last year's trip to reykjavik was the most surprising city break i've ever had. the colour, vibrancy and general personality of the town totally blew me away, and the natural high i experienced from that holiday is still with me today. i didn't think that i'd ever find another city that would make me feel like that... but then came riga. at the beginning of the month i spent the last three nights of a six-night, dual-city break in the latvian capital, and i came away overwhelmed. why? let me count the ways.
there's so much colour!
my trip started in berlin, where i hoped to see loads of colour and personality, but unfortunately, was bitterly disappointed. with low expectations from the first three nights of the trip, and some minor troubles at the airport on arrival, the super quick taxi ride to the hotel truuuuuly lifted my spirits. why? i saw nothing but colourful houses, interesting artwork, and incredible architecture everywhere i looked.
from one building to the next - and even occasionally the same building, there were hundreds of different colours. bright orange to pastel blue to the occasional lime green, there was not a single building untouched by colour. and, i'm a magpie for colour. from doorway to archway, i was obsessed with stopping every few metres to snap another green door or pink shingle or apricot shopfront. just... the most beautifully decorated city i've ever seen.
the eclectic architecture
the second most compelling thing to note, is the insane amount of different types of architecture. from your typical old-europe gothic-inspired churches, to the russian orthodox golden domes, and the intricate details on ultra-high gables, there was art in every inch of the structures. the contrast between old and new, traditional and modern, and pre and post war influence was evident on every corner.
we stayed in the art nouveau borough in riga, which encompasses roughly a third of all the central riga buildings. because of this, the latvian capital has the highest concentration of art nouveau and medieval architecture anywhere in the world, which is incredible, and has been listed as a unesco world heritage city to ensure the ongoing maintenance and restoration of these buildings.
the food and drink
soooo, in berlin all we ate was sausage. currywurst, bratwurst, frankfurters, you name the sausage type and we ate it. in latvia though, we had one food type on the agenda: goulash. it's an eastern-european staple, and we wanted it. and yet, that first day, we made a mistake. we ordered lamb goulash soup, and we got soup that was watery and oilky. not goulash, so the next day, we made sure to ask for the goulash, and we definitely got the goulash. and dear lord it was good. rich and flavourful, and full of meat and potatoes, it was everything we wanted, and more.
other delightful foodie treats we encountered were some warm, breaded local cheeses, rosemary-encrusted roast potatoes, and some delightful cheesey, herby bread roll things that came complimentary with a pint. free cheese puffs with a tasty cold pint? oh, you cheeky things! plus, the beer was great. peter's brewhouse was definitely the highlight of all the foodie outings, with their "traditional" look to their range of great beers and food, i'd definitely give it a go. i would avoid drinking anything that has the ingredient "black balsam" in it though, unless you want to end up how i did on that second day... the best part? everything is totally cheap. i spent 50 euros in three days in riga, versus the 120 i spent in the same amount of time in berlin. how? i'll never know.
there's lots of snow!
i'm a magpie for colour, and i'm a sucker for snow - it's the antipodean in me. i didn't grow up with it, so to me it's still a novelty. sure it's cold, and kind of frustrating to walk on, but it suuuure is pretty. it sort of adds an element of whimsy to everything it touches, and - on a nice day, it's easily one of the prettiest weathers one can encounter. walking in the snow is romantic, and ethereal, and i'm a massive fan. so when we landed in latvia to flurries of snow, i was excited.
as much as i'd love to have seen riga in the spring like i would have preferred for berlin, i'm so glad we discovered it in the snow. it seemed more authentic in the snow. and it was just the fresh stuff either, it had clearly been cold for a number of weeks as the lakes and parks were totally frozen over. we walked past chunks of ice that had broken away in blocks, and there were layers and layers of the stuff, from different times the lake had frozen, and melted, and frozen again. it was really beautiful!
it's weird and wonderful
a lot of the city is nonsensical, and it's bloody marvellous. there's a giant statue of a chimp in a cosmonaut outfit in the middle of the main park, and we can't figure out why. there was no plaque, or description, and it wasn't until we googled it that we discovered more about it. i mean, i still don't know why it's there, but it's there. it's awesome. and there was a disco snail sculpture in the same park. a disco snail! then there's the cat house. it's a big deal. like, all the souvenir's have cats on them, all because of this one house that has two cats on top of it that have their tails raised in the direction of the town hall. it's crazy funny, but like - why is that their thing? who knows.
what i do know is that i fell involve with riga the moment i laid eyes on it, and that's only ever happened a few times in my life. love at first sight - for me anyway, is restricted to puppies and european cities, it seems. and i for one, am ok with that.
have you been to latvia? i'd love to hear what you thought in the comments!