Final thoughts on Riga
I thoroughly enjoyed Riga. It was the city I researched the most before the trip and it is a place I’ve always been oddly fascinated with - so I did a lot of Google image searching before I left, mainly to get excited about visiting such a pretty and unique place. When I departed for Vilnius I was kind of sad that I was leaving - as I had no idea what to expect in Lithuania!
I don’t think it is fair to compare the two, but for a moment, I am going to. Riga was beautiful in its own way. Since Riga is a city on a coast (the Gulf of Riga feeds into the Baltic Sea), it was overcast a lot but very green. It did remind me somewhat of what I would expect in Scandinavia. The colorful buildings and grey skies were reminiscent of Reykjavik, only the architecture was a different style. Vilnius was somewhat more grand and sophisticated - it reminded me of a mini-Paris. The people of Riga were reserved and nice and I had two evenings at the same restaurant - Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs - where I sat at the bar and chatted with everyone around me and had a wonderful time. I highly recommend that place if you go, it was filled with locals and tourists, even Agnese confirmed this, and it has live music nearly every night.
I dined at Ala twice, as my celebration dinner after the marathon and the next night. Both times it was so lively and the food and beer were so good that I am not sorry I went there two times. The first night, the bartender chatted with me quite a bit, because I got there fairly early by European standards. Especially going into late spring and longer days when dinner seems to get later and later - but I’d run the marathon that morning and had been awake since 4 am (due to poor sleep). I asked him what his favorites were and asked for a beer recommendation and which of the sparkling wines was best, and I ordered his favorite, which was Latvian!
For a starter my first night, I ordered the traditional potato pancakes with smoked salmon, the traditional meatballs, the aforementioned Latvian sparkling wine to celebrate another marathon, and then switched to a Latvian beer Valmiermuizas Dark, which was the standard half-liter, of course. I’m not sure I could get used to that size.
I was sitting next to two guys from Brazil, who had just spent almost two weeks in Russia. They were interesting and very nice and we chatted about their travels and how much they loved St. Petersburg. (very jealous of them going there, as it is on my travel bucket list). And then I convinced the one sitting next to me (Thiago) to try the local liqueur Black Balsam shot with me. We both ordered a shot, which is for sipping, not shooting. I spoke to many locals who said they like the Black Balsam that has black currant syrup mixed in, and I can see why. The stuff is potent, not exactly tasty, and 90 proof. The kind of drink that will put hair on your chest. Both of us told the bartender that we didn’t necessarily like it, but we didn’t hate it either. We both drank the whole thing though!
My second evening in the restaurant was on a Monday night, and since I had a very early flight the next morning, I dined early again. I was hungry! I ate the mushroom and local goat cheese filo pastry as a starter and the chicken roulade as a main. I don’t normally order chicken in a restaurant because it just seems boring, but the bartender from the first night said it was his favorite and I like to take the recommendations of the staff, they usually know what’s up. I’m pretty sure I had two beers, one was the Valmiermuizas Dark again and then I tried another local beer but I can’t remember which one, maybe Aldaris.
That evening was pretty crowded and there was some kind of art festival in town, so a larger group of people ordered drinks and stood next to me as they waited for a table. One very tall and older Belgian man started talking to me. He was an artist in town for the show and was with his friends from France and Belgium, who were all artists. He must have thought I was much younger than I am and seemed completely shocked that I was traveling alone. He did make the offer for me to join them, but I politely declined. I would have had to transfer everything to the table and since I was kind of tired, I wanted to leave on my own schedule. However, I sincerely appreciated the offer. I once thought Ireland was home to the friendliest people in the world because I felt that everyone there was so talkative, welcoming, and genuine. But, as I’ve traveled through more countries in Europe, I have found that it is just everyone’s nature to be friendly and welcoming to visitors. Visitors who aren’t disrespectful jerks anyway, as I try not to be. I try to be as open-minded, positive, and respectful as possible when I travel. It has paid off because I’ve made friends all over Europe who I still am in contact with as well as had some interesting conversations and experiences.
My last day in Riga, my plan was to go on the photography tour (which was amazing and I wrote about it in another post) and the visit the Occupation museum in the afternoon. However, the museum was closed on Mondays. So, I spent the day looking for the Art Nouveau district and exploring bits of the city I had not seen or had already seen but wanted a second look at, and I am so glad that I did, as it was spectacular! I am not sure why the marathon didn’t have a route down the street but I’m kind of glad that I got to see it at a walking pace rather than while running. I then did a little bit of shopping and had dinner before heading home to pack my suitcase for another early flight - which ended up being 35 minutes and I slept the entire time.
Next up: Vilnius