Riga, Latvia, 24th - 26th January 2020
5 days after Poznan and it was time to hit the road (plane?) again. Back during the Black Friday sales, Ellson and I were deciding on where to go over the weekends in January. As both of us have very little overlapping trips (most places I have been to he hasn’t, and vice versa), it was difficult to find a place we could both agree on. We finally decided on Riga, the capital of Latvia. Home to about 650,000 inhabitants, it is significantly larger than other cities in Latvia. For those who don’t know where Latvia is, it is a Baltic country beside Russia.
After finishing labs and a group meeting, I headed straight for Victoria coach station, where we took a coach to London Stansted Airport. Riga is two and a half hours away from London, and with our flight at 1735, we weren’t exactly in the mood to sleep. We ended up spending the flight reading till it landed. Riga is 2 hours ahead of London, which meant that we landed in Riga airport at about 2200. We were surprised to see how thorough the immigration process was compared to other European countries, as the immigration officer asked for proof of residence, and when we would be returning to London. This is probably due to the fact that Chinese tourists weren’t common in Riga. Famished, we checked into our accommodation at Rixwell Old Riga Palace Hotel, and had dinner at a nearby bar, Late Night Munchies. We were really impressed by how good the food was for its price. A pint of beer in the middle of town costs only 2 Euros!
Pint of Latvian beer
After dinner (supper?), we took a leisurely night walk around the old town to see their nightlife. It was a refreshing experience to see so little people on the streets on a Friday Night. We then headed back to our accommodations for some Brawl Stars and Legends of Runeterra.
We started off the day having breakfast at our hotel, where we spot our first Chinese tourist, and had a wonderful conversation with an Italian who was in Riga for a business trip. After which, we packed our belongings and went for a tour around Riga town. Riga has many landmarks, with the most significant one being the Freedom Monument, which was dedicated to Latvians who lost their lives fighting for independence between 1918-1920. With 2 honour guards dedicated to the Freedom Monument (and very little tourists), it was one of the more magnificent sights in Latvia. Near the freedom monument, I spotted a group of people advocating for Fa Lun Gong, and surprisingly, none of them bore any oriental resemblance. It was quite interesting to see their outreach in a country like Riga, as I thought such groups only did their activities in Asian countries.
Being a really small city, there wasn’t too much to do, and thus we headed to the Riga Central Market for Lunch, before boarding the train to Jurmala. Public transport in Riga is pretty cheap, with an hour train journey out of town costing us only 1.50 Euros. A trip like that in London would have easily cost 10 pounds. We checked in at our accommodation at Daina Jurmala Hotel and Spa, before taking a short 5-minute walk to the nearby beach. It was the first time I have ever seen the Baltic Sea, and while the sights and sounds were similar to that in Mersing, the cold sea breeze certainly made the difference. There were also quite a lot of puddles around, which made a good foreground for photography.
The Baltic Sea
After having had our fun at the beach, we went back to the hotel to rest for a bit, before having dinner. After dinner, I headed to the swimming pool and jacuzzi while Ellson stayed in the room to finish his book.
Whilst at the jacuzzi and sauna, I had a conversation with the Latvians, and it was surprising that they could speak really fluent English, despite it being their third language (I can’t even speak Mandarin as fluently!). They were curious about Singapore’s education system, and why someone like me would want to come to Riga on holiday (there isn’t much to do in Riga, and even less so in a town like Jurmala). One of them even thought that I was a spy! After assuring them that I was merely a student studying in London, we bade goodbye. Not going to lie, the Latvian guys and girls look really good, and have an amazing sense of humour.
After many rounds of Legends of Runeterra, I crashed for the night.
Not knowing what else to do, we had a quick breakfast in the hotel, before going further east to Kemeri, where the great Kemeri bog was. The Kemeri national park is the third largest in the country by area, with bog depths reaching up to two stories. Numerous tanks from World War II have been swallowed by such bogs. We began our 4 km hike to the bog, and it wasn’t as pleasant as we expected it to be (because it was winter). I was even more unimpressed by the bog when we arrived, and it literally felt like we were going outfield. Nonetheless, it was still an interesting experience, and I captured a Pokemon gym in the middle of the bog (which still hasn’t been defeated after 10 days…). After a long walk back from the bog, we waited approximately 1 and a half hours at a deserted train station for the train back to Riga. Fortunately I carried with me some cash, as the train conductor did not accept card when I tried to pay with card.
The Kemeri Bog and the train station
After arriving back in Riga, we had a sumptuous dinner at the train station, before taking the minibus back to the airport for our flight back to London.
Throughout the trip, we only spotted one Chinese person (to be fair it was the Chinese New Year), and very little tourists. So, if you are looking for an exotic destination to visit with little foreign influence, do put Riga on your bucket list. Next up, Salzburg!