Thursday, 30 April 2015

Postcards from Riga - tour of Riga Old Town

Latvia is like Finland. Only smaller, prettier, more European and international and, unlike in Finland, everything wine is sold at supermarkets. And petrol stations. So, not at all like Finland, then. 

Latvians on the other hands feel very familiar and Finnish. A bit shy at first and not ones to make a fuss about themselves. You know, self-deprecating, much like my countrymen. Though they have plenty to be proud of - take Olympic Games for instance. This tiny nation has more medals per million inhabitants than any other country in the world. Yes, that's including US and Russia!

In many ways our histories are similar, too. Both small (and by my own admission, rather insignificant, too) nations, throughout our history being tossed around by super powers of the time. Latvia, for instance, has managed to find time to be under the rule of Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Sweden and that Russia, of course. As my own country all too well knows, they just love getting their hands on what's not theirs.

Riga was officially founded already in 1201. Its importance grew even more when the city joined the Hanseatic League in 1282 and still, during the Sweden's rule in 17th century, it was the biggest city in the whole Swedish Empire. 

The Old Town is a charming and colourful mix of buildings and fortresses built between 13th and 18th century.

On an April Sunday the city was very quiet and at times I had the narrow, cobble-stones streets all to myself!

This is one of those places where you should switch off your GPS and stash away that map and just get lost instead. Wander, wonder, explore and adore. Behind every building there's something even more beautiful just waiting to be discovered; a new surprise waiting for you around each new corner. 

And don't forget to lift your eyes up every now and then and adore what's peeking up there...

... or to take a sneaky glimpse through that gate and see what that courtyard is hiding.

Take some time to sit around in the adorable little cafes and restaurants too (you need to keep your energy levels up, after all!) - as you'll soon find out, the city is full of them!

This restaurant (apparently a good one, too!) at the corner of Jauniela and Krāmu iela-streets is one of the most photographed ones in the Old City and I can certainly see why. The street view in front of it is every bit as picturesque, too. Quite possibly the most beautiful street I've ever seen!

For those after architectural eye candy Riga is a candy store. It's famous for its thousands of Art Nouveau-buildings which has won her a place among UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Riga saw a massive building book at the turn of the last century and most of the current city centre was built in the span of just a couple of decades at the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century.

Riga is also home to astonishing number of old wooden buildings (some 4000 of them) out of which oldest ones date back to 18th century. The historic centre is an eclectic mix of old and new: glorious Notting Hill-like buildings towering over run-down little houses with lace curtains peering through the windows.

"The only good thing to come out of the Soviet Era was the fact that they didn't have money to touch these buildings and replace them with something dreadfully modern", The Boy Next Door pointed out. 

I have often (not just in Latvian tourism brochures, mind) hear Riga being called as the Paris of the Baltics and that doesn't surprise me. With this history, rich culture, architecture... Especially in the moonlight the resemblance becomes all the more obvious.

Don't you just love her already? What did you like best?

Hey, where to now? Are you getting hungry? 

Should we check out the markets, explore some more history or sit down and enjoy one of Riga's many restaurants?




1 comment :

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