As you might have picked up on, I love history.
Leaving Oslo and traveling to Riga, I really had no idea what I was getting into. The only reason I even knew Latvia was a country was because I met a guy in college who was from here. But ever since that encounter, I was curious about the country, and I was more than a little happy to have a few days in my trip itinerary where I could adventure a little off the known path. And by known path I mean I’m still in the EU haha…I’m just not in a city where a lot of American tourists choose to go. Which is a little unfortunate because this city is BEAUTIFUL.
And even beyond it being a beautiful city, it has super friendly people (at least in the city center where I’ve been) and it’s super affordable. The town as a whole is actually a lot like a medieval city with its cobbled streets and old buildings. The history of this city is pretty tragic with multiple invasions, bombings and general unrest but the state of the city today is, as my tour guide put it, “Only going up!”
A few fun facts about Riga;
They have roosters on the top spires of their churches instead of crosses but nobody really knows why (potentially a biblical reference or because roosters are what wakes you up first thing in the morning). Regardless of the reason, it’s pretty fun to see. There are three major churches in this city and it’s great for travellers prone to getting lost because they’re higher up than the rest of the city. You can usually always see one of them!
One of my favorite facts about this city is that it’s known as a “Nation of cats” which of course speaks to my soul as someone who loves cats more than life. A great example of the cat obsession is that a large number of souvenirs you can buy here are little toy cats, and on top of one of the central buildings are two stone statues of cats that come with one of the most “cat person” stories I’ve ever heard. It goes something like this:
Once there was this guy who wanted to get into politics but he couldn’t because he wasn’t German. He tried for years to no avail. So the man did what anyone would do, he bought the lot of land across the street and built a building directly facing the politicians building. At eye level with the top story of the German building he places two stone cats, with their butts facing the building. Obviously not what you want to see when you’re drinking your morning coffee. It took years for the man to finally be persuaded (aka paid) to turn the cat statues around so their heads are now facing the building to this day.
The moral of this story? Don’t mess with cat people.
Another fun thing about Latvia is their obsession with Amber, which has always been one of my favorite gemstones because of its connection with dinosaurs…and I LOVE dinosaurs. And when I was warned about this obsession I had no idea. There are entire stores dedicated to it, and even souvenir shops carry it. It’s also fairly inexpensive which is amazing because it means I
may have bought several pairs of earrings (they were about $15/pair). And speaking of affordable…DAMN RIGA.
There are definitely tourist traps in this city that are overpriced (and they know it) but the city as a whole is extremely affordable. It’s pretty easy to get a small meal for around $5-$8 and I’ve seen a few $7 buffets for breakfast/lunch. This is one of the only cities where I actually haven’t gone to the grocery store because it’s about the same price for me to just buy 1-2 meals/day and snack in between. I’m definitely having to enjoy that now since my next stop is the UK which, as we all know, is definitely not cheap.
But at least the exchange rate from the British pound to the US dollar is fairly cheap. I think $1 = 0.77£ last time I checked. I remember the first time I traveled to the U.K. everything was basically double price. I AM super excited to be going back to the U.K. though as it’s one of my favorite spots. Stay tuned for updates!