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Curious what backpackers do in Latvia? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • Nur 2 Flugstunden von Hamburg entfernt empfängt uns die lettische Sonne. Um 11:50 gelandet - um 12:00 sitzen wir schon im Taxi - ich glaube, der Flughafen in Riga ist noch kleiner als der Segelflugplatz in Uetersen..... 700.000 Einwohner hat die baltische Metropole und zumindest heute nicht besonders viele Touristen. Es ist kalt trotz Sonne (vereinzelt liegt sogar noch Schnee !) und ein erster Bummel führt uns zu einigen der interessantesten Sehenswürdigkeiten: der orthodoxen Geburtskathdrale, dem Freiheitsmonument, den Bremer Stadtmusikanten (???), einem übergroßen Lenin, der doch nicht Lenin, sondern der lettische Poet Rainis ist (aha) und schließlich den berühmten Schwarzhäupterhä ganze Menge für den ersten Tag....Read more

  • Heute soll es mit James, einem Local Guide, an einige interessante Ecken Rigas gehen, doch James sind wir leider aus seinem Kalender gerutscht und so klingel ich ihn aus dem Bett und es geht improvisiert und erst etwas später als geplant los.
    Erstmal zu Fuss in die benachbarten Straßen unseres Park Inn Hotels im Centre Viertel, hier befinden sich knapp 600 Art Noveau, Jugendstilhäuser. Bei feinstem, kalt-sonnigem Wetter erwandern wir uns unter James Führung viele architektonische Sehenswürdigkeiten, darunter auch einige der für Riga typischen Holzhäuser auf der anderen Seite des Flusses im Stadtteil Kanzieme.(Es gab wohl lange Jahre ein Gesetz, das neu gebaute Häuser aus Holz sein mussten, damit sie im Falle eines Angriffes abbrennen und nicht dem Feind in die Hände fallen). Viele der Wohnungen stehen leer - Rigas Bevölkerung schrumpft. Kyrillische Schriften im Stadtbild und russische Wortfetzen zeugen vom grossen Anteil Russen in der Stadt.
    Zu Mittag zeigt uns James den zentralen Markt am Bahnhof. Dort ersteht er für uns einige lettische Spezialitäten, z.B. sauer eingelegter Kohl (sehr lecker), Pilze in Knoblauch, Kardamon (naja), Hanfbutter (ganz lecker)...Und natürlich einige Wurstwaren - Lettland ist Fleischland.
    Gestärkt und schon etwas ermattet geht's mit der Tram No 7 ins Moskauer Viertel, kurz hinter dem Bahnhof. James will uns den Unterschied zeigen zwischen dem touristischen Riga und einem Riga der Einheimischen - tatsächlich ist dieser Unterschied schon in der Strassenbahn dorthin spürbar....Wir fühlen uns nicht gerade freundlich empfangen 😏.
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  • Nach all den Eindrücken lassen wir James ziehen und den Rest des Tages die Seele baumeln und die Erlebnisse sacken.....Bei einem gemütlichen Tee im Apsara Teehaus im Park....und schliesslich bei einem leckeren Abendessen in der Galerie Istaba....

  • Ungemütliche -1 Grad sind heute, also Ausschlafen und in die Lettische Nationalbibliothek - so der Plan.
    Vorher wird aber erstmal ausgiebig gebruncht im Cafe nebenan. Heute sieht man an vielen Wohnhäusern die lettische Fahne. James hatte uns erzählt, daß alle Bewohner Lettlands dafür sorgen müssen, das an ihrem Haus an besonderen Tagen die Fahne gehisst wird.
    Die neue Nationalbibliothek ist ein umstrittener Bau aus den 2000ern, direkt am Fluss, der Daugava gelegen. (Zu Ihrer Eröffnung 2014 hatten viele Bürger Rigas ein 2km lange Schlange von der alten zur neuen Bibliothek gebildet und von Hand zu Hand Ihre Lieblingsbücher ins neue Heim transportiert.)
    Wir mögen ihn, diesen hohen, offenen Bau mit viel Holz und einer imposanten Wand voller historischer Bücher...
    Das Wetter bleibt bescheiden, so dass wir uns nach einem kleinen Marktbummel durchnässt ins Hotelzimmer zurück ziehen und in den Abend hinein dösen...
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  • First stop for our Sunday morning was Riga Central Market. The main part of the market was four large halls that were originally designed for building zeppelin airships in during the Soviet era. Now they contain fruit and veg, meat, seafood and bread and cheese. The produce was so cheap, including caviar for €29/kg. It was very much a local destination, a few people tried speaking to us in Latvian and we just smiled politely. There was also an outdoor area where they sold very cheap shoes and clothes.Read more

  • After a bit of snow overnight we decided another beach day was in order, so we were back on the train to Majori.

    We got off the train at Majori and walked to Dubulti past a number of old delapidated hotels that looked like they had been abandoned for years. We had a picnic lunch of Lazybones cocktails (a shot of black balsam- the local Riga spirit with coke) and some salami sandwiches.

    After lunch we were back on the beach walking back the direction we came into a massive headwind! We could see the snow being viciously blown along the beach towards us. At Dzintari we got back on the train into Riga for our last afternoon of sightseeing.Read more

  • Earlier in our trip we made a brief visit to the museum at the old KGB prison, the corner house. We had thought we would come back to go on a tour of the prison with a local guide.

    Our guide, Aivars, walked our group through the procedure when a new prisoner arrived. In the arrival office belongings were taken away and filed into the drawers, given false illusion that one day they may be returned. They were then questioned in a tiny room, pressured to confess to crimes that the majority had not committed with the promise of their families safety. We were shown the cells, furnished with for beds but in busy times often housed up to 40 people. There were secret tunnels to neighbouring buildings so that KGB members could access the site without going through the front door.Read more

  • Thirty-five minutes on the train from Riga and we were in Majori, one of the major towns in Jurmala, the Baltic equivalent of the French Riviera, home to jet-setting, high-flying, glamorous Russians. Strangely in the middle of winter there didn't appear to be many of them around!

    We started our visit with a walk down the main drag, Jomas iela. Along the route there were many shops and restaurants, and a number of set-ups that looked like in the middle of summer would make a pretty awesome beer garden. We chose one of the restaurants, Alus Krodzins, for our lunch. As we'd become accustomed to, we started the meal with some Latvian garlic bread, washed down with a couple of beers, I had a Brengulu Lager and Jonny had a Tervetes Alus. For lunch we then had chicken shashlik and a pork chop with cheese with potatoes to share. Both these meals were very nice.

    After a couple more beers we set off on a walk along the beach. The beach was really cool! The sand underneath your feet was frozen and there was a barrier of snow, which was where the high tide reached up the beach. Surprisingly, we weren't the only nutters walking along the beach in the middle of winter, everyone was very rugged up because it was quite blowy. We reached Dzintari and turned around, walking back past Majori and further along the beach.

    We came off the beach and walked back into town along Juras iela, which is home to a good stretch of colourful art deco wooden houses. These houses were in various states of disrepair, as you can see from the photo, with the beautiful green house with ornate detail in the third photo across the road from the bleak, abandoned hotel in the fourth photo. Although there were lots of beautifully maintained houses, there appeared to be a disproportionate number of abandoned and rundown places. The only reasoning we could come up with for this was that potentially after the downfall of the USSR these properties had been taken from the owners, but the government had not sold them on, leaving them to fall into disrepair. This problem could be further enhanced by the current travel sanctions placed on Russia and the effect that this may have on the tourism industry in Jurmala.

    Post-walk we were in need of a warming beverage, so returned to Alus Krodzins to continue where we left off. We knocked off a couple more and had a chat to another pub-goer, Janis, a local who was very surprised that an Aussie and a Brit would bother visiting Latvia. At this stage we had met three Latvians, Janis and his son Gustav Janis from the tour and Janis from the pub, which lead us to confirm that Janis is the most common name in Latvia.

    We made a dash for the train to get us back to Riga, only to see it moving away from the platform. Fortunately while we were in the pub it had been snowing, so missing the train gave us the opportunity to play in the snow that had fallen throughout the day! I built a mini snowman on top of the garbage bin and a number of snowballs were thrown. We were a little cold and wet getting back on the train into Riga.
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  • Before we left London we signed up to an all day winter tour of Sigulda and the surrounding area with a company called Discover Latvia. When organising it we had been told it was unlikely to be snowy and the tour guide at the deer park would be on holidays while we were there. Closer to the date or host alsop told us due to unseasonably warm weather a lot of the parks were very muddy and slippery.

    We didn't quite know what to expect when we got picked up on Saturday morning by Janis in his family van and headed to our first stop, collecting his 12 year old son, Gustav, along the way. Driving out of Riga, the Soviet influence on the city was very apparent in the architecture, especially when compared to the art deco architecture in Riga.

    Our first official stop was Turaida Castle, which was built by the Livonian's in 1214. The weather was pretty dicey and raining. We got out of the car and off we went. We visited the small church, which was one of the oldest surviving wooden churches in Latvia. Around a memorial site next to the church Janis told us the story of the Rose of Turaida. Maija Rose was a little girl when she was found among the wounded after a battle in 1600 and taken to Turaida Castle, where she grew to be a beautiful woman with many suitors. The only one with a place in her heart was Viktors, a gardener at nearby Sigulda Castle, home of a rival group. These two used to secretly meet at Gutmana Cave. One day, a suitor from the Turaida side of the river decides to Lee Maija to the cave under false pretences, to kidnap her for his own. To ensure her escape, Maija promises the suitor the magic scarf around her neck. The scarf would protect her from a blade and to prove it he should swing his axe at her neck. You don't even need to imagine what happened next, but the suitor was captured and hung for his crime. Court documentation had shown this story to be true!

    On approach to the main Castle, Gustav announces that we all have to run to the top of the Tower, counting the steps as we went along. We got there, maybe forgetting to count the steps, and the views out over the valley were pretty nice, although limited by the weather. The small on site museum gave a history of the Livonia. It was interesting that although Turaida and Sigulda were very close together and only separated by the Gauja River they were never part of the same group's territories.

    Back to the car, and to a buffet restaurant in Sigulda. It was tricky to work out what the food was, but we definitely had our fill and it didn't burn a hole in your pocket.

    After lunch we went to a nearby spring to fill up water bottles, as well as get Janis' supply for home in lathe water drums. There were lots of locals, remembering we were in the middle of nowhere, filling up bottles for their own use!
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  • After a very early morning flight, with some rowdy stag dos, we arrived in Riga and caught the number 22 bus into the Old Town Centre and checked into our hotel, Ekes Konvents. A quick turnaround and we were back out on the streets.

    We started by walking to the Blackheads House and then continued onto the Riga Cathedral. Compared to other Cathedrals around Europe we found the actual building rather plain, but the stain glass windows and the organ was very impressive. The cloisters at the back of the Cathedral had an exhibit on the history of the Cathedral, including a very impressive collection of cannons.

    For lunch we snacked on some baked goods, a circular knotted bread roll, a chocolate almond cake and an apple strudel from a bakery called Rigenesis near the Cathedral.

    After lunch we walked around to Riga Castle, a rather normal looking building down by the river, which was partially destroyed by fire in 2013, but has since been restored and is once again the home of the Latvian President. From there we wandered back up through the Old Town to the Freedom Monument and the City Canal. At the Freedom Monument Liberty towers over the city of Riga, with three gold stars representing the original cultural regions of Latvia: Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale. The monument surprisingly was not destroyed during the Soviets era, but the area was considered off-limits and people placing flowers on its bases were persecuted. The City Canal runs through a park, of which there are quite a few in Riga, and was quite frozen. It had been unseasonably warm in Riga when we arrived, and the canal was really just starting to thaw. At this point we sort of realised just how small Riga Old Town was as we felt like we'd covered basically all of it in about 2 hours on foot.

    Over the other side of the Canal we walked to Alberta iela, a street of houses constructed during the art deco period. The buildings on this street were decorated with goblins, Medusa heads, peacocks and everything else in between. Our walked continued, with a bottle shop pitstop for supplies, to the Corner House, home of the former KGB prison. We spent some time looking at the exhibition at the KGB house. As we were very unfamiliar with Latvian history it was a very eye-opening. One part of the exhibition was a video interview with people who had been imprisoned by the KGB at the Corner House. The lady that we heard told of her arrival at the prison being stripped and searched rather intimately, her experiences with interrogation and life in the cells. As we hadn't managed to catch one of the English tours for the day we planned to return again to further explore this creepy buildings past.

    By this point it was time for a pre-dinner beverage, and the perfect location was found at Bierhaus, about 250m down the street from the Corner House. Here we drank beers brewed on site under the name Alkimikis. My favourite was a smoked porter with peppercorn. After a couple of beers we made the mad rush back to our hotel to via the Rimi to get ready for our dinner reservation.

    Dinner was at Peter Gailis, which served Latvian cuisine. The decoration reflected the name of the restaurant, filled with hundreds of chicken statues! For starters we tried Latvian garlic bread, an instant favourite, and a selection of meats, washed down with a glass of Riga's Prestige Cuvee. Mains were chicken breast with mozzarella for Jonny and Latvian lamb fillet for me and a bottle of red wine.

    After dinner we returned to our room, for a bottle of Georgian red wine and our first taste of the Latvian specialty, Black Balsam. Neither of us really knew what to expect from the Black Balsam, but were both suitably impressed, probably not signature drink good, but we were going to get the value out of our €4 bottle of the stuff. We then tucked ourselves into bed ready for our big tour day on Saturday.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Latvia, Lettland, Latvia, Letland, ላትቪያ, Letonia, لاتفيا, ܠܐܛܒܝܐ, Latviya, Латвія, Латвия, Letoni, লাতভিয়া, ལཏ་བི་ཡ།, Letonija, Letònia, Lettonia, Lotyšsko, Латви, Latfia, Latvia nutome, Λεττονία, Latvio, Läti, لتونی, Letonii, Lettonie, Lètonie, Letlân, An Laitvia, An Laitbhe, લાત્વિયા, latibiya, לאטביה, लाटविया, Letiska, Lettország, Լատվիա, ラトビア共和国, ლატვია, Lativia, Letlandi, ឡាតវីយ៉ា, ಲಾಟ್ವಿಯಾ, 라트비아, لاتڤیا, Latvi, Lativya, ລຼາດເວຍ, Latvija, Латвија, ലാത്വിയ, लाट्‌विया, Latvja, လတ်ဗီးယား, लाट्भिया, Lettonnie, ଲାଟଭିଆ, Łotwa, Letônia, Lituniya, Lativa, Летония, Latvie, Látvia, Letonùii, ලැට්වියාව, Latfiya, Летонија, லாட்வியா, లాట్వియ, ลัทเวีย, Latbiya, Letonya, Latviä, لاتۋىيە, لٹویا, Latviyän, לעטלאנד, Orílẹ́ède Latifia, 拉脫維亞, i-Latvia