A Travellerspoint blog

Latvia

Zooming in and out from Riga

all seasons in one day 23 °C

This particular trip was supposed to take place in December. During the Fall/early winter both of us were itching to travel and I thought that it would be cool to see Christmas Market in Riga. So I booked us flights. And then covid shut places down, again. We had two options, either we could go and spend the time inside our hotel room or I could move the flights to different dates. Obviously, I changed the flights, and because I don’t have too much time off from work, I moved them to July when I knew I would have my summer holiday this year.
And July is now!
Or, actually it was couple of months ago to be honest, since I am writing this after my summer holiday. But I will do my best to stick on the present sense!

Wednesday

The problem with booking flights months and months before your actual departure when you live so far from the airport than we do is that you can’t check timetable for the trains beforehand, so there is mighty possibility for you needing to wake up before the crack of dawn to get in to your train.

Ours was to leave 5:20AM so we needed to be up just little after 4AM to have enough time to drive to the train station, but we managed, and I wasn’t even my usually morning- grumpy self, I am so much in the holidaymode! Even the fact that even the restaurantcart wasn’t awake yet couldn’t dampened my mood! It did open eventually, and I got my morning coffee, but we had been up for hours by then!

We eventually reached Helsinki-Vantaa airport and headed Lounge. First time for both of us. I wasn’t very impressed of their food selection (just oatmeal, salad and bread with very limited options to top it) but drinks were good, not wide selection, but what was there, was good and they had comfy seats and big windows to look at planes.

In Riga, weather was hot. Or maybe not hot exactly, but we were overdressesd in jeans and t-shirts. We hopped on the bus to get to our hotel, from the airport. Hotel Monte Kristo was located in the Old Town, near the Central Train Station. At reception we were greeted by lovely Anna who made us feel welcome. Our room was nice too, we had yacuzzi and breakfast nook. I haven’t actually never been in a hotel room this big before!

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Our Hotel

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Breakfast Nook in Our Hotel

We quickly changed jeans in to an shorts and by the time we reached hotels terrace it was already raining. We contemplated our options while having beers. Change of clothes before dinner was the conclusion we got.
We wandered in to Old Town in our search for a food. Which we founded too, but doe to our early start, we were understandably tired and didn’t explore much after dinner. This is starting to form in to a bad habit, these early nights in on a holiday!

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Old Town

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Inside of the restaurant

Thursday

Breakfast was served in a very beautiful but small-ish, stonewalled room in the hotel’s basement. Buffet-style service was set in to the far end of that room and nearest tables were situated just by the setting forming kind-of bottleneck in to the service-area but food was still good and luckily there weren’t too many people around.

Central Train Station took some looking. We didn’t realize at first that it was inside of Shopping Center but we found it, got our tickets too and even needed to wait for our train! Our destination was Turaida Castle and Google was our friend while looking for transportation. Which meant (what I didn’t think about at the moment) that it (google) showed us Terminus of the line we wanted (Valga) and not the stop we needed to exit the train (Sigulda). Fortunately, Toni started to track our progress in his phone, if he weren’t, we would have travelled all the way to Estonia! Back home train ride like that (Riga-Valga, appr. 4 hours) is somewhere around 30-40 euros and in Latvia it was under 6 euros, so we didn’t even have that “Hey, this is way too much”-feeling while paying. So, thanks to Toni, we hopped off on the right station which was Sigulda, not Valga (!) and walked near-by bus stop where we got our ride up to the Castle. Which wasn’t too expensive either, 70 cents per person.

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At the Riga train Station

Turaida means The Garden of Gods in the old language of liv-people. The castle estate is quite big and it is situated in the Gauja National Park, you could easily spend a day exploring the place and still you would have new things to see the next time you visit. Point of all old Livonian castles and estates were to collect taxes and the estates grew around the castle. In here there are church and several other buildings besides the castle.

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At Turaida

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At Turaida

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In the Turaida Museum...

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...sadly all the descriptions were in latvian...

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..so I just took pictures!

Albert, the Bishop of Riga started building the castle in 1214, when there stood only Livs wooden stronghold. Its defensive system was built during the 13th century and the Archbishop often used the castle as residence and shelter. And for good reason, the castle is built on a hill and surrounded by wall. One path leads to the castle which walls are in elongated formation and steep hill being the backdrop of its longest side making it hard to conquer.

Doe to careless gunshot the castle took fire on 1776 and all its wooden structures were burned and the castles military significance being lost in the last century and the castle being now private property those burned structures weren’t restored.

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Turaida Castle

In 19th and 20th century castle got the eye of the historians and eventually its remaining buildings, Main Tower, Semi-round West Tower and West Block were restored and opened for the public. Turaida Castle is one of the most archeologically investigated medieval castles in the Baltic region and its visitors are glad for that. Or at least I am. You are able to climb to the top floor of the Main Tower. The stairway is steep and narrow so I kept whistling every time I started another flight so, if there were someone at another end, they would know that someone is coming. The stairs were so narrow that you wouldn’t be able to pass anyone and dark enough so you wouldn’t see if someone was coming or not (the tower being round and the stairs built on its flank). But the view of River Gauja winding its way through surrounding forest is worth the climb!

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Beuatiful views

The estate is vast and the castle being located in the farthest corner we started our exploring from there, just quickly peeping inside the church bypassing the path towards the Folk-Song Park. From the castle we backtracked our steps and headed to the Park.

Turaida is said to be full of folk songs, song about work, nature and fatherland and it was the emerging place of Singing Revolution (1987-1991) which lead to the independence of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Folk Song Park is a project of sculptor Indulis Ranka, and there are several of her sculptures in the park which was opened to the public in summer 1985. The additional Folk Song Garden was made in 1988 when it was clear in Baltica Folklore festival that more space was needed and amphitheater.

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Folk Song Park

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Folk Song Park

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Folk Song Park

Both the Park and the Garden made for a lovely walk.

I really had thought that we could include some of the forest trails in the National Park and Turaida Castle in to this same visit but I just didn’t realize how vast the Castle estate is and how much time it would take to look around so when I spotted that Krišjānis Barons Trail headed outside from the Folk Song Park and in to the foods, and it would be only 300 metres long I persuaded Toni to take it with me. Why I needed to persuade him, you might ask. Well, he wasn’t too keen to head downhill heading trail which seemed to be consisted partly, if not only, from stairs when we had just come down from 27 meters high tower. But we did it anyway, because of my awesome map reading skills (can you just smell the sarcasm in the air?), convinced even Toni that you could make a shortcut back to the Park if you wanted.

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Barons Trail

Krišjānis Baron was one of Latvias most beloved writers being remembered as father of the Dainas. His lifetimework includes collecting and publishing
217 000 Latvian folksongs in eight tomes called Latvju Dainas. So, you could say that he is Latvian equivalent of Finlands Elias Lönnrot who made Finlands national epic, Kalevala. But that’s just me boasting that finns have some famous authors too! Dedicating his lifework to Latvian folksongs, he is definitely earned a Trail named after him in this particular park. The trail is said to be in place of the exact path which Baron used walking through Turaida valley on his travels.

But there weren’t any shortcuts and we ended up walking in total 712 step of stairs going down the hill and back up again. As far as my nature trail experiences go, that was just a wee bit boring. Just stairs, but maybe mr. Krišjānis Baron was a big fan not only of literature but of stairs too.

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Tree Circle

However, we found another nature path across the Park of Mr. Barons Trail and there weren’t but couple of stairs. Well 200, but who’s counting? What there were even more than stairs, was gnats. Whenever I slowed down to take a picture or look something they were on me like piranhas. Among gnats, there were two springs and lot of frogs in that forest, and signs telling you stories about the forest. Me being surrounded by bloodsuckers I just snapped photos of these signs to read later.
There were these little tasks for you to do while being in the forest like trying to walk with your eyes closed (because in olden times you didn’t have streetlamps and you would still need sometimes travel during dark) or wash your face in the spring (ancient belief tells that it makes you more beautiful). I did climb on the stone and mimic a bird, that was the only sign I did read in the forest. I did perfect impression of species called homo sapiens, there was someone else whistling in the woods too!

One story told that in these woods lives evil spirit who misguides you on your travels. The sign told that you can see this spirit if you bend over and look the trail behind you between your legs. If you don’t see anything, you can bravely go onwards. It’s a shame that I read this particular sign on the bus going back to train station, now we never know if there was evil spirit on our tails or not!

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Evil Spirit?

Despite our lack of knowledge about lurking evil spirits, we did emerge from the forest near the amphiteathre where some sort of happening was starting, there were people and even cameramen with their vans! We didn’t stick around to see what was happening though. This being yet another beautiful, sunny and very warm summerday and our mad rush to get away from those bloodsuckers (okay, okay, not a rush, just very fast walk!) was starting to make us a bit tired so we started our way towards the bus stop.
We would miss the old sauna building and the herb garden but that couldn’t be helped! I was itching to sit down and have some tea! Albeit on our way to the bus stop I couldn’t resist the urge to take a couple photos of the herb garden! It was interesting, there was explanations how you could use the plants there were! But my craving for tea couldn’t be persuaded, not even by nature remedies!

The bus stop was another matter. On our way to the Castle, the bus didn’t stop to leave us at the bus stop but, dozen of meters away from it so we weren’t 100% sure would the bus stop by the bus stop or somewhere else. There were road works going, and couple of military personnel supervising the traffic. One of the military guys knew where the bus was stopping so after waiting a while, we were on our way to get me that tea!

The train ride back wasn’t as eventful as the ride there and after getting back to Riga and stopping for a while at the hotel we were back on our feet and looking for food. We have got a tip for a good restaurant which may or may not be open. The tip was about the restaurant being good, not it opening times. Opening times were google vs restaurants websites. Google said it to be closed and their own websites stated that they are open. When we got there, we noticed for my chagrin that google was right. So, we found another place to eat and got back to hotel to try that yacuzzi!

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Little detour in Old Town

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Little detour in Old Town

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Me on old town

Friday

One of the first search results when you google “Day trips from Riga” is Jurmala. It consists of 25 kilometers long strip of beach and several towns. We had planned that yesterday and today we would be touring further away and our last days in Latvia, we would roam around Riga and since yesterday we were in Turaida, today we would visit Jurmala. The weather looked so grey when we left that neither of us even packed a bathing suit even our destination being a beach.

Our train journey was another adventure. I wanted to see the Turtle-sculpture and I even had an address for it, which I gave to Toni. If you wonder why, he is my navigation system. So, we hopped in train, this time we got tickets to the right station and hopped of on right one too. Toni opened the google maps again to notice that we were 10 kilometers away from the Turtle. We had two options, either wait for another train to get us nearer, or walk. We opted to walk and see what’s there besides sand. We found a path which went through forest and ended in the beach. And guess what we found there? Sand. And seagulls. Even witnessed one fight (among seagulls).

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On our way to the beach

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On our way to the beach

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Nearly there

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Nearly there

The beach indeed, were very long and we were practically at the very end of it. I could see how this place would be on a sunny day, packed with people enjoying sunbathing and swimming. On our walk we encountered couple runners and saw even few kids brave enough to go in the water in this weather. It wasn’t cold exactly but I would still prefer to leave swimming for sunny days!

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Beach Fight

Walking maybe 3 or 4 kilometers and it was time to stop on the first beachside restaurant and have a little powwow if we were actually going to walk all the way to the Turtle. As we were contemplating this, girl from the next table started to chat with us. She was from Finland too. She had ordered fries, that being the only thing the guy from the counter knew how to do. Summer trainee perhaps?

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Back at the train station

After coming to conclusion walking taking too much time, we departed and headed towards train station. Via train it didn’t take long to us reach Majoris, hometown of that infamous Turtle. And one of the, if not the most beautiful train station I have ever seen, sitting right next to water. Town itself was very picturesque too! We found the Turtle right there where it should be. I tried to find story behind this bronze statue but all I got was that turtle represents longevity and had been symbol for Jurmala since 1995. Acquainted with the Turtle we were ready for something to bite and there were plenty options to choose from.

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Majoris

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Majoris

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Jurmala Beach

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Good Day Mr. Turtle!

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Beautiful Majoris Train Station

Happy in one of the many patios in town I opted to try something traditional for Latvia, stew with bacon and peas. Flavor was good (you can’t go wrong with bacon), but texture a bit dry. I also learned afterwards that Christmas had come early since it is traditionally served during Christmas, hah.

I had seen on google maps that there were Aussie backpacker bar situated near our hotel, so back in Riga we went to check it out. And not in vain, It, was quirky and awesome! They had hippie van parked inside and sold beer out of it. I sat a while on the windowsill (don’t worry it was sturdy enough!) writing postcards and watching one bachelor group and their shenanigans.

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Aussie Bar

The bar was two-storeyed and upstairs they had boardgames. I spotted Scrabble among them and Toni agreed to play with me, even the game being in English. Playing in Finnish we are quite equal but he knew that my English vocabulary might (okay, most likely, hah) triumph his. There were two set (or maybe even three) of tiles mixed in the same bag so we divided them and used only ¼. We might very well still be playing if we hadn’t. Toni was so pleased to realize that he does know words and are able to use them! I knew that all along but this is one of the perfect examples of famous Finnish humility! So strong that it can even obfuscate oneself.

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Evening walk

Saturday

On the agenda today was to find some Giant Snails which I had read about from my friend Sarah’s blog. Albeit the blog post was written few years ago, so they might not be here anymore. About these snails. They were part of this exhibition Art needs space. Dozen or so snails were dropped around the city, and our hunt started where Sarah had last seen them, Ratslaukums Square (Town Hall Square) and Līvu Laukums / Kaku nams (Cat House).

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Kaku nams

First part of our search was in vain, and when it started to rain, we headed for cover. Which meant of course beers and and some games. When rain just kept on coming, we ordered some appetizers to share and just enjoyed being.
I asked our waiter had he seen any snails around, and he had. He had even moved them on couple of occasions while partying with friends. One of the things about these snails was that they moved, you see. I am not sure if they had some kind of wheels or were they light enough to carry, I didn’t think to ask and now its bugging me.

Though, last time he had seen one wasn’t recently, but he was happy enough to give us directions where was the last sighting. The Hunt continues!

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Looking for those Snails

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No Snails here

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Is this how you search for Snails?

Our quest took us to harbour and area where was food- and drink-booths and tables scattered around. I was little bit sorry that we had already eaten, I would have liked to try something but just wasn’t hungry at all. Luckily there were just enough room for one beer. The guy at the beer booth did know that there weren’t any snails around anymore so that was that. I had still had a nice day hunting them!

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Nice outside sitting area at the harbour

Sunday

This morning we searched post office. I want to mention sending postcards because I thought that Latvian stamp system was bizarre. They had different stamps to different countries which wasn’t odd itself but what struck me peculiar was that it cost more to send postcard to Finland than it was to Australia! Who doesn’t see the peculiarity in this I want to remind you that Finland is under 700 kilometer away when it is over 13 000 kilometers to Australia.

This was also our last full day in Riga and I had a date with Rita. We met in Newcastle VT Meet and she had time to come to visit me. She knew a lot about her country and Riga and told me stories as we walked around.

Churches were everywhere and one of the churchbells had said to start to ring everytime unfaithful wife walks bye, so women started to avoid walking there just in case.

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Infamous church bell

We peaked in one of the museums where she pointed me a gondola hanging from the sealing. In Venice this gondola had sailed the same route every day for years, decades even, and Russian artist wanted to made its life more interesting by taking it to longest journey of its existence. Now it is taken apart and hang from the ceiling of this museum on its way to the stars.

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Sailing to the Stars!

Rita showed me where the street level had been on the dawn of Riga, almost 2 meters lower than they are now! She knew that during siege of Riga in 18th century, local girl fell in love with one of Swedish soldiers camping outside the city walls. One night she was left on the wrong side when the gates closed for the night and she got caught and was killed. Her ghost is haunting the place even now always during full moon.

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Ghost at the City Wall

It seemed to me that Rita enjoyed showing me around her former hometown and in particular telling me about its architecture and art nouveau style. If you would ask me what she told me about the buildings I could tell you that you weren’t allowed to build taller than 5-storeys, during soviet occupation many of the more valuable buildings were taken under soviet ownership and after Independence state of Latvia got ownership of these buildings. Old owners could get them back if they had sufficient proof of ownership. I could also say that one particular architect had designed several of the buildings and that that art nouveau have had some inspiration from Helsinki. A lot of fine details had got also lost during soviet era, for example the cats in Kaku nams are not originals but replica. Also many details which Rita told me got lost inside my head, never to be seen again, thats me and my brain fro you, hah.

During our wandering, or to me it was wandering, Rita knew all along where we were going, it started pouring and we needed to take cover but luckily the day was warm and the sun started to shine soon after the downpour.

We said our goodbyes after cup of coffee and I went to see what Toni was up to.

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Me and Rita in the rain

At this evening we went to see new Minions Movie in the Theatre. Before you get to say anything, children movies got good humor for adults too. Or it could be just us but we enjoyed it a lot. Originally, we couldn’t choose and tossed a coin between Thor and Minions, getting Thor. In the theatre, it said that it was 3D which neither of us enjoys so we switched it to Minion. At the beginning of the Movie there were group of well-suited young men who got up and said something in Latvian, which we of course didn’t understand. I would have liked to know what that was about! After the movie, everyone started applauding, it would also be nice to know if that was common after every movie or did it had to do something with the boys with the suits? There’s a puzzle to keep me up at night!

Monday

Still had a bit time between breakfast and our flight so we got to see Riga’s Central Market. Having nothing to buy we just wandered around a bit and took bunch of photos before we had to leave.

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Central Market

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Central Market

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Central Market

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Central Market

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Central Market

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Central Market

Posted by hennaonthetrek 08:14 Archived in Latvia Tagged #beach #oldtown #fortress #turaidacastle #sigulda #trains #jurmala #turtle #riga Comments (6)

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