Earlier this year, I met four amazing human beings! I went back to the surf camp which I already knew from last year (“Finding my true love” – Brazil) located outside of Rio de Janeiro. Just arrived there and these girls asked me if I wanted to join them to Pedra do Sal, which is samba in the street, and to a boat party afterwards. I did join them and ever since we have been friends! While I was in Ecuador, they talked about planning a reunion in Latvia as one of the girls, Ieva was Latvian, and 7 months later here we are!
Short explanation in Brazil we were a group of six later five girls. Ieva from Latvia, Chris from Germany, Anto from Chile and Belu from Argentina. As we all were free to different times during that week we had to, or actually, Ieva figured out a way how to meet, what to do etc. Chris arrived on Sunday night, and I arrived 1h later.
On the first day, we started with the Latvian Academy of Science as you can go on top of the building and have a view over the city of Riga, a good way to start our tour. Right next to it, is the Rīgas Dievmātes Pasludināšanas baznīca which is a Russian Orthodox church. I have never seen an Orthodox Church before so we went quickly inside and had a look around, it is just beautiful. From there, we walked in direction of the Central Market, passing the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum. The Riga Central Market is Europe’s largest market and is located in old German Zeppelin hangars. In the four pavilions, you can buy the famous Latvian smoked fish, you can find different local butchers, cheese, vegetables as well as marinated vegetables like Mazsālītie Gurķīši. We tried some bread from Uzbekistan and I saw for the first time fresh cranberries.
The city is separated by the central station, so far we have been south of the station, but the centre is located on the north side of the station where we went now. We walked along the Canal in the Bastejkalna park in which The Freedom Monument (Brīvības piemineklis) is. This monument is honoring the soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence. During the Soviet Union, soviets wanted to destroy this monument. On top is a sculpture in form of a women, Latvians call her Milda, she is holding three stars representing Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Passing the Laima Clock, which is a popular meeting point for dates, we walked in direction of Old Riga where you can find lovely colourful houses. In a little shop, we tried Riga Black Balsam which comes in traditional as well as different flavours like black currant or cherry. It is strong but perfect when you have a cold or when your throat hurts. As it was raining, we stopped at a little cafe where we tried the 8-layered Latvian honey cake, which is now one of my favourite cakes. Passing the St. Peter’s Church, Ieva gave us a little introduction to the Latvian history in front of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia and then we kept walking to the House of the Black Heads (Melngalvju nams), which might be one of the best-known sights in Riga. We kept on walking and saw the Riga Castle, and close to it the longest building (I could not find out the name of the building). There is an Art nouveau district in Riga or “Art new wow” as Ieva called it. I do not know a lot about architecture, but these buildings were pretty funny looking as there were faces that looked like they were screaming.
For late lunch or early dinner, we went to Lido where we tried different Latvian foods starting with Kvass which is a drink made from rye. We had Dressed herring and cottage cheese pancakes with dill sauce. They do love dill in Latvia, and they do love rye as well. Which you can have as dessert, like Maizes Zupa which is a cream-based on dark rye bread.
After a little nap, we went to the Corner House, which is an old KGB building, where we had a tour at 5 pm. It is not easy, but really interesting and I think it is important to learn something about the history of the country you visit. In short, it was used as kind off a prison during the soviet regime where political prisoners were held and questioned.
Day 2: During the morning we went to the Museum of Occupation. To be honest, Ieva was such an amazing guide and she knows so much about Latvian history, so the museum wasn’t really necessary. It was still nice as they had videos from people telling their stories and I got to buy a book there. Once done, we got the car and picked up Anto at the airport. Now that our little Brazil group was complete (actually Belu was missing, but unfortunately she could not make it), we drove in direction of Ķemeru Nacionālais Parks, which was our first stop. As the name says it is a national park with mires. Through the mires, you have a wooden walkway. The weather was not great but it is just beautiful there! Being a city girl, I enjoy every moment I have in nature, especially in the company of my three brujas.
Driving through little villages, some with colourful houses others with abandoned buildings, some with beautiful gardens and once leaving the villages, just trees. Amazing!
The next stop was a little seaside village where we wanted to buy some Kūpināta Zivs (Smoked Fish), we ended up buying three different kinds. I mean, once you can buy smoked fish from a local?! Arriving in Tukums we left our bags at Ieva’s place and took a cab to go a bit outside of the city, where we would stay at a traditional sauna. We ate the smoked fish with our hands, if the locals do it we will do it as well. Had a lot of different Latvian beers, thank God it was cold outside as there was no fridge inside so we just left the beers outside. We finished the bottles of Balzam, ate and talked. The sauna itself was amazing, we even had some branches with which we slighty hitted each other which had a massaging effect and we put honey on our skin while in the sauna, which would make our skin soft. After the sauna, you take a cold shower or what’s more fun, run outside and jump in the cold pool. When it is snowing you could roll in the snow instead. After more than 4 -hours it was time to leave and go to sleep, and we did sleep like babies.
Day 3: For breakfast, we had smoked Latvian cheese, smoked meat, vegetables, cookies, and rye bread. The smoked cheese tasted amazing! They smoke cheese, meat, and fish because it makes it possible to preserve the food for longer. We were supposed to do a barefoot path in the woods, but as it was raining and quite cold we did not do it. But we still had a packed schedule, including trying more Latvian food. Like Vecriga (Old Riga), which are choux pastry, filled with curd vanilla cream. First, we only bought one per person, but Chris and I loved them so much we went back to buy 10 more. At the same bakery, we had different bulciņas (pastries) which came with jam, cinnamon, poppyseeds, caramel or cheese. With a full tummy, we stopped at Engures Ezers Dabas Parks for a little walk. We found some bunnies running around. Unfortunately, it started to rain, so we went back to the car and kept on driving. And it was about time for the next stop for more Latvian food, this time Sklandrausis or as we called it, the UNESCO bread. It is rye dough filled with carrot and topped with cinnamon. I am not sure if I liked it or not but I still ate a lot of it. We stopped at a beach which had stones from the ice age, so pretty old stones.
After passing through one village, Ieva’s mom told us that during the Soviet Union people were not allowed to go further than this point. People living further than this point lived in isolation. The reason was our destination the Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Centre, which was built during the Soviet Union and was kept a secret to Latvians. Before arriving at the main building, we drove past some huge abandoned buildings where back in the days thousands of Soviets lived. Our guide waited for us and brought us to the main building, he told us about his job, the history of this place and that there is a lot of trash in space (one of the main things I remembered). We went on top of the building, where the first satellites used to be, from where you have a view over the whole are and in the distance you can see one of the currently used satellite. In a walkthrough a tunnel, we ented infront of that satellite. The guide told us about some bunkers close to the ocean and Ieva and her mom really wanted to find them as they have never heard about them before and they or we did find them.
Our last stop was at Kolka beach where the Baltic sea meets the Gulf of Riga. Some men were fishing there, used to the cold they did not realize how cold it was until we arrived. I mean, just look at the picture haha. From there we drove back to Tukum by car, went to the supermarket and then took the train back to Riga as Chris had to leave early in the morning, to go to the airport.
Day 4: Today was similar to the first day as Anto was not there on the first day, she did not know Riga yet, so we went back to the Central Market. We found some magnets with Latvian pagan symbols, which all have a different meaning or power. They are really beautiful! Then we went back to the other side of the central station and walked along the Canal in the Bastejkalna park. There is a lovely tea house in the park, which you should check out, it is a round wooden house. In the park, you can find The Freedom Monument (Brīvības piemineklis) which we already saw on the first day. Passing again the Laima Clock we went to the Old Town of Riga. We passed by some buildings I had already seen but also other buildings like the Three brothers and the cat house which I have not seen yet. Thanks to Ieva for changing a bit the tour, so that I see new things as well and don’t get bored. It started raining, so we went back to the same bakery and I had again some 8-layered honey cake. It was just so good, I could not leave Latvia before eating it a second time. As it was still raining we went to the 1991 Barricades Museum, which is a museum only about the period when Latvians barricaded some of Rigas’s most important buildings. It is amazingly done because you have pictures, objects, videos.
At night we went to Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs, which is a traditional Latvian and a really touristy place. They played traditional Latvian music, which sounded a bit like a German dialect to me but maybe it was because of the beers I had. We tried more Latvian beer as well as garlic bread and moonlight shots with cucumbers.
Day 5: And here it is already, the last day which does not mean we just chilled. We took the train to Sigulda, btw the trains are really cheap so when in Latvia take the chance and check out some other places. Once we arrived in Sigulda we went to visit the ruins of Viduslaiku Pils (Castle Of The Livonian Order In Sigulda). You can find the New Castle of Sigulda just infront of it but it was under construction, so we could not see the facade nor visit it. From the castle, you have some amazing viewpoints over the forest.
Sigulda is a city where Latvians usually go to do some adventure stuff, like Tarzan Park which is an adventure park with an obstacle park, ziplines, etc. We checked it out and decided to have some food before and come back later. At the tourist information, they told us about a market with loads of different things, so we decided to check it out and have lunch there. On the way to the market, we found Mr Biskvits and it just looked so lovely that we decided to have food there instead. Latvian pancakes with spinach and cottage cheese and the other with mushrooms for me, Anto had some meat-filled pancakes and Ieva had Pelēkie Zirņi ar Speķi (Gray Peas with Speck) which is another traditional meal. We stayed in this cafe quite a while, talking, eating, having coffee and more cake. After a while, we decided to go back to Riga because we did not feel like doing the Tarzan park anymore. Too much food and getting sleepy. Back in Riga we walked a bit around the city, went back to Lido as Anto has not been there yet. So yes, we had more food. And then, the end! Anto went to her hostel for the night as she was only leaving early the next morning and Ieva brought me to the bus stop from where I took the bus to the airport.
Latvian food you should try
Mazsālītie Gurķīši, smoked fish, Dressed herring, dill sauce or anything with dill, Latvian pancakes, their cottage cheese, smoked cheese, Kvass, different Latvian beers, Balsam
8 layered honey cake, Old Riga dessert, Sklandrausis the Unesco cake, oat dessert (no idea what it is called, Maizes Zupa (dessert made of rye)
More trips and more local food, like Italian food in “Do you only travel for food?” – Rome or Oh Sicily, your food is heaven!, my 4 days on a boat without a toilet nor electricity in Indonesia, Country of smiles – Cambodia and Siem Reap – Angkor Temples, Monks & Pub Street, more about their food in the food isn’t that bad here – Cambodia, A few days on São Miguel, Azores, Portugal where you will find a bit of both, Farewell & Birthday weekend in Porto, 3 weeks in Ecuador and for the Ecuadorian food Let’s talk food Ecuador, “Finding my true love” – Brazil, I might try one for the Brazilian food which is mainly meat though ..London London Baby (travel and food) and Brighton – Gay Capital & Vegan Paradise (travel and food). Soon Lisbon will follow!