3 beautiful days in Riga. And I absolutely mean it when I say beautiful. It helped that we had perfect weather, great company and a cosy accommodation to make the visit all the more memorable.
If geography is not your forte, Riga is the capital of Latvia which is one of the three Baltic countries in Northern Europe (the other two being Lithuania and Estonia). One advantage of living in Europe is the ease of hopping into another country over a weekend. And so Riga it was, courtesy the husband who had a training to deliver (one less flight ticket to pay for #happydance!). And before he knew it, wife and son had decided to tag along and booked the tickets.
Yes, Riga is another European’ish city with the old town, cobbled streets and a grand church in the centre so if you have been to other cities in the continent, you may think ’what’s the big deal’. Two things to note here – one, the city is not overrun by tourists and yet has its own unique charm and vibrancy along with enough things to do. Two, perspective is important – Latvia was part of erstwhile Soviet Union and is currently part of the Eurozone. Unlike Georgia and Armenia, Riga appears to have taken pains to shed its communist past and embrace inclusion into mainstream Europe — this is evident with the development in the city, and most noticeably in the architecture. I fell in love with the buildings but I shall reserve that to another post.
We woke up in a beautiful 7th-floor apartment of a building that had a splendid balcony in the direction of the town centre. One of the most noticeable views is how there are roosters atop church steeples in the old town. According to Christian tradition, roosters ward off evil through their ‘cock-a-doodle-doo‘ and symbolise watchfulness and vigilance and hence were fixed atop. A more factual explanation is that they were used as a wind indicator in earlier times as Riga was an important port city for sailing ships. Either way, roosters were an interesting change from the typical crosses you see otherwise.
I wasn’t expecting much from Latvian cuisine being a vegetarian but I did my research beforehand and knew I had to try two of things: ‘Rupjmaize‘ or Black Rye Bread and Cold Beet Soup. With kids in tow, eating what you want wherever you want is not the easiest of affairs but we finally discovered a popular chain that served local fare and made everyone happy. My child being a rice-fanatic enjoyed his ‘plov‘ (a version of the indian ‘pulao‘ and arabic ‘pilaf‘). And I loved the cold beet soup that mainly had beetroots blended with kefir/buttermilk and peppered with dill.
The dark rye bread is obviously not for everyone and especially so if you have not been much of a bread/wheat eater all your life – which is the case for a lot of us from South India. That said, I totally relished the loaf bought from a supermarket – it is made of whole grain rye and the addition of malt and caraway seeds give it a distinct flavour. Probably a tad dry eaten on its own but I bought a little bottle of spicy tomato ‘chutney’ (called Adjika) at a weekend market — the combination was delicious! I must add here that Adjika is made and sold in Latvia but borrowed from Georgian cuisine; they were all part of the Soviet, remember? And that explains hot-spice in a cuisine that is otherwise void of it.
I should have realised that food gets the better of me and this warrants a separate blogpost but suppose it is too late now. So may I also mention ‘Maizes Zupa‘? Literally translated as ‘bread-soup’ but is actually a dessert essentially with rye bread, dried fruits/preserves and whipped cream. I wouldn’t have ordered it had it not been for the latvian lady at the cashier line in restaurant where we were buying our food. I asked her what it was and she explained in broken English and then cringed when I showed her the chocolate eclair that I was about to buy. Never a bread-pudding lover but I ended up buying and eating it. And yet again, totally dug into it!
P.S: We also had dinner at a South Indian restaurant at Riga. Yes, you read that right – a south indian restaurant with idli, dosa and the works. Now who’d have thought there was one there??! Something I wouldn’t have done even in my wildest dreams in the pre-kid era! But it was an interesting experience and we also learnt that the Tech sector is developing in the Baltics and unsurprisingly, attracting a lot of Indians.
Riga Black Balsam
As with many european and post-soviet countries, beer is the stand-out alcoholic beverage. However, you cannot miss noticing the abundance of Riga Black Balsam branding all over the city. Black Balsam is a traditional Latvian tar-black liqueur with high alcohol content, known to be flavoured with herbs and having medicinal properties. The drink by itself is supposedly bittersweet but there are a few flavoured variants that make it delectable. One such being the Black Currant version that we tried and were sold!
So as you can see, I mostly ate, drank and saw a lot of pretty buildings. And spent considerable time in a couple of the city’s beautiful parks. That kind of sums up some of the things you can do in Riga over 3 days with kids. And I emphasise ‘with kids’ because travel takes a whole new meaning when they are around!