A Weekend in Riga
It was the quiet time in between Christmas and new year, and there was a weekend in there, so we decided to do the European thing, and get on a bus for 4 hours and go to a completely different country.
Again, this is a big deal for us, because we could travel for almost eight hours back home, and still be in Victoria (including two thirds of that journey being via rail, so faster than a bus).
So on Friday evening, that’s what we did. Time to find some quality kvass!
As it turns out, Riga is the same size, population-wise, as Helsinki. Interestingly, it also features a lot of art nouveau architecture, making it feel even more similar.
The old town doesn’t feel as “old” as Tallinn’s, mainly due to a lot of Tallinn’s old town being characterised by medieval buildings. Nonetheless it was old, pretty, and had a lot of character. The main christmas market was nice, too. It featured arguably a greater variety of food options, and had some cute mini stores you could go through (they were effectively large wooden garden sheds).
However, being a bigger city, you could also feel a bit more commercialisation; there were some major brands with their own stalls. Probably the most welcome one being for Baileys – some pretty cool options to be had!
Finally, for some reason, there was a larger array of alcohol on hand. And not just mulled wines – I mean serious business, like Jägermeister, Kahlua, vodkas, and even some whiskies.
I decided that Riga’s old town shall forever be known as “The Adelaidean Old Town of Riga”, because there are no fewer than 15 churches crammed into its footprint. Some small, some grandiose.
Overall, we didn’t really feel there was a lot to grab our attention in Riga. Sure, it’s charming enough on its own, but there isn’t a huge deal to do.
We checked out the impressive Riga Central Market, which is a fascinating structure made up of 5 former Zeppelin hangars (!). However, a market is a market, and unless you’re there to actually buy the foods, it’s really just a nice place to walk through and breathe in for half an hour.
There was one thing we really wanted to do, which was unfortunately closed, was the KGB building & museum. Just from the TripAdvisor reviews alone, it seemed like a great (albeit harrowing, apparently) place to learn about the history of how they operated during the occupation.
The final thing of note about Riga: casinos. I remember after first exploring Tallinn that there were a lot of casinos. Note that the word casino is used for a venue with poker/slot machines, betting, and the occasional physical card table. I even remarked to one Estonian guy that I thought there were a lot of them, which he sighed at and agreed with.
But then I went to Riga.
Even with the 50% higher population taken into account, it felt like there were waaaaay more casinos around Riga. Even on the bus trip in, you could hold your breath and still count multiple casinos while moving. The most common chain there is Fenikss. Not even the old town is spared from their reach, with two locations there. We have Fenikss here in Tallinn too, but in Riga… Well, let’s just say it felt like that Starbucks scene in The Simpsons: