Maskavas Forštate - The Moscow District of Rīga
I wanted to kick off my recap of Rīga by talking about the photography tour that I booked through Rīga Explorer’s Club. I did this my last full day in the city and so the day after the marathon. As it was another sleepless night, I almost skipped it. But I got out the door early, had a hearty breakfast at the only place open (Index Cafe) at 7 am since I was out of the apartment by 6:30.
It was nice to wake up and see the locals make their way to work on an early Monday morning. Once I reached the cafe I ordered a latte, something with smoked salmon and eggs - which I ate a lot of on this trip because I love it, its pretty healthy, and it was more affordable than at home - and I sat and relaxed and planned out my afternoon. The walking photography tour was 3 hours long and was to begin at 9 am. The meeting place was the Explorer Club office that was a leisurely walk from breakfast. I want to note that it was very cold that day too! May 16th and a temperature of 41 but “felt like” 36 according to my phone.
If you go to Rīga, I recommend Index Cafe. The two men working there that morning were very helpful and friendly, one asked me if I needed any suggestions of where to go and chatted with me about why I was visiting, where I’d been, etc. Another nice encounter with a friendly local.
Once I arrived at the Rīga Explorer’s Club office, I met my guide, Agnese, and we set off toward the Central Market of the city to begin our tour promptly at 9 am. Agnese was friendly, extremely knowledgeable about her city, and very nice. I think we are close in age and we had some fun conversations and comparisons so I never felt like I was with a guide, more like with a new friend.
I have to admit that I have had an interest in photography for awhile and wanted a DSLR camera. However, every time I’ve read something explaining ISO, aperture, etc, my eyes have glazed over and I’ve been bored and confused. Well, we were using a Soviet Zenit SLR camera from the 1980′s, not a DSLR but the idea is similar. Agnese sat me down and explained the ISO, aperture, how to use the camera, etc, in about 5 minutes. Not only did I understand it completely, but I wasn’t bored out of my mind. I am thankful that she finally demystified it for me.
The next three hours were spent wandering the Central Market, the old Jewish ghetto of Rīga, and the Moscow District. I am convinced that had I not booked this photography tour, I would not have set foot in any of these places. I loved taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Central Market, which had everything you could imagine from sauerkraut, to pickled vegetables, to meat, to flowers, to an Uzbek bakery.
The old Jewish Ghetto is made up of buildings that have been partially restored and line the Daugava River and it is a part of the Moscow District. The buildings mostly function as commercial space now but they have not lost their charm. There are also some monuments to Latvian Jews which I will post photos of later.
Finally, we visited the main Moscow District, where Russians have lived since the 14th century and it is technically a suburb of Rīga. This was my favorite part of the tour. It is not the polished, preserved area that is Old Town Rīga. It was not filled with tourists, in fact I think most people in that area still primarily speak Russian. There were so many rundown buildings, old buses, cars, and cats! Cats are everywhere in this city. We saw an old cemetery, the “black market”, parks, squares, and what can only be described as a junk market.
I tried to ask questions and be respectful when inquiring if Agnese remembered life before Soviet rule ended. She said she was a child but she remembered life seeming like “there was an entire world out there that we didn’t know anything about, but we knew we were missing out on.” I can definitely see how that would be true, especially after visiting the KGB museum days later in Vilnius and learning how the Soviets kept them in complete isolation from the Western world. It is crazy to imagine how different our lives were as children and how many freedoms she has now as an adult in comparison so we are much more similar.
Lastly, by the end of this tour, I’d asked Agnese about the pronunciation of the words in Latvian. I came away knowing how more about the accents and pronunciations and felt a little more confident about exchanging greetings and pleasantries with locals in shops and restaurants. Agnese also recommended a few places to eat lunch on my last day and I’m glad that I took her suggestion, as I went to Valtera Restorans, which was quiet, delicious, and not unlike a place I would dine at home in Chicago.