Day 3: 21.06.08
Market forces/Latvia's dark past/Let’s go Russian!
Another bright clear day, but after last night’s cold temperatures I seriously thought about taking my gloves! Thankfully I saw sense because today, summer arrived and even brought sunburn to my faithful travelling companion. :(
We even have a couple of Swedish TV channels in our hotel room. I end up watching TV4's "Nyhetsmorgon" before breakfast! No music channels though, which means I can't do a "Holiday Hit List" this time as I can't really name any of the Latvian songs I've heard this week.
Off this morning to the market, which is one of Riga’s main tourist attractions, and it provides a glimpse of the real Riga, away from the designer stores. Here, inside the five old airship hangars is where you’ll find everyone shopping for their weekly food supply - and this has to be the biggest food market I’ve ever seen. The extensive, endless surrounding area is full of stalls with everything from fruit, plants and flowers to clothing.
We hear lots of Russian spoken in the market, quite fitting as our next destination is the edge of the Russian quarter of Riga, where there are lots of wooden houses and towering above it all (indeed, towering above rather a lot of Riga) is the Academy of Sciences, imagine the Empire State Building reinvented Stalinist-style. Here it is.
Lunch at a pizza restaurant in the Old Town. My hot-guy shortage was considerably boosted during this lunch break, so I have very fond memories of today’s lunch-break!
This afternoon’s destination is the Museum of Latvia’s Occupation. Riga today is a buzzing, modern, Westernised city and if you didn't know better then you would never know that it had ever been anything different. Yet Latvia’s very recent history is tragic and turbulent and this museum tells the story of the 20th century, and the struggle of the Latvian people to overcome the horrors of occupation by various regimes. Many Latvians were sent to labour camps and one particularly heartbreaking aspect of the museum features various articles made by those prisoners, some of whom eventually found freedom but many perished. I wasn’t really aware of Latvia’s history apart from knowing it was once part of the USSR, but this was certainly a thought-provoking experience. If you have to visit one place whilst in Riga, make it this one.
Maybe because of its recent history, the statistics say that more Russians than Latvians live in Riga. Yet I haven’t really seen much evidence of this in Riga - apart, perhaps, from the market and "Little Moscow" this morning, or the Russian-language theatre in the old town. I thought the city would be full of Russian restaurants, but these were surprisingly few. One of them - one of the most upmarket in the city - was our destination tonight for a traditional Russian meal, accompanied by Georgian wine. Dessert ....well, I’ll let the picture below speak for itself. Hey, maybe this might get me onto Blogs of Note :))))
After dinner we headed to an outdoor bar on the square - yes, it’s a lot warmer tonight! - and watched some of the Champions League final before heading home.
Day 4 coming soon...