Observations in Riga
Riga Travel Blog› entry 2 of 9 › view all entries
At my stopover in Frankfurt, while they were changing the tires of my aircraft, the assistants played the tape with precautionary messages in Latvian. It was my first experience with the spoken Latvian language and it doesn’t sound like anything I have ever heard before. There are lots of words that end with –ums and –sis, reminding me of candies and of bacterial infections. It is not an ugly language, it flows. By the way, don’t you hate Frankfurt airport? It is grey and damp and uninviting. Anyway, onwards to Riga.
My hostel was situated just outside the old town, right next to the train station, which has a convenient 24-hour Rimi supermarket. For my first walk I chose the neighborhood just behind the train station, leaving old town for later in the afternoon.
Close to the train and bus stations there is a big permanent market. The market is partly located in four old adjacent zeppelin hangars, but sprawls into the streets around them. This neighborhood is actually quite shabby and rundown. The streets are broken in spots and the buildings are falling apart. The markets is a very fibrant place, and seems to be overrun with Russians. I knew that almost half of Riga’s population is Russian, and they seem to cluster here in the market area.
I got a little bit of a culture shock though. I would not accidentally confuse Riga with, say, a typical western European city. The people on the streets are quite silent. People do not often greet eachother, and mostly evade eachother’s eyes. The women are all very beautiful, but, like the men, a bit stoic. Not many people give a friendly smile. Everybody, even the waitresses in cafe’s, keep their distance and seem to be, well… on their guard. It could also be that I am craving more human interaction since I am travelling on my own. All in all I get the feeling that Riga has one foot still standing in its long Soviet past and it is only slowly shaking it off.
In the old town Unesco city center the streets are stately and clean, and the architecture is very beautiful.
The main town square is a very beautiful place, and is completely restored since the bombings of the second world war. The are two red merchant’s houses, beautifully decorated, and a new municipal hall across the square. And somehow the Latvians thought it necessary to celebrate the christmas tree. Well, why not. There is a plaque that says so, and while I was there they had erected an artsy tree, although it was high summer.
I can see that Riga does its best to welcome new tourists and it is quite easy to get around and join tours if you like. So far, the city hasn’t been overwhelmed by tourists and it is still a bit quiet on the streets, so go now before the tourist overload starts. I am slowly starting to know the city and it is a fascinating place to see and to be.