Each weekday there is a free walking tour in Riga. Not just the old town, they take you around some of the other interesting parts of the city as well – the markets, city streets, historically significant and interesting sights.
Our tour leader was Angeles, like the city without the Las – his words. After going around and introducing everyone, his goal was to make people socialise on the tour as well, which is great when taking a tour as an individual. With people from Germany, USA, Canada, England, NZ, Aus, Netherlands, Spain and Italy – we headed off.
Angeles was a student of architecture, and he never missed an opportunity to tell us about Riga’s contribution – with the largest concentration of Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) architecture in the world, which together with the many restoration projects around the city has made Riga one of the more beautiful cities in Europe.
Riga was founded in 1201 as a base for the Northern Crusades (those guys went everywhere!). It’s historically had a lot of Germans, and this has influenced the architecure and food, among other things. However, after a lot of Germans were repatriated after the war, and Russia occupied and considered Lativa a state of the Soviet Union, these days 50% of the city is Russian and 50% Latvian native speakers, although English is widely understood, thankfully for me.
The old town used to have city walls around it, but in order to expand the city and break down the barriers between the elite and the common folk, the walls were destroyed and turned into a river canal, with green parks running along its length around the old town. This and the river nearby make the inner town quite picturesque.
Angeles led us through this and across to the bus and train stations. Behind the bus station are the big markets, housed in massive warehouses that used to be twice as tall – originally to house zepellins! With fish, meat, fruit, vegetable and cheese markets it’s a great resource for any foodie. Outside are the clothes and plant markets as well.
Continuing away from the old town we’re led towards the Latvian Academy for Sciences. Built in 1953 this is often referred to as Stalin’s tower or Stalin’s birthday cake, because of its ‘austere and ornamental design’. For a photo of the tower and the view, check out my previous blog post. The view from the top – while not part of the walking tour, is spectacular and offers great photo opportunities of the river, the old town and the markets – just a sampling of the cityscape around the 360 degree view.
We’re led back through the train station with a five minute break for food, before heading through some of the shopping streets near the canal. Some of these are like something out of a magazine – the wealth in the shops is incredible.
From there we head back up along the river and up to the Freedom Monument. It was erected after the first independence (before the Russians came) and oddly, although they forbid laying of flowers or wreaths around it, never took it down. For completeness I should point out that the statue at the top is named “Milda”, although I have knowledge of the significance of the name.
It’s not the longest of city tours, but it is good. I personally would have preferred more time in the old town itself, as the Cathedral, the Museum of Occupation (similar to the Genocide one in Vilnius), the old city wall and the various churches all deserve some time dedicated to looking at them, but I suppose you can only cover so much, and aim to give visitors a taste of what is to come in the city.
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