Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Riga Diaries: Part 1

DAY 1: 19.05.08
Getting in a Baltic state/ET phone home

As the plane makes its descent towards Riga International Airport, I am struck by how flat the Latvian landscape seems, and how there seems to be little in the way of urban sprawl. Arrived in Riga in the evening and located to the arrivals cafeteria for the post-landing-find-a-phone-network ritual. This is normally pretty easy, but every Latvian phone network decides that it hates my three year old, ‘state of the art today, obsolete tomorrow’ phone. Finally, when I press enough buttons, I end up with the world’s most expensive roaming rate. Even ET found it easier to phone home.

The taxi into Riga city doesn’t rip us off, and in minutes provides the views that we came for.

On arrival at our hotel, centrally located on the edge of the Old Town, we are greeted by the world’s most incomprehensible reception guy who proceeds to hand us an "aliens registration form" to complete. ET phone home indeed. Luckily it gets better when we see our hotel room: spacious, airy and very grand. It didn’t cost a fortune either, and it was a good quality base for our Riga adventures.

Later in the evening, but still in daylight, we hit the Old Town, a maze of winding streets. Before that though we caught our first sight of the Laima clock and the Freedom Monument (pictured above), two of Riga’s most famous sites, in close proximity to each other. By day the Freedom Monument is patrolled by two soldiers who do lots of ceremonial soldiery things.

The main street in Riga’s Old Town (well, I called it the main street anyway) is called Kalku Iela and has everything from all day, all night happy hour bars on the square (Livu Laukums) and fast food places, to the classiest restaurants. There is also a theatre which specialises in highbrow Russian-language plays, side by side with the type of nightclubs which have ensured Riga’s top 5 placing in the stag-party hit parade in recent years. Riga is indeed a city of contrasts, and we deliberately avoided a weekend trip as we wanted to see the 'real' Riga, not the stag-party hell that it has become, if reports on various internet forums are anything to go by.

Inevitably we end up at Il Patio, a basement/cellar Italian pizza & pasta restaurant which fulfils our first night food needs. Decided that eating out in Riga is fairly affordable, but drink prices aren’t so cheap as expected. I do try my first Latvian beer of the holiday (an Aldaris) and it's rather good. It's been a long day, so an early night is in order.
Part 2 to follow, either tomorrow night or Thursday night, fingers crossed!!

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