The lat. What's that all about?

Trip Start Jul 11, 2005
Trip End Apr 04, 2006

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Flag of Latvia  ,
Friday, March 3, 2006

Life is short and the world is wide
- Simon Raven

Riga, Latvia.
Prague time +1hr
Days to get to Prague - 5

Latvia and Latvians
Riga, the capital of Latvia and the largest city in the Baltic's, is a major shipping center sitting at the south end of the Gulf of Riga, on the mouth of the Daugava River. Founded in 1201 by German crusaders, the city accommodates a mix of medieval buildings and contemporary office towers and factories. As you might expect there are many similarities between Latvia and its neighbour Estonia, as seen from ground level in the respective capitals of Tallinn and Riga; both cities have UNESCO World Heritage declared and protected Old Towns, both countries have warring pasts of struggle and rebellion in response to foreign occupiers, both have only recently emerged as independent nations from post-World War II Russian rule/oppression and today both are riding a wave of economic prosperity resulting from independence and EU membership, which both countries obtained in 1991 and 2004 respectively. But certain differences between the two countries, its people and its buildings are obvious, even to someone like me who spent less than 24 hours looking around both their capital cities. So without further adieu here's my list of the main differences I noticed between the two Baltic neighbours;

1 - While they both have UNESCO Old Town's, Riga's is more spread out, less defined and less-fairytale looking than Tallinn's (Riga's Old Town is particularly notable for its extensive Art Nouveau architecture). Another observation? Riga's fancy buildings are generally higher than Tallinn's.
2 - Latvians are a more withdrawn race who have to be coaxed into friendship (no doubt a result of decades of oppression),
3 - While the Estonian currency, the kroon, actually sounds like a currency, the Latvian currency, the lat, doesn't. I mean, who calls a currency a lat? And the fact that the lat is valued at about €. 70 make for some weird pricing. As I say in the accompanying pictures, I have issues with currencies that, per unit, are valued higher than the Euro. But that's just being petty, right? Of course.
4 - Where beer is concerned Estonia has Le Coq. Latvia has .... has, umm.. I dunno. Some draft beer we had in the hostel. Both equally nice however.
5 - Riga is seedier than Tallinn. Within minutes of walking the streets on the evening we arrived in the city we had been approached by numerous touts enticing us into their 'gentlemens' club. Don't get me wrong; Tallinn offers revellers plenty of underground (for want of a better word) entertainment (again, for want of a better word) but it seems more in your face here in Riga. No doubt that is thanks to the popularity of Riga with the cancer that is (generalisation alert) the loud, brash, "lager lager" British stag parties (what did it do to deserve that?).

Our Baltic shuffle continued and after a very pleasant Eurolines trip from Tallinn (fare of 200 Estonian kroon, about €13.... in case you're wondering?) we arrived in Riga shortly after 9pm. As I say each and every entry folks, the pictures accompanying this entry tell the complete story. I actually found it hard to come up with stuff to say in this entry. That's mainly because we spent such a short time in the city and most of what we did is, as always, fully covered in the attached pictures. But if I was to summarise Riga it would go something like this; arrived from Tallinn and quickly got accommodation in the beautiful Old Town Hostel (7 lats a night), hit the streets with our cameras (what did you expect us to do?) for some night time exploring, had a few beers in the hostel that evening, woke early the next day to purchase onward tickets (7.5 lats to Vilnius, Lithuania, our next stop), did more exploring (this time in snow drifts), visited a museum detailing the history of Latvian oppression and watched a documentary in the hostel on Hugh Hefner (!) while waiting for the late afternoon bus departure to Vilnius. Henk did most of that with me, except for the museum (we seemed to loose each other in or around Dome Cathedral) and the rising early in the morning bit. He was incapable having spent the early morning hours watching The Butterfly Effect and 'interacting' (I chose that word carefully) with (a) female Latvian(s) in the hostel bar. And of course he loved the Hugh Hefner documentary. Never though I see myself sitting in the basement kitchen of a hostel in Riga watching a documentary on Hugh Hefner with an Australian I met in South Korea some years earlier. Stranger things have happened I guess. I just can't remember any of them right now.
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