Culture in Riga

Friday 25 to Wednesday 30 August

Legend of Riga

Once upon a time, long ago, before the city of Riga was founded, a tall strong man named Lielais Kristaps (Big Christopher) carried people across the river Daugava. Kristaps lived in a cabin on the right bank of the river.

While sleeping one night, Kristaps heard a small child crying on the other side of the river. He immediately rose to fetch the child, and began to carry it across the river. Half way across, the child became so heavy that Kristaps barely managed to get to the other bank. Exhausted, he laid the child down to sleep in his shack, and fell asleep himself.

The following morning Kristaps awoke to find a large chest of gold coins where the child had been. Upon his death, the money was used to found the city of Riga, the first building was build (sic) on the spot where Kristaps cabin had once stood.

A wooden statue of Big Christopher was built by Michael Brinkman in 1683. It has been moved to the Museum of History of Riga and Navigation, and a copy made in 1997 by Gints Upitis sits beside the river.

The weather was finally on our side, with warm sunny days – T-shirt weather. It was time to catch up on laundry and planning, so we rented an apartment with a washing machine, in Riga the capital city of Latvia, for 5 nights. Now that is sheer luxury.

We arrived late in the afternoon – the days are still long, so after settling in we went looking for dinner.

Bruce wanted to treat me to a wine bar he had found around the corner from our apartment. Alas it was closed. The notification had rolled up in the sun and wasn’t readable. It was in Latvian so we never would have understood it anyway. An alternative was an Armenian restaurant we had spotted opposite the supermarket. It was very reasonable but we were served by typical Central Asian stoic waiters – no smiles.

Fortuitously, we found a pub across the road, where good beer was served, as the signs on the wall attested. Not to be outdone, a very decent coffee shop was next door. Bruce was in seventh heaven – we had found his perfect abode. As the days progressed we found ourselves across the road for beer or coffee again and again.

Riga is a lovely city, and popular with the tourists. Anywhere that a cruise boat can stop off becomes busy during the day, with most of the crowd disappearing to the safety of their hotel-on-water in the evenings.

We found our way into the old town and over the next few days explored every inch of it.

I was evicted from the Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral for taking photos inside.

As we reached the centre of town we came across a BMX international competition. I was entranced by these young men and their ability to soar like birds on their bikes. We came across more renovations, this time it was the famous House of Blackheads, near the river.

We used our second day to tour Jūrmala beach and the Kemeri National Park.

Bruce was interested in seeing the buildings in Riga that are famous for their Art Noveau style, so we wandered along Alberta Street. As in a lot of Europe, renovations are rife, however enough of the buildings were on show. We continued into the old town, down along the river and then to the market, a truely colourful market set inside amazingly tall buildings that we later discovered were old Zeppelin hangers.

There is also a small soviet style building – the Latvian Academy of Science. As we went to photograph it the sun disappeared on us – that was frustrating.

We spent much of our last day on planning and paperwork. A couple we met in Guatemala a couple of years ago had estimated that they spent 14 hours a week planning onward journeys. Our itinerary is rather more set, following a lot of research before we left home, however forward planning on the road still takes many hours.

We then walked around the gardens, following the City Canal with tourist boats, water fountains and ducks to entertain us.

The Freedom Monument in Riga is the mid-point of the ‘Baltic Way’, the Baltic states call for independence in 1989. An estimated 2 million people joined hands across the 650km, starting in Vilnius in Latvia and going through to Tallinn in Estonia.

Our four luxurious days of slow pace was coming to an end. We had done four big loads of washing with our apartment looking rather like a Chinese laundry with clothes drying in all available places. The last night we changed into our night gear and put a quick wash of our day clothes on, so we left Riga with empty dirty-clothes-bags. The little things that become important!