Riga, Latvia


Riga, the capital of Latvia is a sophisticated European City with all of the attractions and facilities one would expect to find in such a city. Having said that it is still struggling to recover from soviet dominance and although much reconstruction has been accomplished in the old city, restoration work is still underway in many areas.

The old city is mostly closed to cars except those on official business or the occasional taxi (which charges a premium) so walking everywhere on the cobblestone streets means wearing good solid flat heeled shoes, although the Riga business women seem to manage to totter around on spike heels and very pointy toed shoes.

Flower stalls abound in all parts of Riga and flowers are the gift of choice when visiting someone in their home. Just as many men as women can be seen walking around the city carrying a pretty posy or an armful of long-stemmed roses. Not something it is normal to see in Canada.

Dress is much more formal and business people seem to have very few but very good clothes. There is no disgrace in wearing the same clothes two or even three days in a row. If you did that in a Canadian office the comment would be "Ha and where did YOU sleep last night"

Dressing up for the opera and the ballet makes the occasion much more fun and the Russian people, who seem to be very flashy dressers anyway, really come into their own. Lots of sparkles, gold lame and bare flesh.

The opera house is truly magnificent, having recently been restored to its former glory. The opera is very popular in Riga and some performances are interesting and different to those usually seen in Canada. Ballet and classical concerts are also frequently performed and the price of the tickets is about 25% of what we pay in Canada. I have seen a number of performances during my stay here and I notice one strange thing, there is always a red iron bedstead as a prop in every show and a lot of the action seems to take place around this bed. It may just be that many operas contain scenes of dying but I have really noticed so much use of a bed on stage before.

In the summer, sidewalk cafes abound and for the price of a drink or a cup of coffee you can sit and watch the "street theatre" as casual entertainers perform their acts. This is a popular way for musicians from the symphony and singers from the opera to make extra money so the quality of performances are often outstandingly good.

Riga also has lots of restaurants, mostly at prices on a par with ours at home and there is lots of selection as many menus are a dozen pages or more in length. In fact I usually get tired of reading the menu and just mention something that I feel like having, with a reasonable assurance that it will be on the menu somewhere.
One of my favourite restaurants is a very elegant fish restaurant with a bridge going over a large fishpond at the entrance. It is however a little disconcerting to see a waiter walk through the restaurant with a fishing net in his hand and returning with a large wriggling fish in it.

I have another favourite place, a small jazz café that makes wonderful potato pancakes with red caviar and sour cream. Although I have been there a number of times and actually have got to know the owner, for some strange reason I am never acknowledged by the waiters. The musicians on the other hand wave cheerful greetings and often burst into one of my favourite tunes. One day I went into the hotel de Roma, one of the best hotels in Riga, and discovered the same musicians playing in the lobby. They greeted my arrival with much waving of hands, rather to the amazement of the other guests who then assumed that I was also a popular local entertainer.

E-mail is available and Internet Cafes abound, although getting a line out during the day can sometimes be a challenge. Still it was fun to hang out in the cafes and see the locals intent on their noisy internet games, while waiting for a connection.
Changing money was an interesting experience. I had good old US greenbacks with me but some of them were too old being prior 1990 (did you know that the US greenbacks changed design in 1990 and that earlier ones are easier to forge?). Some of my notes were not in perfect condition, with the odd stamp or over-printing on them. To exchange these would have cost 50% sur-charge so I brought them back home and used ATM machines, which are everywhere in Riga..

Latvia is rich in history and has many interesting castles and monuments. There are organized tours from Riga to many places of interest. . Some of the coastal resorts are well worth a visit in the summer and many of the beaches are peaceful and relatively unpopulated. Buses and trains are quite plentiful to these areas. It is worth the effort to get out of Riga and see some of the old towns and cities.

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