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Riga, Latvia

Latvia seems like a country that is ready for prime time. It is ready to shrug of the memories of its communist past and head down the path of progress (as the EU defines progress these days). While Estonia seemed ahead in the race to modernization, Latvia is showing every sign of catching up. There are two distinct sides to the city of Riga. One is holding on its beautiful and historic past, while the other is screaming with shopping malls, zippy cars and fast food chains. The divide between the rich and poor is very visible here.

My hostel was right by the river and offered a great view. On evenings, a walk by the river was very refreshing and offered a great view of the suspension bridge.

Promenade along the river

Walk along the river

One of Riga’s famous sights is St. Peter’s Church.

St. Peters Church

Legend has it that the builders threw glass from the top of this church. The number of pieces it would break into, would be the number of years the church would stand. The glass fell on hay and didn’t break. The church came down in a fire the next year !

The old town in Riga is pretty, but very very touristy. Crowds from western europe descend into the city with heavy pockets and support the expensive cafes and restaurants.

Busy square in old town

I took a walking tour in Riga as well. I am beginning to like these walking tours. This is a very good way of seeing the city with someone who possesses local knowledge. At the same time, you also meet other backpackers from all over the world, who are also taking the tour. Our guide was James from Eatriga. He took us to this place called Maskacha (moscow district). Apparently this is a place that is a Russian hangout and the locals avoid this place if they can. What was interesting to see was that this place was devoid of any western influence and hence any development.

Maskachka

We also went by these 4 hangar type buildings. These used to be buildings on a port and housed boats/ships and were used as sites for repair. However, thanks to the industrial revolution, a railway track was built about 50 metres from it on a bridge over a canal. As a result, the boats could not make it to the hangars any more. So they were converted into local markets and are still reminiscent of the soviet era markets. A touch of irony here – while the industrial revolution is blamed for destroying the look of towns, it is responsible for preserving this piece of history !

Hangar or ?

Zeppelin hangar market

Woman in Russian Market

Inside the market

Characters

Some interesting folks I met at Riga.

Tommi Karlsson

This fella backpacked around Eastern Europe and Riga was his last stop before he headed back home to Sweden. He had a rather interesting story. Thailand has this tradition of having Full Moon Parties. Its another one of those things that the westerners inflicted upon asian tourism. These parties are held once a month on full moon day. Tommi was at the last party in 2004 was held on December 26th. If that date sounds familiar to you, it is because it was the day of theTsunami that killed thousands. The party was unaffected by the Tsunami because it was on the other side of the mainland. But still, I find it really interesting, amusing and ironic that while a catastrophe has struck the nation on the morning, 20000 people are partying away into the night on the same day. Unbelievable.

 

Martin and Johannus

I met these two german blokes at my hostel. They started out from their small town in Germany, but can you guess what their intended destination is?

Its Bali…yes, thats right..Bali in Indonesia. They aim to be there for Christmas and New year in 2008. And they are intent on not taking a single flight to get to Thailand. Some people travel, some people explore, but these guys are taking it to a whole new level. They are going to go across eastern europe, all of big Russia, China and then head south towards Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. Gosh, what a trip thats going to be !

More photos are on flickr

Well, thats all for Riga. I then went to visit friends in Stockholm (details in another post) and am now back in Eastern Europe territory in Lithuania.

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