Posted by: Anna | October 27, 2010

5 Hours in Riga, Latvia

Quickest country visit yet – 5 hours. We were up this morning at 6:00 to set out for the airport. Bye Cubahostel – we won’t miss you. We successfully navigated the much maligned Russian passport control with no issues, and had an uneventful flight on Air Baltic. One unique, although not particularly appealing, thing about Air Baltic is that you have to buy everything. You want some water – that will be 2 euro. So we held out, and by the time we landed we were starved.

Riga is known as the “Paris of the Baltics”. I don’t know much about the Baltics, as this is the first Baltic country I’ve visited. To help those of you as dumb with geography in this region as I am – here’s a map of where Riga is.

Baltic Area Map

Latvia has a population of between 2 – 2.5 million….less than Dallas. A little weird when you think about it. They were occupied by the Russians during tsarist times, then the Germans during WWII, then the USSR. They gained their independence in the early 90s after the fall of communism in the USSR. One of the coolest things we saw today was the Freedom Monument. It was erected in 1935, and is constantly guarded today, with the guard changing every hour during the day. While they are “guarding”, they walk slowly back and forth in perfect harmony. Latvians lay flowers at the base of the monument to celebrate their freedom. During Soviet times, laying flowers on the monument was an act that could get you deported to Siberia.

Freedom Monument

Riga is known for its Art Deco architecture, and it is indeed a beautiful city, at least the old town part where we spent our day. I particularly liked this detail.

As you walk around, there are little cafes everywhere. When we arrived, we were hungry, so we wandered into a little bar / cafe. We had the business lunch (set meal for a cheap price) and a hot balsam. Hot balsam is the local herbal liquor that is mixed with juice and served hot. It’s a little like hot sangria, but in a good way. Tommy opted for a chocolate hot balsam, which was like hot chocolate with a kick. Ever the purist, he prefers his regular old hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate balsam on the left, regular hot balsam on the right

We wandered about, stopped in a few shops, and looked at the beautiful buildings. There are lots of bars, and Riga is known for having really fun nightlife. But our flight leaves at 8 tonight, so we aren’t going to sample it.

The best part of the day was the Central Market. It’s 5 airplane hangars and hundreds of booths selling everything under the sun, from clothes, to pots and pans, to food, liquor, produce, baked goods, etc. The most interesting was the fish stall – an entire hanger devoted to fish. There was frozen fish, raw fish, lots of fish still breathing – slowly suffocating in the air surrounded by fish steaks – I don’t believe fish have feelings, but it did seem like a terrible way to die. Darn, I really should have avoided that net this morning! Most interesting of all was the smoked fish – all kinds, including some I couldn’t identify at all.

Smoked fish in buckets - there is even more smoked fish in the glass case below

These were especially wild looking!

We got to sample one – it was delicious. Like fish jerky, in a way. Takes that smoked salmon to a whole new level. I could really have some fun shopping for food here and taking it home to cook. They also had lots of small, oily fish like sardines, and great big fish too. Fish heads, and even a whole octopus.

While 5 hours is not the ideal way to see a city – we missed a lot of Riga – it is an interesting diversion and a challenge to get a feel for a place in 5 hours. We didn’t go into any churches or any museums. We didn’t get to know any Latvians. We did our best…and now we are off to Israel tonight.



  1. Thanks for the little history lesson, and love the architecture! Can’t wait to hear visit Israel with you guys!

  2. maybe you want to put this location on your “next trip” agenda?

  3. Definitely would love to explore those 5 airplane hangars of food & stuff. Sounds like a really big market for a small town.

    It is inspirational to hear about their freedom monument and that it survived communism. We should celebrate and appreciate our freedom more.

    Think about this — Tulsa, OK has lots of art deco architecture — so it and Riga’s buildings were constructed about the same time. For Tulsa, oil money built most of them. Wonder what it was in Riga?

    Love you guys.

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