There are cities that pleasantly astonish you, when you arrive there for the first time. But then there are cities that astonish you every time you arrive there. I have no second thoughts saying that Riga is one of the towns that gets more and more pleasant, every time you go there.
Riga is not a big town, although it is the largest Latvian city. But for those who know that the Baltic States have small populations and tiny land holdings, I don’t need to explain the size of the city.
So this time I came to Riga with my wife and two other friends. We rented an apartment in the old town. It was a nice duplex or kind of a duplex, where the enterprising owner had merged the 5th floor apartment with the attic. But that was not, what mattered!
The real beauty was that you just went down five flights of stairs and you were in one of the best kept old towns in Europe. Well, I will not tell you much about the architecture and historical significance of the town, because for that you have Mr. Google and a lot of other online resources. But I can tell you that a whole apartment, which could house 5 people, for just 55 € per day was the one of the many pleasant surprises that awaited us for the whole stay.
So the first night, after arriving in town and dumping our baggage at the flat, we got out and started looking for some eatery. It was after 12 and Monday, so many of the places had their kitchens closed. It took us some wandering around to find a place in the old town, where we had a wholesome meal at a very low rate.
Whenever you want to visit Riga and you ask people about a good place to eat, they all say LIDO. But believe me LIDO is not the answer. There is a place called PELMENI, which of course serves various types of PELMENI (dumplings). The place is simple, but has all possible types of PELMENI, with variety of toppings and very tender KEFIR (butter milk). One wholesome meal costs way less than 10€. It is a place worth eating at!
By the way if you want to go to LIDO, go to the outlet, which is on the highway (not the one in the old town). That place has very special atmosphere and great beer. But the LIDO outlet in the old town is just another eating place, with no ambience or a dead ambience.
Anyway the first night ended with food and just one drink, because all the places close at or around 1:00 am and by the time we finished enjoying Pelmeni, ti was 10 to one already.
The second day was a totally different ballgame. We had the whole day ahead of us to see the town. We started out early and had our breakfast at the Aspara Tea House. This is a tremendous place, which offers tea, coffee and snacks. This place is a two floor wooden structure right outside the old town, near the railway station. They have great coffee, smiling, welcoming and hospitable staff and chill atmosphere.
On the first floor you have tables and chairs, whereas on the second floor you can take your shoes off and sit on the cushions and relax while having your tea or coffee. This one place, is reason good enough to come to Riga for. But there is one bad thing about this place. Once you go upstairs and sit down, you don’t feel like leaving. It is a time killer!
The rest of the day went flying, visiting various places and making our day worthwhile. At around 21:00 we came back to the flat to relax our bodies a little, before going out for the evening. Obviously, there are tons of places in the old town, to spend the evening. So while we rested at home, we looked into our options and it was a hard decision to make. As always I wanted to go to any one place and spend some quality time with everybody. Mikhail, Anya and Vera had various plans and suggestions, but they all including bar hopping, which I, softly speaking, do not like. So we decided to plan on the go.
As we came out of the building, I heard the sound of some good music coming from the bar next door. I readily suggested to go there and have a beer, before going to some other place. This place was called the Garaža (Garage in Latvian).
We had little bit of hesitation deciding if to sit inside or outside. I was definitely in favor of sitting outside, because of anti-smoking laws. But since three of four votes were for sitting inside, we sat at the bar. And let me tell you for the first time in my life, I am glad that I did not insist. The reason was not only that the atmosphere inside the bar was exclusive and relaxing, but something I always seek in a bar, a good barman.
His name was Raimonds. As it turned out he was also the owner of the place and a very pleasant companion. The fact that the three musketeers did not even hint about going to some other bar, meant that I was not the only one enjoying the conversation.
It took me three and a half seconds to order a beer, but the other three took their time, tasting wines as per Raimonds’ suggestions and finally settled for a young New Zealand wine. I did get a sip of it during the tasting process and I can say that it was soft.But the wine and beer subsided as soon as we started talking to Raimonds. It was very heartwarming to find a person, who liked to talk and a person, who had ideas and thoughts other than TRENDY followings. The time flew so fast that I couldn’t even appreciate the beer and I had no thoughts about taking a shot of tequila. Although I did try to help the others with their second bottle of wine.
I appreciated the beer only in the morning, when I woke up without any hangover or other associated ailments. And yes we did go back to Raimonds’ place to have breakfast, before leaving for the bus station.
Unfortunately, as always my trip was short, but it left vast memories. I will soon go back to Riga to have a good conversation at the Garaža and to of course enjoy the humanly rated beer, which you can drink as much as you want, without depleting your account.
But for now it’s again me, the clouds, rain, cold winds and inhumanly expensive, flat beer and quiet people, in Helsinki.