The One with Riga, Latvia


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

After a lovely day in Tallinn, our ship sailed off and overnight we traveled to Riga, Latvia. It was smooth sailing the whole trip, so much so that we'd have to open the window drapes to see if we were still moving.
I guess since our boat was so big we couldn't use the normal cruise port right by town. Instead, we docked in the middle of nowhere and had to pay a bunch to take a shuttle into town.
We passed by the National Library of Latvia which was just completed last year.
Crossing the Daugava river towards the old town.
After about a 20 minute shuttle ride from the boat we arrived! Tons of tour representatives were out trying to gin up business.
Riga is the biggest city of the Baltics and is an underrated gem. It has a charming but not cutesy Old Town, a sprawling real-world market, a smattering of good museums, and the finest collection of fanciful Art Nouveau buildings in Europe.
The shuttle let us out right by Town Hall Square. This space is arguably Riga's main square, despite being a little smaller than the town's Cathedral Square. After WWII when this area was devastated, Soviets rebuilt in an ugly, blocky style. But after independence, the Latvians set about restoring the square to its former glory. I'd say they've succeeded. I was most looking forward to seeing these buildings and we saw them right off the bat! The day was off to a good start.
This building is the highlight of the square. The so-called House of Blackheads is made of vibrant red brick liberally sprinkled with gilded decorations. It was a guildhall of a merchant society and was originally built in 1334.  
Selfie in front of the House of Blackheads in Riga! You'll notice that we only have one of two children with us. Since we didn't dock until around 10:00am that morning we let Fox go up to the kids area after breakfast. When we went to go get him to go on our adventure he said he wanted to stay and play with his friends. Dude. Only four years old and already he'd rather play with his friends than hang out with his lame parents. Sad :(
Across the square from the guildhall is the stately Town Hall.
Two other sights are near the square: on the left is the Monument to the Latvian Rifleman honoring soldiers from WWI. On the right in the photo below is St. Peter's Church, which was our next stop. 
The church has an austere Lutheran interior.
But it also has an elevator to the top of the tower with outstanding views.
My favorite thing to do while traveling.
Lovely Latvia.
We could even see the Freedom Monument and the Orthodox Church.
In front of the church was a cool horse sculpture that Jane wanted to ride. "I'm a cooowboy!"
Cool bus. They're giving Luxembourg a run for their money.
Behind the church were some vendors and we found our super cute magnet right here before continuing on.
The Evans girls strolling in Riga.
I loved the flowers lining the outdoor seating of this cafe.
On Livu Square is the famous House of the Black Cat, one of many Art Nouveau structures around town. While the building itself is relatively tame, its corner turret is topped with a cat with its back arched defiantly, supposedly placed there as an offensive gesture towards a guild that denied its creator membership.
Close up of the cat. It a common symbol of the town, even our magnet has it!
And then we found the most delicious ice cream we've had in Europe. Sorry Italy. But this stuff, the raspberry in particular, was amaaaaazing. And it was so cheap! Actually, all of the Baltic countries were very affordable, especially after coming from Stockholm and the like.
All down the wide Brivibas Bulvarias, a wide promenade, was a three-on-three basketball tournament. It was a party and Jane liked the "big baseball." Close enough.
Another shot of Livu Square. It was so pretty having this pastoral garden right in the middle of the city. 
We strolled past all the kids playing basketball, enjoying our amazeballs ice cream, and made our way to the towering Freedom Monument. Dedicated in 1935, this monument features Lady Liberty, here nicknamed Milda, holding high three stars representing the three regions of Latvia. At the base of the tower, strong and defiant Latvians break free from their chains and march to the future. It is the symbol of independent Latvia and two soldiers stoically stand guard at the base.
Behind the monument was the absolutely beautiful French embassy. It was très beau.
The end of our trek was the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. One of the cool things about this trip was getting to see these Orthodox churches. They are so unique and different compared to the churches in western Europe.
During the Soviet period, when the atheistic regime notoriously repurposed houses of worship, the building was used as a planetarium and "house of knowledge." While the interior is far from original - it was gutted by the Soviets - it's serene and otherworldly.
Another delightful thing about Riga is the lovely manicured parks that hem in the eastern edge. The parks line up along a picturesque stream that was once the fortified city's moat.
After all the walking (we didn't bring the stroller since we didn't have Fox and Jane never wants to ride anyway), Jane was jonesing for a Happy Meal. It was only €2.50 for the meal! For comparison's sake, in Germany Happy Meals are €4.
After satiating our daughter's hunger, we headed out and found the Powder Tower. This once housed the town's supply of gunpowder and defended that cache well over the centuries as nine Russian cannonballs from the 17th and 18th centuries are supposedly embedded in the walls. 
Nearby are former soldiers' barracks in a long yellow building that is now a row of shops and cafes.
We strolled down an ankle-twisting alley called Trokšnu Iela which was paved with rocks originally carried as ballast on big ships.
Chris diligently studying our trusty Rick Steves in front of the Latvian parliament building.
We passed by the "Three Brothers," a trio of the oldest surviving houses in Riga. The oldest, white house has minuscule windows dating from the 15th century when taxation was based on window size. The yellow one is newer from 1646, and the green narrow one is the newest from the turn of the 18th century. 
Cool beans I tell ya.
Blue-topped church = love!
The scaffolded-corner of the Riga Castle.
Our last stop of the day was Cathedral Square, lined with the lovely Art Noveau old stock exchange, the enormous cathedral, and cafe tables spilling out over the cobbles in every direction.
The facade of the old stock exchange, now a museum.
Riga's cathedral. With additions built over the ages it is a hodgepodge of architectural styles.
Jane and Chris in Riga, Latvia on Sunday, August 2nd, 2015.
The back of the cathedral.
Here's another shot of the darling Town Hall Square for good measure.
And that concludes our time in Riga, Latvia. Another city that was SO much more amazing than I expected!
Next destination: Klaipeda, Lithuania.
Paige Taylor Evans © // Quinn Creatives DESIGN