Apologies for the radio silence but its been a bit of a crazy month. I went home to see my folks (and dog), then jumped on a plane to Riga, where Hamilton and I started a road trip around Estonia, before returning to Latvia. Following on from that, I flew back to London and within a couple of hours (without leaving the airport), got back on a plane, this time to Madrid, for a work trip that took me around Europe for 11 days. As I was working, I didn’t get to see much of any of the places I went to but I did still get to visit some new cities like Madrid, Lyon and Perpignan, and stay in some excellent hotels.
I’ll get to those later, but for now I am sat in my bedroom in chilly (but lovely) London with a cup of tea ready to write about…
Hamilton and I flew out from London Stansted to Riga with Ryanair. We decided to fly to Riga because even though the intention was initially an Estonian road trip, flights to Estonia are a bit awkward for us – they’re only on certain days of the week and are quite pricey in comparison to what we paid. It was an early flight so got us into Riga ready for a solid day of sightseeing.
Once we were finally through passport control, that is, which took approx 3 million years. Everyone in the queue was spoken to for at least 5 minutes, which meant the lines were long and as I’m sure you’re aware, passport control is one of the most boring places of all time. If a plain cheese sandwich was a room, that would be it. Wait, the cheese in that sandwich might be too exciting. Bread, just a bread sandwich. That is passport control.
Anyway, we got to the front of the queue expecting to be interviewed intensely; I was almost excited about it – what am I going to be tested on? The Latvian national anthem? Decades of their history? My favourite colour? Turns out, nothing. Neither Hamilton nor I had anything said to us. They just gave our passports back and we were on our way.
Hamilton is an intelligent human being and all round great guy, so he had looked up how to get from the airport into the city centre. The cheapest way (and thus our favourite way) is to go by bus. Unless you want to walk, but ain’t nobody got time for that. The bus costs €2 each and its a bendy one, which is always a bit more fun than a normal bus for reasons I’m unsure of.
We stayed at the Wellness Centrum Hotel (and Spa) where check in was a bit of an odd one. We got there a bit earlier than check in time and sadly our room wasn’t ready yet, so we left our bags and freshened up. The staff were extremely nice and apologetic because it wasn’t ready but we were the ones that turned up early so of course they had nothing to apologise about. We said goodbye after freshening up and they promised to call as soon as our room was available; about 30 seconds after we walked out of the hotel, she called us and said our room had now been prepared. They double checked that we wanted twin beds (we are friends and did want twin beds) but this didn’t appear to be something she understood, I think us wanting twin beds to her meant we were a couple having an argument. In fairness, we didn’t have the best expressions on our faces because we were walking around on 3 hours sleep. After we said we wanted twin beds, she flustered around with her paperwork a little and then sorted us an upgrade which was pleasantly surprising. They really were very nice receptionists. We were extremely thankful and our fictional argument was immediately resolved. Though of course, we still slept in our individual twin beds.
After that bonanza, we headed out to see what Riga had to offer. In all honesty, before my visit I knew very little about Latvia – I had heard lovely things but for once wanted to leave a bit of mystery around what I was about to see. I’m very glad I did because it blew me away.
Our hotel was in the old town so as a start we wandered around there – it was everything I was hoping it would be. Every new street we walked down felt like a fairytale; I half expected a Disney character to rush out. It was the middle of the week, so a lot of the time it seemed like we had the place to ourselves.
Our first stop was St Peter’s Church – it costs €9 for access to the church and viewing tower, so we made full use. We took the lift to the top and it was absolutely freezing so we spent about 5 minutes max up there, before warming up inside the church which was absolutely full of people (in comparison to outside, that is). They had an art exhibition on which had some amazing pieces of landscape art in, mostly painted nearby to Riga. I would happily have any, and all of the collection up on the walls of my house. If you’re there, go see it.
ART NOUVEAU ARCHITECTURE
From there we walked down some lovely cobbled streets, passing a lot more churches en route, plus some gates that we were unsure of the name of so I won’t try to discuss them for fear of making a fool of myself. We were on our way to see some architecture (around Freedom Street), which was a bit more Disney Haunted Mansion than fairytale (I mean that in the best way).
There are about 5 streets near each other full of buildings like this, complete with terrifying faces staring down at you.
LATVIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ART
Round the corner from the gothic buildings is the Latvian National Museum of Art, which is a stunning place both inside and out. It features prominent Latvian artists of all time periods, including modern and was a really nice experience because I realised just how little I really know about Latvian artists. Its a good way to spend a couple of hours, especially midweek as its unbelievably empty and grand as anything.
My only critique of our time spent there is how noticeable the people working there are, in that they really have no problem following you around and staring at your every movement while you look at stuff, which is really very off putting. I was very aware that if I got too close to anything, I would probably be rugby tackled to the ground and thrown out the window immediately. Thankfully this did not happen and we managed to make it out of the gallery space and into the cafe, which was marvellous. It was mid afternoon by this point and we were on holiday, so I will admit that we both had an alcoholic beverage.
The exhaustion hit us while we were sat down, so decided to sit down in another place – a restaurant, so we could eat. We chose a place not far from our hotel so we had to expel the least amount of energy returning to it and we were aware that we wanted to be back because well, the hotel had a spa area. And who can say no to a spa? Not us.
It was the first of many spas we encountered on our baltic road trip and I must say, really made the visit. Yes, we visited beautiful national parks and wonderful historic cities, but we also live busy lives and god knows we appreciate any time we can sit in a warm room in swimwear and relax.
I will get back to the amazing spas in a few posts because unfortunately the accommodation at the second stop on our tour… Tallinn, did not feature a spa. It did look like a real life dolls house though, which made up for it substantially.
Also, I feel the need to mention at this point that we returned to Riga at the end of the trip, when we did a bunch more things in the city. I’m aware there are a few classic Riga things missed out here!
P.S. There are already some pictures up on our Instagram of the rest of the trip if you’d like to take a gander!