Out of all the cities we were visiting Riga was arguably the most anticipated due to the fact we had 5 close friends arriving to celebrate a long weekend with us. Thank you to Laurie, Bridget, Tahlia, Luke and John for not disappointing us. We had so much fun here.
We had heard rumours of Riga being the Paris of the North - another one of those classic tourism labels. Shame it can't just be regarded as a very cool capital city with an exquisite old town, quirky buildings, pretty parks and plenty of raucous bars, rather than be compared to another. Compared to one of our early visits to the capital of Albania, Tirana, this place is head and shoulders above as it has the great nightlife but also so much beauty.
We had 3 nights planned with our team. The first was a relaxed evening in after their late flight, enjoying some local ales in the comfort of our own apartment with hammock.
For those that actually made it out of bed, the following day was spent drinking coffee and eating delicious cake at Vest, the cafe where the no.1 barista in Latvia works, and wandering around one of the many markets in Riga. All we really craved was some meat on a stick however the Central Market, a must see according to Tripadvisor, could not deliver. It is the kind of market where you can buy cheap out of fashion clothes and get bargain food shopping, and it gives you an idea of how the locals live - without much wealth. However it did not have meat on a stick so we settled on a greasy burger from a local Kiwi bar.
After some more mooching about evening quickly rolled around and we all headed out to a fantastic traditional restaurant called Folkklubs Ala Pagras. We got 10 min cab rides into town (which only cost €3!) and then headed underground following a small maze into the local Latvian medieval folkish bar and restaurant. They had 24 beers on tap and fantastic large portions of hearty potato and meat dishes that they slapped on top of our superbly thick wooden table. It reminded me of a scene from Robin Hood and, needless to say, we quite enjoyed it. Our waitress spoke fantastic English and even laughed at our jokes.
The "folk" music came on at around 10:00pm. We were all expecting an upbeat Mumford and Sons style performance but we were wrong. Latvian folk music is a cross between death metal and the movie Troy - meaning aggressive music from men who are half naked. All in all it was an interesting experience and the food was superb, making it a must visit place for anybody visiting Riga.
Our second day was the middle of our stay in Riga and building up towards the big Saturday night finale. After another wander round some uneventful markets we headed into the old town for a well needed Bloody Mary that gave everyone the kick they were looking for to psych ourselves up for probably the weekend's highlight - an ice hockey match.
As most of us were all new to ice hockey so we were not sure what to expect. We arrived jumping out of a cab to the sound of some serious bass as the organisers were playing their standard mix CD of hip hop, dub step and rock and roll. If we weren't before, we were certainly up for it now. It was Dinamo Riga v Admiral Vladivostok playing in front of a 5,000 strong crowd which gave the place a lively buzz.
After we settled into our seats with the obligatory beer and hot dog we enjoyed a thrilling match that offered plenty of goals, great crowd participation and a well deserved home victory. The already exciting game provided a fairy tale ending for us tourists, who were all new to the game, as the Admirals, who were trailing 2-3, sent their goalie up field with seconds remaining only to have the puck stolen by of the Riga boys who the tapped it from one end of the rink to the other. We all watched it slid in the goal at about 1 mile an hour with the goalie nowhere in sight, sending us and the home crowd into a frenzy.
After such a buzz we headed up to the famous sky bar in the Radisson Blu, which gives amazing views over the city, to keep the good times rolling. It is a fantastic place and a must visit for anyone going to Riga. What followed was a silly evening of bar hopping, dancing wherever possible and a delicious chicken kebab.
Our final day was spent enjoying another nice coffee in one of Riga's many cool coffee places, walking through the beautiful park by the old town and waving goodbye to our very lovely friends who were able to make it over to this part of the world. All in all, the time flashed before our very eyes.
From all the previous research we carried out we know we did not quite see all Riga has to offer, but what we did see was lively, well priced and full of colour. Out of all the cities we visited outside of Western Europe this must be the coolest and the one I would probably recommend first.