Riga, day 2
Asaya, one of my roommates at the hostel, is from Aichi Prefecture, Japan. She’s been teaching Japanese at Sofia University for the past two years and will return to Japan in September. So this excursion to Riga may very well be her last one before going home. She initially wanted to go to Indonesia or Malaysia to teach, but since it’s so easy to get to those countries from Japan, she feels really lucky to have had this opportunity in Bulgaria. I wished her safe travels and headed out into the Centrs neighborhood for breakfast. On the way to Terra, I noticed a good-looking building.
I ordered the chicken wrap with tomato arugula dressing (€4.50), which tasted fine but made quite the mess. The ingredients were overflowing from one end, and the dressing leaked everywhere. Alynda came to save me from myself after she’d finished having complimentary breakfast waffles at her hostel.
On our way to Old Town to the meeting point for the noon free tour, we admired some more buildings.
We also happened to catch the honor guard changing at the Freedom Monument.
As we approached our meeting point at St. Peter’s Church, I noticed a brick building with a unique texture located next door.
Monsef was also at the church listening to a violin duet, and we took some photos to remember ourselves later.
Daniel, John, and Varun (our hosts of the Couchsurfing event) also appeared later on. It was great to see them! Kaspars was our tour guide, and he first pointed out one of the few remaining buildings in Old Town that were not destroyed in a war.
As if Kaspar had read my mind, we went to Riga Central Market, which is behind the bus station. I picked up a third of a kilo of blueberries for €1.60, but they weren’t mind-blowingly good. Kaspars suspected that they were farmed since they looked larger than the ones that are picked in the forest.
The market is the second largest in all of Europe, right behind the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The hangars used to house military airships, but today, they host different vendors in each one according to what they sell. There are 50 microbreweries in Latvia (which seems quite a lot when you consider that the population is 1.9 million). And two are located in the market: one in the vegetable hangar and the other in the fish hangar. In the fish hangar, you can find smoked and fresh seafood.
In the Maskavas suburb, we came across an example of a typical Latvian house, which is made primarily of wood. Kaspars explained that on the east side of Daugava River, there are not many of these kinds of houses outside of the suburbs. The reason why is because back when Napolean was marching on Moscow, the mayor of Riga had the bright idea to set fire to the buildings predicted to be on Napolean’s path so that his army would have no shelter in which to hide. The cannons would have a field day on them! The problem was that there are breezes coming off the river, which spread the fire uncontrollably and killed 700 residents. In the end, Napolean didn’t even go to Riga and instead went to Vilnius.
Also in Maskavas is the Latvian Academy of Sciences, which is a notable example of Socialist Realism architecture. Locals have called it “Stalin’s birthday cake” in the past, and originally, a big red star was on the top of its spire. Today, the residents are debating whether to restore it or replace it with something else. Kaspars’s opinion is that the original star should go back up since that was the design intention. He also thinks keeping historical artifacts intact is sometimes the best way to exact revenge.
After the tour, we asked Kaspars for recommendations on food and drink. We followed his directions to Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs first for beer since it’s one of the 50 microbreweries in Latvia. Then we grabbed some food at Pipars Bistro, which offers higher quality options than what we tried at Lido yesterday. The selection was not as big as Lido’s, but you also didn’t hate yourself for committing suicide by grease. I asked if there was anything offered that was representative of Latvian cuisine but was told that there wasn’t and probably wouldn’t be unless it’s around Christmas time. But I enjoyed the string beans with beef, pork shoulder, and chicken with mushrooms and peppers (less than €5) that they weighed one-by-one on a scale on your plate. There were a billion mosquitos in there, and I got three bites. I killed several in the washroom.
On my way back to the hostel, I passed by Wagner Hall. It’s a shame that the city still hasn’t fixed it up and opened it to the culture-seeking public. The outside hints at how grand the building once was.
I chatted with Dana at the front desk, and she helped me print out my Turkish visa since I’ll need to carry it around with me when I’m there. She’s the sweetest!