A World of Laughter, a World of Tears
Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
15Trip End Aug 19, 2011
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Where I stayed
So when I woke up at about 8:00 this morning I was not feeling 100% because I think I am getting tired from all of the overwhelming sights I have seen but nonetheless, I didn't want to waste a single precious moment in this surprisingly beautiful city so without too much delay, I made my way down to the city center where I was ready to take a short but informative bus tour to get an overview and maybe see some things and places I would normally not make it to on foot. Riga has a delightful old town but also has a vast developing area outside the central district and I wanted to see it on my first day, leaving time to go back if it interests me to do so later.
I was roughly 1/2 hour early for the start of the tour so I took a few minutes to look into a couple of gift shops and even to scope out the "Museum of the Occupations," which details the Nazi-era disaster, which devastated not only Latvia but most of Europe. I could tell just from the outside that I shouldn't go in because I am unusually sensitive to the war crimes of that time and it made me sad just to read the signs on the outside.
At promptly 10:00 I was on the bus, ready to start my adventure and I was right in knowing that the bus would take me to places that were too far to walk to and that I would probably not have had time for otherwise. Riga has a lot to show the world and I do believe that 4 days won't be enough to take it all in.
After the tour, which was very informative regarding the history and overall layout of the town, I decided to start my own explorations at the largest market in Europe which is housed in the sight of an old zeppelin factory and takes up nearly an acre of land if not more. The market is unbelievable, using not only the inside area of the old factory grounds but spilling out into the surrounding area, seemingly as far as the eye can see.
In this market you can find literally everything from food to clothing, even furniture, both new and used and the prices are unbelievably low compared with most of the places I've been, in fact, I picked up a dozen poppy-seed bagels for the unlikely price of .50c in their money, which would be under 1.00 in the USA. The exchange rate is something completely ridiculous, that I will never be able to understand!! It took me at least an hour just to stroll through but it could literally take days.
At this time, I was fortunate enough to also stumble upon a filming location for some sort of movie, which looked to be an action-adventure-spy movie, being filmed at and around this market, making the buzz and excitement even more intense... if you can imagine that!!
Continuing on my exploration, I came around the front of the market, through the old zeppelin buildings and ended up in front of the main train station. This is a very modern facility that has been newly renovated to include not only the train station itself, but a shopping center, restaurants and many other unexpected services such as a hospital and even a child care center for children. This is one of the largest and most modern stations in Europe and it is, indeed, quite impressive
So, as it turns out, this entire area is only steps from my hotel and I decided to head back for a minute and drop off my bagels and put some food in my refrigerator but I missed my street because in this area they all look similar. While I was wandering down the wrong street, I happened across a circus!! I know that many people now think that circuses are cruel to animals and even a bit creepy but I remember the circus, as a kid, being an enormously fun and exciting experience and this one is housed in the oldest and largest permanent circus building in the world and is right around the corner from my hotel...I probably won't go but it’s nice in a nostalgic way, to have this particular landmark near me.
After stopping in my room, I then took a lovely walk through a perfectly manicured and flowered park with cute statues and people all about. In front is the national opera house and along the way are waterfalls, rivers and ponds filled with ducks and swans lazily swimming by. The weather was a bit overcast but it didn’t diminish in any way the calming feeling from the green grass and trees.
Emerging at the other side of the garden, I found some interesting buildings, housing an art museum and the institute of art. The architecture was incredible, in fact, there is an amazing and eclectic mix of old and new styles all over the place, making Riga a very interesting city, if just for that one reason.
Riga is a city of parks. As a piece of information, parks take up 19% of the land area whereas industrial buildings and sites take up only 17%
It was now beginning to rain so I took myself back to my hotel for a Jacuzzi bath in my own room!! It is only a 3 star hotel but the quality (of everything) here seems to be very high even if the prices are so low. Something I really dig is high quality at great prices!!
After a very relaxing time alone in my room, I ventured out, down the longest street in the city, heading in the direction away from the center where, there is an older neighborhood exhibiting the old style of wooden buildings which were once associated with poor or working class areas but are now being restored into high-end boutiques and restaurants.
The buildings are so charming in their simplicity, that the younger citizens today, are now interested in upgrading these areas into trendy, hip neighborhoods suitable for young families and they are still within walking distance of the historic center, which is also easily accessible by tram.
By this time, the cloudy skies and my stomach were conspiring against me and urging me to stop for the day.
After meeting with the hotel manager to ask some logistical questions, I plan to hit the sauna and Turkish bath located directly across the hall from my room!!