I had never been to Riga before but my mother was born in Latvia and lived there as a child before fleeing the Soviet occupation. She arrived in the UK aged about six with her parents and her older brother and younger sister. Her sister went back to visit in the 1970s when the only way to go was with Intourist but my grandfather didn’t want to go back until Latvia regained its independence, an event which he sadly did not live to see. After independence my grandmother visited with her son to scatter her husband’s ashes. A few months ago my mother was reading an article about “boutique hotels” which featured a hotel in Riga called Ekes Konvents which (as its name suggests) was once a convent, and decided to go for a few days. My father started organising things and I said I would like to go along too, as did my sister. There was a slight dilemma for me because for environmental reasons I prefer not to fly. My previous flight was nearly seven years ago when I went to Italy to walk across the Alps to Zermatt and back (bagging a few 4000m peaks on the way) and since then I have pretty much stayed in the UK, barring the odd cross channel ferry. But this was to be our first family holiday for many years and a significant event for my mother so I relaxed my principles and accepted my father’s offer to book me on their flight.
We arrived on March 22nd but only stayed two nights so I don’t really have a great deal to report. We ate good food and managed to find places with decent vegetarian options for my sister (I have been almost veggie since New Year but I did have a delicious elk and wild mushroom goulash for a starter one evening). It was cold and windy but there was plenty of sun and the only precipitation was in the form of a couple of short snow flurries on our last day. Riga is situated on the mouth of the Daugava, which was still largely ice covered, though apart from one detour across a long windswept bridge we stayed on the side where the historic city centre is located. The city seemed clean compared to London and not at all crowded, though that may be because of the time of year. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due in large part to what are regarded to be some of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture. I particularly liked the buildings designed by Mikhail Eisenstein, father of the famous Soviet film director.
Whilst wandering aimlessly on my own I caught the smell of incense and was attracted into a relaxing tea room with cushions and nice tunes on the stereo. There were only two people inside, at least one of whom worked there (he got up and prepared tea for me). They both had bikes in the shop (one of which was a fixie) and it turned out that although they were Latvian they had both lived in London for a few years and had only recently returned to Riga. I had a long chat with them and they told me that a lot of people left after Latvia joined the EU. They reckoned that the population had dropped by as much as a fifth since then, and presumably it was mainly younger people who left – that might explain why the city seemed a bit deserted. If you are in Riga and you want to chill out and drink tea I would recommend visiting the place – it is called KAMA and is at Jekaba Iela 26/28. Another place you could visit is the Naive Art Museum of Latvia.
The flight home was interesting. There was a drunk guy sitting on the row in front of me until he was removed by about six balaclava-clad Polish border police after an unscheduled detour to Gdansk. The incident was reported in the Aviation Herald.