Latvia and the beach town in winter. 

Today we only had a few hours to make the most of our last day. Especially factoring in the lie in and subsequent feast at breakfast. We decided we had seen everything we wanted to in the city so once again we hopped on a train. Today we were travelling West towards the Baltic sea, through the Riga suburbs and countryside. It’s a seaside town around 30 minutes out from Riga centre by train.

We arrived at our stop, Majori and disembarked the train. We followed the crowds across to a park and veered off to look at a statue of a viking killing a dragon.

We walked straight down towards the sea past a dodgy looking 70s style hotel and emerged with a stunning view. After taking the obligatory pictures with a bronze turtle we stepped onto the soft white sand and went straight for the waves. The sun was out and we could see over to Estonia, we thought it would be freezing but it was fine.

We strolled up the beach looking for Baltic amber but only finding the same shells, seaweed and flotsam. The beach was quite busy with Sunday strollers and as we turned back we walked along the top of the beach, turning off to head inland.

Jurmala is very pretty with lots of cute coloured buildings made of wood often with a turret or tower of some sort attached. The main street is filled with restaurants and shops including little market stalls in wooden sheds. We stopped for the now obligatory coffee and cake which was, as always, divine.

There was also a gallery which we thought we’d have a quick look in and needn’t have bothered, along with the cultural centre which housed some interesting photos of Latvia but not much else. As we walked back to the station the sun was slowly going down which gave us a great view over the river of the fishermen out in their boats.
The train back was uneventful but we noted how efficient all the transport services were.

Arriving back in Riga we attempted to find a beaver in the parks along the canal but again only managed to spot signs they were about. I had read that they were becoming a nuisance in the city, one report stated a man had even been attacked by one!

This was our last wander and we picked our luggage up and, after a slight error in bus stops we were back on the 222 for 2E to the airport with the sunsetting on our journey.

The trip was wonderful, people and place were warm and friendly with enough to keep us occupied  The festival of light was a real surprise and treat to be involved in it all. Next stop in December….Lithuania!

Latvia and the latest Welsh bobsled team. 

We were up and ready for breakfast just past 7 before finding out it didn’t start till half past on a Saturday! We sat, waited then rushed in and quickly ate/grabbed a load of breakfast items. The train left at 7:54, luckily for us the station was only 5 minutes walk away and we soon had our tickets and had found the platform. The train was waiting for us in the dark morning gloom so we got on and the it was soon trundling off through soviet high rises and deep into birch and pine woods.

The journey to Sigulda takes just over an hour and it was fun going through the baltic forest trying to spot deer and other animals. Unfortunately we didn’t see any wildlife on our way. Sigulda is a small town with lots of hiking, biking and winter sport activities. It cost just 7E return for both of us. We arrived just after 9am and took the main st following the signs towards our first destination. We had read about a cable car taking you across the valley towards old castle ruins and a relatively new manorhouse. The cable car building seemed deserted till a man came out to let us know it opened at ten. With some time to kill we looked out over the valley towards a castle poking out of the trees high up on the opposite side. Eating our little breakfast qe wandered over to look at the new sigulda castle through the trees and back in time to be the first and only to cross in the cable car.

(Sigulda)

It was actually a smooth journey over the huge river and trees lining it’s banks. There was even a bear waiting high up in one tree that we passed over.

Arriving on the other side we had a look at the ruins, crossing a lovely wooden bridge to get to it before descending down the steep hillside on wooden stairs that seemed never ending.

From here we followed a trail towards a cave we had read about where a healer once lived, using the fresh spring water to heal ailments once upon a time. The walk was lovely past ponds and little streams with bridges criss-crossing over them. The cave was more of an indent in the cliff face, only going around 18metres back but it was interesting as hundreds of years of carving were in the rock. It was funny to think that people basically wrote ‘I was here 1652’!

Our walk now took us down to the river where we kept our eyes out for beavers and more wildlife without really seeimg anything but signs that they could have crossed paths with us at some point.

The trail on our map took us back towards the other side of the river, past some currently unused ski slopes and a tarzan park which looked quite fun. I realised our destination was unavailable from this side of the hill so we had to walk through the woods and round the side of the valley, back up around 400 steps to the summit and the edge of Sigulda town.

Our destination was an old olympic bobsled track that you could use for the princely sum of 10E. We were given a couple of helmets, sat in a padded bob sled with a Latvian family, and pushed down without a driver, a 30 second instruction course shouted at us, and it was so much fun! We zoomed down on the ice, banking high up on the walls of the track, hurtling downhill. Mum always says she hates theme park rides but really enjoyed this as we reached the bottom in record time. Look out for us at the next Winter Olympics!

We were driven back up the hill and took an opportunity to take some pictures of us in a real bobsled before continuing on our little journey back into Sigulda town.

Luckily the road we were on took us right back to the station, and with an hour to kill we munched on pancakes filled with spinach and feta, mozzarella and tomato and served with a spoonful of sour cream. Just what we needed to refuel after our hike, I also had a slightly large slice of cake….

(Pancakes)

On our journey back we watched the Arsenal – Man Utd game on the train wifi and back in Riga we made it to a pub to watch the second half. As the game finished and Mum went to get another round in she realised she’d lost her purse. Probably in a little shop by the station in Sigulda, so we nipped back to the hotel to sort it out, unfortunately getting nowhere trying to ring the shop.

Although annoying for Mum we didn’t allow it to dampen our spirits and carried on our plans, so we dressed up and walked into the new part of town and the skyline bar on the 26th floor of the radisson blu hotel.

Although the 5E entry is pricey the views were amazing and the cocktails were great. Mum had a raspberry gin sour and I had one made around black balsam, the liqueur of choice in Latvia. The waitress even got us a table next to the window where we could see the festival lights around Riga.

Although the rain had started to fall there were loads of people about of all ages as we walked back down to the old town to find somewhere to eat. It was almost 9pm yet all the restaurants were full, after finding a table in one, we looked through the menu and although I could sample local delicacies such as beaver and elk, I couldn’t bring myself to pay 36E for the privilege!

We sneaked out of there and ended up in a little Japanese place where we had tempura, ramen and a coconut fish dish. It was cheap and tasty and nice to get out of the rain. At this point it was cold wet and the streets were quieter so we wandered back through to the hotel.After a full day of walking (13 miles according to my phone) and an early rise it was nice to get in bed and drift off.

Latvia and the festival of light. 

Today was Latvian independence/freedom/creation of the state day, and what better way to celebrate than with free sparkling wine at breakfast! The Wellton hotel outdoes itself on brekkie terms. Mum is a piscatarian and there was enough for her to enjoy but the cooked breakfast side of things was immense. Homemade baked beans, sausage bites and perfectly cooked eggs went down a treat with the champers.

Energised with all the food we had no real plans for the day apart from wandering around the old town streets and watching the parades/fireworks later on. Off we went, round past St Peter’s Church again and a strange statue of some farmyard animals. Enjoying the architecture and following lonely planets advice to look up for the best bits.

Pretend the car isn’t in shot.

Very distressed looking animals.

We wandered round trying to spot the recommended sights such as the cat haus, where a merchant built his house with the cats bums facing towards the great guild house opposite due to a grudge, but were later turned around.

Next on the list were the three brothers, supposedly the oldest houses in Riga. These weren’t super impressive and a car was parked up outside which lost the magic a bit.

(Tiny door!)

We carried on, this time heading for the river, where there were huge navy ships and tanks parked up ready for the freedom parade.

We wandered along the promenade lookimg out for river cruises and enjoying the view of the Daugava river. We found one sign for cruises and decided to head back towards it for the 1pm slot.

By this point we had walked almost the entire stretch of river alongside the main city, we headed inland to the Spikeri quarter, with supposed arts, crafts, cafe, bar venues in old shipping warehouses. Whether it was because of the bank holiday or it just hasn’t taken off it looked very quiet and not much there.

(Latvian Cellist)

Regardless our main destination were the old zeppelin hangars that now housed food markets. These were great, the first filled with fish counters covered in smoked fish, caviar and some fish that were a bit too fresh. Next up was the veg market, the best thing about the markets was the way they seperated fish, meat, veg and bread/cheese into seperate buildings so you didn’t get wafts of dried fish/refrigerated meat the whole time.

(Zeppelin Hangar)

(Bread ovens)

(Fish markets)

We picked up a couple of things including 1e 100% pomegranate juice and walked back towards the boat trip spot. Unfortunately it had started pouring down and with no sign of a boat we hurried for cover in the old town and grabbed ourselves a coffee and huge slice of cake each.

We warmed up and relaxed after all the morning walking and as the rain seemed to be tailing off we went back down to the river to watch the armed forces parade up and down the street.

(Latvian President)

It was actually quite good even for two pacifists! It was quite restrained as the president went to each group and said something which demanded a huge roar from the soldiers. Hearing the crowd around us singing the national anthem was haunting as they sang in a low murmur.

Then the tanks arrived zooming up the street and it was over! The crowd quickly dispersed and we did a little shopping on the way back to the hotel. An hour or two later darkness had fallen and we were ready to explore the light festival.

The festival is such a good idea with about 20 to 30 installations around the city, and it was fun just happening upon them. There was a crazy Japanese one projected onto a hotel, flames in the river, and the best one, a load of lights in the park that pulsated to electronic music. The rabbits were back and thete were a few more projections, lights and sounds as we lapped the city once again.

(Fire on the river)

(Lights on the hill)

There were meant to be a couple of installations down by the river but the best thing when we got there were the trees all covered in lights all the way down the promenade. We followed them down towards Riga castle, taking in another light display when we noticed a crowd of people walking with lit torches. Stopping to take pictures the crowd swelled into a horde of smiles, holdimg hands and torches lofted into the sky. They poured out of the small street coming from the main square and wound round the bend and up the same street the military had paraded around earlier.

We couldn’t believe how many people were involved and decided to join the march. It was so great to be involved in something like this and we couldn’t believe our luck to have a random weekend turn into all of this.

We walked alongside them back through the city, stopped off to grab some warming mulled wine with cinnamon stick popped in to stir with and ended the march back by the freedom monument where everyone extinguished their torches and dispersed out into the night.

Feeling buoyant from the march we went im search of food and after beimg turned away from several traditional looking places we found ourselves outside the fish place from the day before.

We ordered their local ‘traditional’ fish dishes which were served beautifully and tasted great, Mum had pikeperch which she was apprehensive about but really enjoyed and I had plaice.

Seeing as our mains were all fish and veg we thought it would be rude to not try dessert so we devoured two white chocolate soufflés as time was running out to get to the river for the fireworks!

We quickly paid and rushed down through the crowd, emerging out onto a raised part of the road when the fireworks began. They were amazing and a good ten minutes worth of explosions in the sky.

The Latvian colours of red and white were a good touch and everyone cheered the final flourish of supernova fireworks.

We were up early the next dayvso skipped our night cap and slowly moved with the crowds back to the hotel, ready for an adventurous day in the countryside.

Latvia and and the day of opulence. 

In order to fulfill your dreams, you always need help. So when my Mum asked me where I’d like to go for my graduation present, as my sisters had been taken on trips to London and Edinburgh, I immediately got online to work out a cheap holiday somewhere I had never been before.

Visiting every country in Europe is my main focus, every country in the world is next, so when Skyscanner had cheap flights I messaged my Mum and showed her that if anything, it would be cheaper to go abroad. Next thing I know we’re off to Latvia!

The flight was great as we passed over Denmark and Sweden, and we coukd even see the bridge that links Copenhagen to Malmo, that I traveled on a few years ago. As the plane descended we saw a thin layer of snow over the forests and countryside, our first foray into the Baltics. The journey from the airport to our hotel couldn’t have been easier, or cheaper as a 2euro minibus (number 222) took us straight into the centre and dropped us off opposite our hotel! Totally by coincidence of course, we had booked the wellness hotel in Riga and it’s great so far, clean and modern with breakfast included (more on that later) and a spa located in the basement. On our way we picked up some tasty looking cakes to go with our boots meal deal lunch that were delicious.

We ate our lunch in the hotel and then headed out to explore Riga and pick up our reserved tickets to the ballet. We had booked these well in advance for 10e each and Mum was really looking forward to it.

(Opera house )

As we stepped out onto the cold streets, wrapped up in layers, hat and scarf the chill air blew past us. It was going to be a cold holiday. Walking up through a park towards the opera house was nice with the autumnal colours still holding on in the face of snow and winter. We picked our tickets up with ease and carried on through the park past interesting statues and coming up to the freedom monument representing Latvian independence. Without realising we had booked our holiday for their independence day and light festival and there were signs everywhere of them setting up ready.

From the freedom monument we climbed up bastion hill to look out over the old town and surrounding park. It felt lovely and wintery and we saw a facade on one house covered in the coat of arms for each town/city in Latvia.

We walked down into the old town with no plan and began to explore, going past old city walls, bars selling hot wine and traditional black balsam, (a kind of local spirit) and old houses with wooden shutters. We passed a couple of old churches before coming out into a big square with giant inflatable rabbits and the lutheran dome church.

This was part of the light festival with installations all over the city.

(Lutheran church)

We continued on and saw some lights down a side street, intrigued we went to investigate and came out into a square filled with neon green lights and the blackheads building, one of the oldest buildings in Riga.

After this we noticed a sign outside a nice restaurant offering 99c oysters, now we couldn’t say no to that! It was actually a very upmarket fish restaurant and the menu sounded gorgeous but we stuck to our plan and had a beer each and two oysters, we even got complimentary bread. This deal is only on a Tuesday and Thursday and I hate to think why.

Time was getting on so we went back to the hotel making sure we went past St Peter’s Church a big tourist attraction, however the church was overshadowed by a great light show projected onto it’s side.

It’s great when this unplanned stuff happens, and it gives you a real insight into wherever you’re visiting. After enjoying the show for a few minutes we made it back to the hotel and had a quick costume change into something more fitting for the opera house.

Arriving just in time we checked our coats in and found our seats, luckily one over from a view of a post. It was my first ballet and I really enjoyed it actually. I wasn’t sure if I would but the first act was almost an hour long and flew by. The 5E glass of champagne at the interval also helped.

The ballet was full of drama and I enjoyed the dancing, a couple of the dancers really stood out too and you could follow the story well.

When we left it had started to drizzle so we decided to go for a post ballet drink somewhere in the old town. more light installations emerged as we wandered through squares and down cobbled streets when it started to pour, so we jumped into the nearest bar and were greeted by NWA followed by System of a down on the jukebox….an interesting mixture. We spent the next hour or so chatting away over beers and decided on an earlyish night ready for the proper festivities to start tomorrow.