Having read the guide book throughly prior to our arrival in Riga I knew exactly what we were going to do when we got there. We were going to go around the old town at a leisurely pace taking in the sights, stopping off every so often for a coffee or a beer whilst sitting outside soaking in the sunshine and watching the world go by.
Three things happened which changed this plan:
1) The weather. It kept alternating between torrential downpours and sunshine.
2) The Euro. Everything seemed much more expensive than the prices quoted in my book which was printed pre-Euro. For example, the climb up the church tower of St Peters was eye wateringly expensive so that was scrapped from our itinerary. Food and drink also seemed more expensive, although maybe we had just got too used to the budget friendly prices in Poland and Lithuania? Riga is also a lot more touristy so I guess that would dictate things costing a bit more too.
3) The Riga City Festival was on the same weekend we were there.
We quickly revised our plans to take in the highlights of the old town, the best bits of the festival and then diving into the museum when the main rain for the day had been forecast.
The old town was nice, very different to Vilnius with narrow streets filled with art nouveau architecture. We simply wandered around the rabbit warren of streets taking it all in. It is an absolutely beautiful city architecturally.
Then we moved onto the fun part of the day, the festival! Alan had done a bit of research the night before and had established among the numerous events being held that day there was a 24 hour basketball match being conducted, water bike racing (we were intrigued to find out what a water bike was…), a parade and plenty of live music.
The first thing we saw was the water bike racing. The water bikes turned out to be pedalos. The competitors had to race along the canal, turn around a buoy, pull in at the pier where both participants get out of the pedalo and swap with their team members waiting for them who then do a sprint to the finish line. We were viewing all this from the bridge over the canal where a big crowd had amassed. The crowd would rush over from one side to the other to view the action taking place below. Loads of fun!
Then we moved off from there to a small hill in the park. There we could hear the roar of many engines. We were wondering what on earth this racket was when it clicked. This was the parade. There was a massive convoy of motorbikes which was then followed up with a convoy of classic cars.
It was starting to rain so at this point we abandoned being outdoors in favour of visiting the Museum of the Occupation. This was another very informative, yet slightly harrowing, museum. We learnt in there that the Jewish population of Latvia was decimated in WWII so that by the end of the war only c.1,000 Jewish people remained in the country. Worst of all were the tales about the liquidation of the ghettos which took place over the course of a few days where thousands of people were murdered in mass burial pits. Like I said, harrowing. I still think though that it is important to learn about these past events.
We came out of the museum and looked for something more light hearted to do. There were some giant decorated snails which was a good start:
And then we went to admire the classic cars from the convoy which were all lined up in front of the stage. The American cars in one big group and the Soviet cars in another.
Then sadly it started to rain again very heavily. I was feeling a bit tired after my dancing antics from the night before in a 80’s cheesy nightclub so we called it a day and headed back to rest up before catching our bus the next day to Tallinn.