages). Then it was back downtown for José’s barber appointment and afterwards a quiet end of the day.
Our last day in Rīga started with a lengthy breakfast at the hostel, then we went off to join the 12 o’clock free walking tour – we just had to make a quick stop at the post office. Due to several formalities for sending a simple package to Portugal, we spent almost half an hour at the post office and only made it to the tour, because they started with a round of introduction. A bit out of breath, we mumbled “We are Moiken and José, from Germany and Portugal” and off we went, together with a group of 20 foreigners and a local guide, to discover the “other” Rīga, the one outside of Old Town. After an interesting 3 hours walk, we were ready to sit down and eat. Together with an Australian girl and French Swiss boy we had met on the tour, we decided to go down to the basement of Ala for lunch. The lack of sunlight was more than compensated by delicious Latvian food and great drinks (for once, we didn’t order beer, but tasty wine made of fruit). Back on ground level, we enjoyed the sunny day in the park, while our friends checked out the museums.
We almost forgot about the time and had to hurry to make it to the Cathedral, where an organ concert should take place at 7 PM. It didn’t, but our friends were there and we enjoyed an evening beer and good talks on Cathedral square. A bit later, both of us went for a last fancy dinner before going back to our hiking routine. To be honest, we already missed that lifestyle and our feet were itching to start walking again.