The Top Line: Yes, I am super-bummed that I couldn’t badge it, but even so, Riga is an old, beautiful city where you can really live like a local so take advantage.
We landed a bit late on a Friday night, so just got a bus to our cute airbnb apartment. Our hosts gave us some good recommendations, but it was beginning to look like we wouldn’t be able to grab anything to eat since it was 11pm. Until we mentioned that we’d read about Folkssklub and they realized that must still be open! So we headed there for a quick bite and got so much more. Though the larger area was super crowded and live music was ongoing, we, being the Olds we are, looked for and found seats in a smaller back room. In this back room, there were competing forces – the Youngs singing merrily around a piano, versus the Olds, at a table with a couple of guitars, who sprang into action when the Youngs went out for a smoke. We seemed to be the only non-natives there and it was just so much fun to watch everyone there having so much fun. We were really glad we immediately immersed ourselves that night so we could experience it!
The next day, we headed to the Kalnciena Street Quarter Fair. We did get a little lost on the bus, but eventually made it. The market had not only Latvian vendors, but Latvian customers. It felt very authentic and homey and local and we loved it. They had linens, baby shoes, wooden kitchen utensils, not to mention delicious breads, dried fruits, pickled vegetables, cheeses, and more. We did a good amount of spending here, but nothing seemed terribly overpriced (I did a tiny bit of bargaining, but not much) and everything seemed to be made by the person selling it (or their grandfather!).
After a while, we headed back to Old Town and wanted to go to the Occupation of Latvia museum. Buuuut it was closed for renovation. Thankfully, they had a temporary exhibition up, at the former US embassy, no less, so we headed there after a quick stop in the Live Riga shop which housed more local wares including cute earrings and warm scarves. We headed across town through a park and went through the museum. A series of panels through a few rooms told us the timeline and story of before, during and after the occupation. There were artifacts and video interviews with survivors who were now well into their 70’s and higher. One of the most interesting photo series for me were the maps showing the creep of the USSR further and further west. The ’36 hours in’ article by the NYT called it one of the best museums, but while I enjoyed it, I’m not sure I would label it a best. Maybe its real homestead, with further elaborations and details makes all the difference.
After our fog-emitting snack,
Our seats were cheap for a reason–though close to the stage, our back row-ness meant we couldn’t see the captions screen. But as is my custom, we moved to the front row after we noticed they were going to remain empty. My 3 favorite bits about this experience were:
- The opera house was beautiful. Gilded and classic and lovely:
- Multiple intermissions!! This made the opera soooo much easier to, I’m sorry to say this, opera lovers, get through. Although I was enjoying their voices and kind of the story, a show that’s longer than 2-2.5 hours is just hard to sit through and keep paying attention. I know, I know, thanks multi-tasking technology blah blah blah. But an interval every 25 minutes? Love. There wasn’t even phone-checking during the shows, mostly!
- The opera–La Bohème–is a classic, I’m pretty sure. It was enjoyable, and kind of easy to follow, since we had captions, but the main 2 characters weren’t played to be the most believably in love. Musetta and Marcello were much easier to root for. Alas. I am not an opera critic so I’ll leave it there.
After dinner, we stopped for a drink at the Grand Palace Hotel, just a few steps away from a our apartment, because we’d heard that some EU VIPs, including Federica Mogherini were in town for a meeting and wanted to see if we could get a peek. The bar was nice, and very hunter’s lodge themed, and we had a brief almost-, but nothing to report.
- Entry: €15 x 2
- Honey scrub: €4
- Salt scrub: €3
- Birch leaves (the better to beat yourself with, my dear): €4
- Towels: €2.50 x2
- Modesty ‘mats’ to cover ourselves with for breaks to the café: €1.70 x2
- Bath shoes (to rent): €1.20 x2
- Bath hats: €6.40 x2
- shampoo: €0.20 x2
- body wash: €0.20 x2
Although many local ladies helped us out (since we clearly didn’t know what we were doing and were the only non-locals), we didn’t see the recommended order of events until the hat-purchasing time, which was halfway through. (We arrived around 12:30/1pm and left around 5pm.) You can get ahead by checking the order and even brushing up on some history of the establishment. The only thing we missed out on that we could have done if we had planned better was booking massages. The masseuse doesn’t speak English though, so good luck with that…
Just know that during your experience, you’re going to:
- get really hot
- be stark naked (except for your shoes and your hat, should you choose to wear one)
- beat yourself with a tied together bunch of leaves — you may feel silly at first, but I’d recommend you get into it. If you don’t, the nice older ladies will help you, which maybe is the better way to go at first! They are really sweet and helpful.
- have a really interesting, relaxing, somehow-completely-addicting time and you won’t want to leave. But you’ll come out feeling amazing when you finally do.
Summary of things to know, money & other deets – Riga, as of 9 March 2015
In 3 words: friendly, rustic, full of locals
Flights: £77.98 for 1 round trip ticket on Ryanair from STN to RIX, booked 1.5 months in advance
Tickets to the opera: €10; day of performance purchase
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia tickets: donation-based (located in the Old American Embassy on Raina until summer 2015)
Balta Pirts: €15 entry + extras
1 more to go! See ya soon, Vilnius.