some notes from Riga, Latvia

Old Oct 1st, 2013, 04:59 PM
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some notes from Riga, Latvia

I had a couple extra days after a work trip in Finland, so I decided to fly to Riga and see the art nouveau architecture. I don't have a real trip report, but I will share some thoughts because so few people talk about Latvia on the board.

I chose FinnAir over AirBaltic so I didn't have to decide/book a checked bag by weight. FinnAir included one checked bag. I often travel only carryon, but wasn't sure on this trip with work and tourist clothes. I flew from Tampere via Helsinki to Riga, then back to Helsinki to overnight before returning to the US. Airport worked fine. Several discount flights with long lines, but not for me.

I chose a family run hotel Edvards out of the city center to be away from the noisy bars in the old town, but still within walking distance of the sights. Hotel was OK, but not quite the gem I expected from Tripadvisor.

There is a shared airport-city hotel express shuttle service operated by AirBaltic that runs every 30 minutes to hotels along a route for 5 Euros. I just walked out of the airport to the island and waited by the sign, paid the driver cash and had an easy ride to a hotel stop near mine. I think I could have asked to be dropped at my hotel even though it was not listed because when I asked the hotel to call to arrange a pick up, they told me the shuttle would pick me up in front of the Edvards instead of the nearby hotel listed on the website. Highly recommend.

I found Riga an interesting if unexciting mix of art nouveau, Soviet, and modern development. I could easily walk between the different neighborhood concentrations of architectural gems, passing older and newer structures, empty lots, and graffiti covered buildings. I found the old town just OK when compared to other European cities with more distinctive medieval cores. Lots of amber jewelry stores along cobblestone streets. I did learn a lot of history in the Occupation Museum from the video, photos, and signs. I found the historical sites associated with significant events such as the Freedom Monument very interesting. I visited the large market by the train station, seeing it as a tourist attraction rather than a serious shopping destination for me, but it is a functioning market for the locals.

I never have trouble finding food, though I thought the prices relatively high for the location. Probably because I was in the tourist areas. I did visit a cheap recommended cafeteria named Lido, but was not impressed. Again, not the gem I expected from reviews, but just OK. Great meal at the Flying Frog, though.

I am so used to European cities where pedestrians are king that it came as a shock that cars do not yield to crosswalks. One driver even gunned her SUV to beat me to a corner so she would not have to wait for me to cross a minor street. It was pouring rain the entire time I was in Riga with standing water deep on the streets through which cars sped, splashing water across 15-foot sidewalks. Definitely need to be careful when on foot.

There were lots of trams and buses, but I did not learn the routes in my short visit, relying on my feet instead.

I found the people in the hospitality and service industries to be neutral to helpful. I didn't have much interaction with people outside of shops, restaurants, etc. but when I dropped a piece of paper on a sidewalk, a woman walked across and picked up to hand to me before I had even noticed I dropped it. Some women asked me for directions, but I couldn't help or even communicate. Yes, no, please, and thank you only go so far. English was sufficient for most of my needs. One shuttle driver knew one English word "please" that he used for every situation. It seemed to work for him.

I never felt unsafe in the tourist areas though I wasn't out past 9pm, so can't talk about late night reveling.

So, I'm glad I went. I am sure I could find a few more days of places to visit and experiences to enjoy in Latvia. But RIga does not rank at the top of my tourist destinations--more of a place to visit if convenient or if along a cruise route, for example. The last time I considering taking this trip, I chose to go to Copenhagen instead and I think that was the better choice, for example.
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Old Oct 1st, 2013, 05:32 PM
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Thanks Kay for your candid and concise report on Riga. Very helpful since we are considering traveling to Latvia (and neighboring Estonia).
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Old Oct 1st, 2013, 06:15 PM
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Sorry you weren't impressed with the Art Nouveau in Riga, I had a lovely time there admiring the buildings and visiting the one house museum. (For others, I have some photos here: http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/...a-art-nouveau/ )

I also really enjoyed the Hotel Edvards - comfortable room and friendly staff, what was your problem with it?

Perhaps you would have liked Riga more with better weather? It's certainly on my revisit list.
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Old Oct 2nd, 2013, 11:32 AM
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Weather definitely "clouds" one's experience, so I agree with you there.

I did enjoy seeing the buildings, but maybe I was jaded from my visit earlier this year to Prague or last year's visit to Alesund, so I was not as impressed as I expected. Certainly some nice individual buildings. I even am interested in seeing the Soviet style buildings. The national library was also worth a view. I just expected more in some way based on the hype.

Hotel Edvards staff didn't tell me when checking in that there was a repair needed in my room. For some reason I checked out the room more than I usually do when dropping off my bag at 2pm and discovered the problem. "Yes, we know about it and it will be fixed today. When are you going to bed?" So, trusting, I went out and returned at 8pm to no repair. "Yes, it will be done tonight." At 9:30pm I dealt with a different person who said "Sorry, we knew at 6pm that they could not repair it today, but we thought you would not mind" sleeping in a room with no covering on the four windows and french doors next to the bed that open to a shared balcony. Me a woman alone. A group of men out on the balcony from the next room. Yeah, right.
Insisting on a window covering or a different room, he reluctantly moved me to a smaller/cheaper room with mold in the shower. But it did have something to cover the window. All I could figure is that he wanted the tariff from the superior room I had reserved and they keep the moldy shower room for walk-ins.
Everything else was OK, just not a special gem in my view. Location good outside the old town, sirens at night were muffled, could hear neighbors because of old building lack of soundproofing, temp in room OK, furnishings basic but OK, breakfast basic but OK, wifi, elevator, computer in lobby to print boarding passes, nice staff.
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Old Oct 2nd, 2013, 12:35 PM
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Well, there's certainly no excuse for that.
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