My trip to the city of Riga, capital of Latvia, is one of my most unforgettable travels. I just turned 24 and I wanted to be more independent, more decisive, and more socially and culturally aware that I booked that solo trip to the largest city of the Baltic states. The Baltics consist of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. The three countries are in my bucket list, and it made me super glad to tick one of them off, finally. So, today’s entry : Riga, Latvia.
That wasn’t actually my first solo trip (hint: Philippines to Europe), but it was the first one I took for leisure purposes. So, how’s the Baltic city on a hot summer day?
Riga‘s historical center, with its magnificent Art Nouveau/Jugendstil architecture, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Founded in 1201, the city has been a major economic and financial hub of the Baltic States. According to sources, Riga Port handles millions of tons of cargoes every year, with “wooden products, IT, food and beverage manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, transport and metallurgy” as the major national exports.
I had a really early flight, but I wasn’t disappointed at all. From the airport, I took an express van with a very humorous driver! I remember him saying, “I am not bus, but I am express!” and teaching me some useful Latvian expressions like “paldies!” [PUHL-dyes], which means thank you. Latvians don’t speak good English, to be honest, but they really try and that’s what matters!
During the trip, I gazed out the window and wondered how different the city was compared with the other European cities. While it is true that many Latvians immigrate to richer European countries, I could see that the city was gradually recovering from the world wars and Russian occupancy. It was also notably clean and green, as my Latvian classmate proudly told me.
Another good thing about the city is that it is relatively cheaper! Much cheaper than Denmark or Norway, no doubt! I stayed in Irina Hotel, which was located right in the city center! It makes me smile to think that I really did pamper myself during my trip. I spent €133 for four nights, with breakfast buffet. I also met interesting people in the hotel, but more about that in the later entries. 😉
I carefully planned my stay — I’m joining couchsurfers in the annual Riga Good Times series of events in summer. As it was still early for the meetup dinner, I decided to spend the day familiarizing myself with the streets and the sights. Here are some of the things to expect to see in Riga:
One of Riga’s most important landmarks is the Freedom Monument. It symbolizes freedom, independence and sovereignty of Latvia, and it commemorates the soldiers who died during the Latvian War of Independence from 1918-1920.
Another interesting building I saw during my walk was the Cat House, a medieval building built in 1909. Legend has it that the person who commissioned the building was refused membership of the Riga Tradesmen’s Guild. Out of spite, he had two statues of angry cats with their backs arched be placed on the rooftop!
It was just the first day and Riga has already made an impression. I just have to say that the city is more than just the beautiful Art Nouveau architecture, landmarks and cobbled streets. It is also very rich in history! I was lucky enough to visit a KGB headquarter, where I learned a great deal about the terror of the repressive Soviet system in the country in the mid-1900s. More about that in the next entries! yay! I’m super excited to write the rest of my escapade. But for now, I have to take a break. 😉