Riga, Latvia – Saturday 13th May to Tuesday 16th May
We made our way into Latvia in the time honoured, Baltic way: Lux Express. The Baltics may not have the greatest and most extensive railway network, but their coaches are top notch. Seat-back entertainment, free tea/coffee, and a loo. Lux indeed. The other great thing about coach travel is that it’s reliably cheap. Vilnius to Riga for £11.75 each.
Arriving into Riga we had a bit of a palaver finding the way to our accommodation, but eventually made it. Like Poznan, Riga has an extensive public transport network, but without the visual information to back it up. When visiting, make sure you know your road names is the best advice I can offer. Even with Google’s help we found it a bit of a gamble working out where on earth a particular bus or trolley might be heading. Our Airbnb was a super cheap £17.35 per night in an austere-looking, but really comfy Soviet apartment.
That evening we decided to treat ourselves to cocktails at the Skyline Bar overlooking the city, in celebration of the second birthday of Hannah’s shop, Stag & Raven. In the distance we could see fireworks, and we whiled away the evening people watching on the 26th floor.
Hannah was VERY happy to be in a cocktail bar on the 26th floor!
On Sunday we headed into Riga proper for a bit of a mini walking tour. On our walk to town we started seeing runners with numbers pinned to their chests, and as we strolled along the canal we saw, and heard, why: we’d stumbled into the midst of the Riga Marathon! At the finish line the runners were being encouraged home by pumping quasi-traditional Latvian music, and the sight of young men and women dancing on podiums in traditional Latvian dress; high-fiving the exhausted participants through to the finish line.
Crossing the finish line…
Riga has a very pretty and quite compact Old Town, surrounded by a very clearly Soviet-rebuilt city. Where we were staying was definitely out in one of the more raggedy parts of town, evidenced by the number of street drunks; but the city generally felt like it was pressing rapidly into modernity.
Without any specific plans in Riga we ended up just going for a wander on Monday, too. We walked the length of the canal, and looped around the whole of the city centre.
Amazing old wooden buildings are everywhere in Riga
One key discovery we made (well, two), was at Chili Pica and Double Coffee: the food book. The food book is kind of like what we think of as a menu… but with EVERYTHING! At both these places we were literally overwhelmed with choice. Literally. We could not choose what to eat. I have no idea what the kitchens in these places are like, but they are able to run out a seemingly endless variety of dishes. If you’re ever in Riga and at a loss where to eat because everyone wants something different, try either of these. You can’t go wrong.
Come Tuesday it was time for us to finally head to the countryside again. So, we stocked up on fresh provisions from the Riga Central Market, and hit the road in our first hire car of the trip (£112.25 for a week from AddCar).
Līgatne, Latvia – Tuesday 16th May to Monday 22nd May
Provisioned, with a stop at a supermarket to fill in the gaps, we easily managed the one hour drive out to the Gauja National Park. Latvia has three national parks, of which Gauja was the first, and is the biggest. Compared to Yellowstone or the Lake District, it wasn’t hugely dramatic, but it was peaceful and pretty, which is exactly what we needed. It follows the most picturesque section of the Gauja River; flowing for 281 miles, it is the only large river that both starts and finishes in Latvia. They’re very proud of that.
Our accommodation could hardly have been better. Forest Hug gave us the country welcome we needed (for £41.50 per night). Formerly a traditional Latvian dwelling, our super lovely host, Vilnis, had rebuilt it and modernised it himself, and then done the same to the slightly bigger place next door where he now lived.
The Forest Hug:
We took to the forest like monkeys to trees, hitting Tarzāns Adventure Park the next day. Like Go-Ape, but cheaper, and with next to no supervision, we had a great time balancing, climbing and zip lining through the trees. Hannah left Phil to do the ‘black’ course on his own, which he subsequently described as “just uncomfortable”.
Hannah riding a zip-line at Tarzāns
On Thursday we walked out to the Līgatne Nature Trails. A few miles walk from the village, down to and along the Gauja River, the Līgatne Nature Trails weave through a rescued animal sanctuary with lynx, brown bears, elk, and other northern species. We were amazed by how well the trails had been constructed; well maintained wooden walkways and stairs twisting through the forest made for easy going, the bear enclosures gave the whole thing a distinctly ‘Jurassic Park’ feel. Without the chained up goat. Or dinosaurs.
On top of the 22m lookout tower at Līgatne Nature Trails:
We finished up the week just reading, relaxing, and barbecuing, with a few days ahead of us in Līgatne. We’ve relished having a few days of relative stillness and not continually moving on from place to place. Next week we’ll be leaving Latvia for a couple of weeks in Estonia.
Hannah and Phil x