Riga Day 1

Fri, 29 Aug 2008 17:01:15 +0000

Vilnius Day 2 Index Riga Day 2

I tiptoed out of the hostel around 6:00, remembering to bring my towel for once. The train station is just around the corner, so no need to rush. The only option for breakfast was McDonalds, so I used up my remaining Litas there.

The bus was pretty nice, and again I didn't have a neighbour. I tried to sleep, but not very successfully. Instead I watched the scenery go by. There seem to be quite a lot of forest fragments left, a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees. Mostly pretty flat countryside.

We pulled into Riga, crossing the bridge and getting a good view of the unusual TV antenna. But the Riga skyline doesn't look all that great compared to some other cities. It's fairly low-rise, and with not enough steeples and towers to be an interesting mediaeval city. The building that caught my eye was this one, which looks like the baby brother of Stalin's gift to Warsaw.

After checking into the hostel, the first thing I did was go and have a look at it. It's not all that interesting, I'd have to say. More interesting are the warehouses next to the train station, which were originally zeppelin hangars. There's an unusual city feature.

The market surrounding them was fairly interesting, although a little antiseptic compared to the markets I've been visiting recently.

I decided to go and have a look at the occupation museum next. It's housed in the most miserable-looking building I've ever seen, which I guess is appropriate.

The focus, as you'd expect, is on Stalin, who was responsible for most of Latvia's oppression during the 20th century. You get the rather disturbing impression from the captions that the Latvians have relatively fond memories of Nazi occupation. I think the captions were aiming at "Stalin was sooooo bad, he was even worse than Hitler!" But it tends to come off as "At least under Hitler, we didn't have to put up with X!" The other worry is, tucked away amongst the Crimes of Stalin, a "before" and "after" pie chart of the demographics of Latvia, showing the dramatic increase in the Russian minority. I'm sure Russian Latvians are thrilled to be informed that their very existence constitutes a crime against humanity. Meanwhile, the pathetically tiny and shrinking sliver representing the Livonians goes to show that when it comes to ethnic cleansing, none of us have entirely clean hands.

So that was miserable. I went to get some food and a beer. I'm shocked to discover that the Lat is quite expensive, about equivalent to the pound, so my 15 Lat meals are not cheap. But there doesn't seem to be anywhere to get a cheap meal in Riga's old town. My pork fillet marinated in white wine was good, but I'm not sure it's fifteen quid's worth of good.

For one more bit of touristing, I decided to go up the tower of St. Peter's church. This was, naturally, destroyed during the war, which means it was rebuilt by the Soviets, whose priority was more on proving the futuristic modernity of the Soviet state than sensitively restoring a historical buidling. Thus, the interior of the church is pretty bare, and the way up to the tower is by way of an elevator and some 50s futurist stairs.

Once you get up there, it's basically cramped and windy and Riga isn't all that much to look at, compared to a lot of European cities. But I took my photographs.

And that was my day. Riga seems like a somewhat larger and more cosmopolitan city than Vilnius, which means more tourists, higher prices, and a less interesting old town. But it's nice enough.

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