A weekend in Riga: Day One

 

One of my Christmas presents was the wonderful New York Times book, ’36 hours in Europe’ which is a fantastic encapsulation of weekends away all over Europe. So riddled with wanderlust I headed to Skyscanner and found myself browsing weekend flights away. With the specification that I would want to be away from Friday to Sunday and would want to travel from London Luton (my nearest airport) I found myself booking some flights for Riga, Latvia with Wizz air.

I had arranged to go away with my friend, Rachel, and on Friday we flew out of work and drove to the airport. We parked at the airport and got right on the cocktails at the airport, because once you’re at the airport it’s perfectly fine to drink vodka and cream right?!

The flight was a short 2 hours and 15 mins, although Latvia is 2 hours ahead so by the time we landed it was just gone midnight. This meant the buses that connect the airport and the city centre had stopped however it was so crazy easy to step out of the diminutive airport and right into a taxi, which cost us 14 euros to get to our hotel, in the old town. The journey took us about 15 minutes.

We stayed at a hotel called Konventa Seta and I couldn’t recommend it enough. A twin room cost just £25 per night and to say it was a bargain would be an understatement. The room was large, clean and with super comfortable beds. The hotel couldn’t have been any more centrally located, right in the centre of the old town. If i visited again I wouldn’t stay anywhere else.

So having arrived on the Friday night we went straight to bed and awoke to sunshine and blue skies on the Saturday. Breakfast was included in the hotel price but I skipped it so we could start the day at the Black Magic Bar.

Black Balsam is a famous drink in Latvia, a herbal liqueur that has been around for about 250 years. Black Balsam was said to have originated in the basement of the Black Magic bar, at the time it was an apothecary. The bar has maintained all its charm, with its upholstered seats and traditionally dressed staff.

 

We took a seat and enjoyed a slice of cake, infused with Black Balsam. I went for ‘eclipse’ which was an amazing chocolate sponge cake with Balsam infused chocolate cream and egg liqueur. Rachel went for a blackcurrant cheesecake with Balsam infused truffle cream. By the measure of the noises we made throughout our breakfast I’d say we enjoyed it! I made a mistake in ordering a hot chocolate, it was absolutely divine, but I’d overdosed on chocolate by that point! The cakes each cost under 4 euros and were great value.

 

 

We took a walk to the Freedom Monument, built to honour the soldiers killed during the Latvian war of independence. The monument sat in the middle of Bastejkalns Park, which was pretty and had the frozen canal running through it. Although it was only 1 degree the skies were blue and it was so lovely to walk around, admiring the cute love lock bridge and listening to some old fella playing an accordion.

Our next stop was Xroom, right by the park, where we were to play the Harry Potter Escape room. I obviously wouldn’t want to give too much away but it was so fun. It was Rachel’s first escape room and she absolutely loved it. We managed to complete it in 40 minutes. The experience cost us 50 euros, although it is 35 euros during the week. You pay per room, rather than per person.

 

Next it was time to explore the old town, I found the old town incredibly easy to walk around due to how compact it was. My fitbit recorded just 13,000 steps for the day whereas in Copenhagen it was around 40,000! I so fell in love with the place, the architecture was just really something else, so charming!

They’re big on cats in Riga, Rachel has a black cat so was particularly happy about this. This is due to Cat House, a custard coloured building with 2 black cat statues sitting atop it.  The story goes that the house was built by a tradesman who was so incensed at getting rejected by the local tradesman guild that he built the cats with their bums facing towards the guild. That’s just the kind of pettiness you’ve got to admire, right?

 

We visited the three brothers, the oldest complex of houses in the city. They were pretty but unfortunately sit in a street that didn’t get the sun so their true charm doesn’t quite show in the photos.

Riga cathedral was very charming and sat in a lovely big square, where a single musician played. Despite being a Saturday and the sun being out the streets were absolutely empty.

 

 

We walked around the streets surrounding the cathedral, discovering charming little alleys where medieval restaurants and beautiful architecture was tucked away. We also saw the stunning St Peter’s Church.

Right outside our hotel sat the Town Musicians of Bremen, statues based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. The tale goes that the animals left their abusive master, come across a cottage being robbed, stand on each others back to scare off the robbers and live in the cottage happily ever after. You’re meant to rub their noses for luck.

The House of the Blackheads was another wonderful piece of work to view. The Blackheads were a guild for unmarried German merchants and the building is certainly striking. The current building is a reconstruction of the older building, which was first bombed by the Germans then pulled down by the Soviets, but it still holds a lot of old charm.

 

We took a walk by the river, it was very calm and serene but it wasn’t quite the riverfront atmosphere that most cities have. It was interesting though to look across the water at the more modern part of Riga, which we’d driven through on our way from the airport.

We wanted to visit the museum of the occupations as it was highly recommended but there was a renovation going on and the exhibition had been moved across town. By this point we were pretty hungry and so decided to put it on the backburner for the moment, although unfortunately we never got chance to visit.

 

Our stomachs led us to the central market, the largest in Europe. The market sits in old German Zeppelin hangers and holds more than 3000 stands. Most of the produce on offer was vegetables, fruit and cheese. There was a whole hanger dedicated to fish and there were a lot of herbs and spices too. This is a true local market, this is where you see a lot of Latvian’s shopping and a good insight into Latvian food. After spending a while perusing we walked away with a delicious pizza and some souvenir Black Balsam!

We returned back to the hotel where I washed my hair and chilled whilst Rachel had a nap. We’d purchased some local wine from a wine shop we’d passed, which we chilled in the sink, and finished the bottle before heading out. Riga wine gets a thumbs up from me!

 

We spent our evening at the Folkklubs restaurant. I noticed it popping up quite a lot during my Riga research and for good reason, it was a really great evening. We had a reservation and I would recommend you have one too. We got the best seats, sat right in front of the stage.

 

The place had such a great atmosphere, really friendly staff and good food. We started off the evening with wine and honey beer and shared a cheese board to start. Rachel went for the stuffed chicken roulade whilst I went for the stroganoff and both of us loved our meals.

 

We ended our night at Easy Wine, a fantastic bar with a great concept. Basically you walk in and you’re given a card. You then use the card to get wine from the wine vending machines. You can choose to pour yourself anything from a large glass of wine to a small taster. I stuck to the 50ml tasters so I could try as many wines as I wanted. At the end of the evening you just pay the card balance, so simple!

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