Note: the second episode of this new section. No worries, I wil continue writing inspiring travel stories. I think that is the most beautiful thing there is, create a touching story. That’s who I am, and why What About Her inspires. So wherever my suitcase takes me, I scribble words and thoughts on my heart and write a story. However, daily I am flooded with e-mails from readers. Sweet words, favors, e-mails that touch me and make me realize why I am writing. But many questions as well – tips, what the real must do’s are on a destination, what I would recommend. It seems to me it would be easier to simply add a section with Must Do’s. Small travel stories with tips. Along with my travel travel stories and movies, a perfect complement to What About Her.
Last month I traveled to Riga, capital of Latvia, with Serena and Robert. Riga is also known as the Paris of the East. The town has a mix of phenomenal medieval buildings and dreary Soviet buildings. In Riga you still feel the Soviet’s trial and the grey past, the country is independent since 1991. It is a raw, but at the same time impressive city with insanely beautiful faces. Baltic Hip and traditional Latvian go hand in hand harmoniously and I think it’s really a fantastic city. A must go.
1. Rent a bike and discover the Maskavas area
With its streets and historic buildings, Old Town Riga is a treasure. Riga, however, offers even more impressive spots. I explore Riga by bike with The Explorers Club, a pile of hipsters who show you the city in a non tourist way. I am most impressed by the district Maskavas, an old Jewish quarter. In addition to Jews, there were also many Russians living in the district. During the second world war, the area transformed into a ghetto by the Nazis. It takes a while to convince the guide that we would like to go to this district. Upon arrival, I get his hesitation. It is not a beautiful district, but that touches me. I like these raw areas that tell a story. The district consists of dilapidated wooden houses and you can hear a pin drop. Dead silent. As if the former inhabitants have dropped everything and left within one day. The wind blows through the cracks of the wood and you stumble upon broken glass. Here, the Soviet era still breathes.
2. Culinary bites and sipping hot Balsam
The food in Latvia surprises me. Honestly, I did not expect that much. A lot of potatoes, piles of meat…that idea. Nothing turned out to be less true. My short hours I spent in Riga mainly consisted of eating and drinking. What a culinary paradise. The water still runs me in the mouth when I think of the food in Latvia. There are dozens of culinary restaurants, trendy wine bars and old-fashioned Latvian pubs. We have a fenomenal good lunch and dinner at Muusu and Vina Studija. When we are looking for a cozy little bar in the evening we somehow end up into the basement of Taverna. A burly lady in traditional clothing greets us in a quite sarcastic manner and drops the menu cards on the wooden table. This turns out to be our local pub this weekend. When I look around I get the feeling that I’ve gone back in time three for hundreds of years. The vaulted ceilings, robust furniture, candles and abundance of knick knacks makes this a real Latvian hotspot. After the earthenware pots filled with beer we order Balsam, a traditional Latvian herbal beverage. A quite spicy liqueur, but delicious with hot cherry juice, fresh apples and cinnamon.
3. Visit the Central Market & the Soviet Latgale Tirgus market
A visit to the Central Market in Riga should not be missed. The market is situated in huge sheds that have beautiful windows. They are formerly used as hangars for zeppelins. As for today, it is the place to be for the Latvians to do daily errands. I stroll along numerous stalls selling fruit, fish, meat, vegetables, clothing, cables, bread, flowers, anything you might need. The prices here are Latvian, dirt cheap.
Few people know that a little further on, there is yet another market: the Sunday Latgale Tirgus market. No tourists are found here, just old Russians with often a not such fresh past. When I walk through the narrow walkways I don’t know where I should look. Soviet attributes are piled up to three metres high stacks and I see weapons, cameras, gas masks, toys, old cameras, bikes, Soviet clothing. It is one of the most impressive and bizarre markets I’ve seen and I only dare to take pictures secretly with my phone, as I’ve heard it sets them up. Nevertheless, it is a must visit because it is so bizarre. And okay, one Russian tried to kiss me. I take a look between his rarities and find a beautiful old lamp. A souvenir with a story.
4. Dive into unknown streets
Wherever I am, I have developed a talent to get lost on purpose. I dive into meaningless streets and walk out again in districts where you can taste the real Latvian life. It is impressive to be a part of this life for just a moment. Next to beautiful buildings, Riga offers lovely green parks as well. Just walk around and go left where right is signposted. Dare to get lost.
5. Enjoy the view from St. Peters church
An elevator takes me to the top of this beautiful church and there I enjoy amazing views over Riga. I count the houses and church tops, stare over the river and tears are running down my face. Not from pure happiness this time. I stand high and dry but the wind is viciously cold and blows tears from my eyes. Winter is coming, I feel it. I realize that Riga in winter must be a wonderful place to be. Nevertheless, for now I enjoy the last rays of sunlight and the spectacular views. When the sun slowly sinks behind the Duina River, Riga takes all her warmth. The bright colors of the authentic houses get a orange glow and Riga is getting ready for the evening. The St. Peters Church offers a fine view of the city and is worth a visit.