EU Travelling 2018 - Baltic States Part 1 - Riga, Latvia

11/02/2018 Riga, Latvia

The new year has started with adventure for me as I set out on my now somewhat, annual bit of travelling throughout Europe (this being the third year of travelling within the EU). This time, the destination was the Baltic States - Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, travelling again with my good friend, Jon and this time joined by our old work colleague and friend, Adam. 

Riga, Latvia

First up on the route was Riga, Latvia's capital city. After an early 4:30AM start to drive up to Luton airport from Brighton, we were up and away on our roughly 2hr 30min flight to take us to Riga airport. After landing we grabbed some cash, got a lay of the land with the help of the airport tourism receptionist, caught a quick taxi ride to our hotel and donned our vests and long johns to survive the minus seventeen degree temperature which awaited us outside as we ventured into the city centre. Upon first sights, Latvia reminded both Jon and myself of our grim experience of Bratislava - not a lot going on, dull and cold surroundings with Soviet era statues and architecture looming over the landscape; our expectations were pretty low. Never the less, we pressed on into the city and found a T.G.I's to grab some food whilst we planned what to do with our time in Riga. Admittedly, whenever I go abroad, the last type of food I want to eat is T.G. fucking I's but in minus seventeen degree temperatures, you kind of get what you're given or become an ice cube.

Two distinctly average and Jon's apparently amazing burger and fries later, (we were unable to grab a Burger Brothers* before we set off travelling from Brighton, so clearly Jon had forgot what a decent burger actually tasted like, next time mate!) we had a plan of action for the rest of our day and following day and a half stay in Riga. We headed out and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon checking out the KGB museum at the other side of town. All three Baltic States had a really interesting past with the Soviet Union and we figured that would be a good starting point to learn about Latvia.

*[Burger Brothers is the best burger place in Brighton, perhaps the UK. Check it out if ever you're in Brighton.]

Heading to the KGB museum, everywhere you looked there were soviet monuments along with very communist era style architecture - I'll divulge more on these later on as we learnt what these monuments were erected for during our walking tour on our second day. Arriving at the museum, it looked like something out of a thriller, an inconspicuous building yet hidden in plain sight of which you'd expect to see the likes of Jason Bourne running towards to discover his true identity. Whilst I sadly didn't get any pictures of the building itself or much of its contents inside as the displays were mainly lines of text and a few pictures of KGB officers here and there; picture a large building on the corner of a block which, whilst looking like nothing out of the ordinary, once you stepped inside, it felt like you were instantly transported back in time to the 1940's as everything had remarkably been kept to its original style and standards.

Inside, the building was a plethora of information detailing the Latvians, Soviets and even Nazi Germans who had all occupied the building over the years, each under vastly different regimes and regulations. Going through a history which lasted right up until as recent as the 1990's, we soon learnt that the Latvian nation had endured a cruel history of oppression, having only regained their national independence very recently. Whilst it was saddening to learn, I thought the museum was a great first choice for our stay in Riga, as any European history of the 1900's greatly interests me, especially both wars and the cold war eras.

After finishing up at the museum it was soon getting around to mid evening and we knew we had a full day in Riga to make the most of ahead of us, so we decided to head back through the main city centre where we found all of the buildings we had previously passed on our way to the museum were now lit up, looking really prestigious and glorious at night; the European tradition of having Christmas trees up until late January also added to the lovely surroundings, lighting up the streets with a warm, homely glow. Later, we found ourselves at an English style pub where we tasted some samples of Latvian ales before deciding to have an early night so that we were ready for what Riga had to offer on our next day.

To kick off our second day in Riga, we decided to seek out expert knowledge of a local tour guide, Toms, who ran a two hour tour throughout Riga's city centre. Toms is one of those types of people who I could sit and listen to for hours on end, knowing that I'd walk away enriched and enlightened from what he'd have to share in conversation; his tour was excellent, giving us the history of Riga with some added personal anecdotes referencing his upbringing in the city amongst other things. He concluded the tour at a local bar where we were able to get some food and drinks in. Before leaving us Toms came across to Jon, Adam and myself and personally thanked us for being on the tour with him, he said that he could tell we really enjoyed it and it meant a lot to him. If you ever find yourself in Riga, take up the walking tour with Toms, seriously, you won't be disappointed! 

After finishing up our food and drinks at the bar we decided to head out to the Museum of Occupation in Latvia, where we could learn a little more about the history of the country, specifically how they fought for their independence on several times from under oppressors. The monument which I had mentioned earlier was detailed within this museum along with a whole bunch of information, props and even uniforms, weapons and miscellaneous objects from Latvia's past. One exhibit which stuck in my mind the most was the "Baltic Way" 600km human chain protest against the occupation of the three Baltic States in 1989. The chain of people stood hand-in-hand across 600km, going through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to stand up against the occupation and oppression and regain their independence is something that I'd never heard of before and was really interesting to learn about. It's amazing to learn about what we as humans can do. 

To finish off the evening we headed to 'Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs' - A olde worlde style restaurant which was in an underground cellar. The atmosphere in there was amazing, a live jazz band played in the corner next to a roaring open fire and the place was filled from front to back though we were lucky enough to get three seats at the bar. Jon and I opted for a traditional Latvian meal of 1 Kilo of Pork which came with chunky potato fries, sauerkraut and sour cream whilst Adam went for a traditional chicken dish. Let me tell you that this meal was probably one of the top five meals that I've ever had in my twenty-six years of living on this earth! Nursing a food baby, we headed back to the hotel for another early night as we had a flight to Estonia to catch first thing in the morning where we'd carry on our journey through the Baltic States!

All-in-all, Riga was a really lovely place, insanely cold, but great to experience never the less. The food was amazing, the beer tasted great and the sights were easy on the eyes, despite there being many a soviet and communist surroundings and history which was still quite the wound which was still healing. I'd mainly recommend Riga to travellers who are looking to learn about Soviet history and experience eastern Europe's culture, its great for foodies and travellers who don't mind donning their thermals to experience what's on offer!

In my next blog post I'll be going over our time spent in Tallinn, Estonia as a part of our trip through the three Baltic States so be sure to follow me on my social channels below to keep up to date with my adventures.

Adam loved the flight to Estonia's seating arrangement. 

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