Managing to wake up for a 6:00am bus is hard enough at the best of times but doing on holiday is even harder. It just doesn’t seem right to up that early. Today was a 4 and half hour bus trip to Riga, Latvia today. Trying to sleep on a bus never really works, for me anyway and this was no different. Think I might have nodded off for about 20 mins and that was it.
The bus was of a great standard. Lots of leg room, reclining seats and on the odd occasion, WI-FI that stayed connected for 5 minutes. About halfway through the trip, the rain started to come down, well actually it was raining cats and dogs. By the time to got to Riga, the rain was still heavy, so once again my first impressions of the city were not that great.
The bus driver must have been smoking something by the time we arrived as he was trying to check people’s tickets to obtain the correct luggage for the passengers. This he was doing in the pouring rain. Our beloved guide Stefan, was starting to go off his rocker at the driver by advising him this is bullshit, its raining, and everyone is getting off the bus so take the luggage out. Still the driver was doing his thing, so Stefan just starts dragging everything out of the under carriage and made the whole process so much quicker so we were not as wet as would have if we had waited on the driver.
Once we settled into the hotel, dried ourselves off a bit, we headed into a huge market where they sold the usual fake clothing, knick knacks etc then they had 4 zeppelin hangers that the Germans were going to use but never actually did which was full of the most wonderful baked goods at the most seriously crazy cheap prices, an awesome fruit and vegetables section followed by a great fish market. Some fish were so fresh you could see them breathing.
From there we had a walking tour with Olga through the city of Riga and she was so knowledgeable of the history that it was one of the best walking tours I had been on. The city has many facades ranging from Swedish, Latvian, Russian and German. Somehow it all works and fits together which is amazing in itself. There were so many little alleyways she went through that I felt so disorientated (thankfully I was not the only one) but each one linked to a square which had it’s own character. It really was beautiful but must admit not as nice as Tallinn. The parks and bridges that run along the canal are amazing. So much colour that no one could possibly take a bad photo. By the end of the walk the rain had stopped which was a nice relief. The one good thing about rain in this part of the world is that there is no wind that seems to accompany it, so it is really easy to walk around in. That night we had a group dinner at a place called Lido which is a real Latvian tradition. It was basically a buffet of local produce and given the cheap prices we each got out of there paying no more than 6 Latvian Latts ($12 Australian) including drinks.
Most of us were pretty stuffed that night so headed back to hotel early to catch up on lost sleep. On this occasion I had the single room (we have an odd amount for solo male travellers so it gets rotated around) and must admit I could used to that as I could spread myself out however I liked without wondering if the other person minded.
On the next morning we caught a public bus out to the open air museum. The bus we were on had a seating capacity of 29. By the time we got to the museum we did a rough head count of about 130 people. I had not seen a vehicle so full since the Tokyo train where the little man with the white gloves pushes everyone one until there is no more possible air left. If only the Guinness World Record people were there. We must have gone very close.
We had a guided walk about the museum with a local guide. She was a lovely lady but boy could she talk. In the museum everything was made of wood and we gained an idea of what life was like back in those days for the relevant families. Back then they had to make all there own wedding stuff as well as gifts for the people who would have attended. The peasants had there own homestead and the church we saw was absolutely stunning especially the artwork on the ceiling. It was amazing what people could do back in the day. Thankfully the bus ride back into the city was not as packed as the trip out and from there we grabbed a quick bite to eat in the old city.
After lunch most of us headed to the Occupation of Latvia Museum. This was quite and eye opener for me as it went through the periods of occupation from WWII when the Russians were in control, then when the Germans were in control, then back to when the Russians were in control again before gaining there independence. What the Latvians had suffered through was nothing sorting of amazing and how many lives were lost, given the size of the country was nothing short of sad. It was very stark reminder of how evil the Russians and Germans were and how cruelly they treated the Latvians. Some things should never be forgotten nor should they ever happen again.
As that was a very sad thing to see, I headed to St Peters Church with another group member before others completed the time in the museum. The church had a observation point from the bell tower which provided amazing views over the city. It was bloody windy up and somewhat cold as I was only wearing shorts and t-shirt. The church itself was very beautiful on the inside. The guilds on the inside walls and on the posts were carved with intricate details which makes it more special indeed. To look at the church from the outside, it really doesn’t look that spectacular but sometimes you must go beyond skin deep.
From there a few of us headed to the Swedish barracks to check out some amber (local jewellery) shops. By this time the rain was coming back to haunt us so we ducked into a little underground hotel which was another great find. There was no real electricity so it was all lighting was done by candlelight. The ceilings were extremely low and created a beautiful atmosphere. One this one occasion I didn’t have alcohol but a Birch Tree Juice. It was sour to begin with then got sweeter and ended up being quite refreshing. Apparently it was even classified as healthy. That will make a change for me. The 7 of us just hung out there for a couple of hours chatting about random stuff before we thought we should head back. By this time th rain had well and settled in so went about walking back to the hotel.
On the way back, I managed to talk a few other group members to check out a Russian Orthodox Church. Upon entering all you could see was gold and it had the most glorious artwork on the walls and ceilings. Whilst we were in there a small service was being conducted which was quite a spiritual time to be present for. It real gave a wonderful and cultural insight into the religion given Latvia still has a significant Russian population. Once again another door opens a great surprise.
As the weather is still raining and we don’t have much local currency left, most of us are staying in, repacking our bags and looking forward to a 5 and half hour bus ride to Klaipeda in Lithuania.
One can only wonder what will happen there.