Well, we're back! We had a great holiday and now I'm going to share it with you lot. You lucky people. I've tried adding some photos but Blogger doesn't want to play any more. However, you can see lots more photos in Webshots, and there's a link down the side.
We left from Glasgow Prestwick at about 5.30pm on Monday and arrived round about 10pm (local time) in Riga. They're 2 hours ahead of us. As there were four of us - me, Craig, Dene and my little bro Kevin - we split up into two taxis and headed for the Hotel Tomo. It was almost 11pm by the time we got there, and as the bar was shut, as soon as we had our room keys we headed upstairs, unpacked and went to bed.
On Tuesday we had breakfast, then while Craig and I went back upstairs to our room to get coats etc, Kevin and Dene had an argument, Dene spat the dummy and went back to his room. We left him to stew and went out to find the trolley bus that would take us into the centre of Riga. Luckily it wasn't too far away and we didn't have long to wait for the trolley either. Riga public transport is great, no matter how far you want to travel, the price is 30 santimis, which is about 35p, maybe a bit less. There's just under 1 Latvian Lat to the £. Anyway, we got off the bus at the train station and started walking. Being the silly cow that I am, I had left the guide book that we bought months ago on my desk...in England...so we had no idea where we were, where we were heading or where we'd been. LOL. Eventually though we came across a book shop so I had the bright idea of going in and asking if they sold street maps. See, I managed to redeem myself!
Milda atop her tower
We turned around and started going in the right direction for the Old Town. One of the first things we saw was the Freedom Monument. The statue on top is called Milda by the locals. This monument is the centrepiece of Riga and is hallowed ground for the Latvian nation. Milda holds three golden stars, each of which represents one of the traditional regions of Latvia. The base, which is considerably more complex, comprises three different levels. The first bears reliefs of a song festival procession and marching infantry, while the second depicts four central themes - safeguarding the homeland, work, the proletariat and the family. The third and highest level depicts characters from Latvian folklore.
Guarding the Freedom Monument
An honour guard - which on this first day we thought were statues cos they were standing so still - stands at the foot of the monument. It wasn't till the end of the week, when we saw the guards moving, that we realised that they were actually real!
On a bit further and we came to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. This is a stunning building but I'm afraid I didn't get a photo from the stunning side of it. LOL. We did sit in the park to one side and this photo was taken from there. It has six golden cupolas and is built from yellow bricks.
And so to the Old Town. Kevin had had this bright idea of looking for an Irish pub called De Laceys that him and his friend Malcolm had spent a lot of time in back in January. So we seemed to spend the next 6 hours looking for it, inbetween having lunch at a sports bar and doing a bit of sight seeing. The Old Town is almost completely cobbled. There isn't much traffic goes through is as they're trying to preserve the streets, so there are barriers at all roads into it, and you have to pay to get in. What I noticed about the Old Town, and Latvian women in particular, was they all seemed to wear boots, most of them with 3 inch killer heels. And yet they still managed to walk on the cobbles. I would have broken my neck if I'd tried that! Oh, and quite a lot of the men carried handbags, which looked hilarious. Can anyone remember when Joey in 'Friends' had a manbag??? ROFL.
Looking down the aisle to the pulpit (left) and the altar
Anyway...we eventually found Dome Square and the Dome Cathedral. We paid the entrance fee and had a wander around. The cathedral is the largest house of worship in the Baltics, and underwent several different periods of construction spanning eight centuries - which accounts for the various styles evident in its exterior and interior, Romanesque, Baroque, early Gothic and even a touch of Art Nouveau. The characteristic steeple dates back to 1776. The original organ was built in the late 16th century and included fantastic woodcarvings by some of the best artists of the day. By the 19th century it was decided to replace it with a new one. The best firm in Europe, Walcker and Co of Ludwigsburg was hired, producing a masterpiece that featured 124 registers and four manuals made from over 6,700 wooden and metal pipes. This made the instrument the world's largest at the time. All of the original medieval woodcarvings were preserved and can be viewed today.
We had a look around the cloisters too and they had some interesting old relics. By this time we were getting a bit peckish so we went into a restaurant called Red Freds and had something to eat. I had a steak sandwich (a very interesting steak sandwich!), Kevin had a burger and Craig had a steak. Then after a couple of drinks we headed out of the Old Town and took a taxi back to the hotel. We sat in the bar and Dene came down to join us. He'd been bored witless all day so was pleased to see us. He said he would come with us the next day, especially when his Uncle Kevin told him about all the female talent he'd missed.
On Wednesday morning we decided to take a city tour that I'd found advertised in one of the city guides that were available in the hotel. We took the trolley bus to the city centre and as we were early we sat in the park opposite the National Opera House before we got on the bus. It was a very interesting tour and we saw loads more than we would have done if we'd just been walking. Unfortunately a lot of the photos I took from the bus had too many reflections on them from the window, but some of them came out ok.
Guinness at Paddy Whelan's
After the tour we had some lunch then carried on trying to find the Irish pub. We did eventually find it (I think we'd walked past it about 4 times) and it had been closed down. There was nothing to indicate it had even ever been there. Kevin finally remembered where it was when he spotted a burger bar opposite and inspiration struck. Thank gawd for that! We did find another Irish bar though, Paddy Whelan's and an English bar opposite that called Dickens, but it didn't sell English beer. At least the Irish bar sold Guinness! We had a wander down to St Peter's Church, which has the tallest steeple of all the churches in Riga. There is an observation tower that you can go to the top of for a small fee, which Craig and Dene did the following day, as we were 10 mins too late for entry that day.
We did a bit more wandering around and went to the sports bar for our evening meal and a few drinks. We took a taxi back to the hotel and seeing as the bar was shut we went to our rooms and went to bed.
Dancing for her supper!
Riga is a beautiful city and not as full of tourists as somewhere like Prague (where we went last October), although I think it soon will be. Latvians are a very taciturn people and they don't speak to you very much, although Kevin did get called a fascist one day on the trolley bus. The city itself is very clean, as was the hotel, and you don't see much rubbish on the streets. England is dirty and messy compared to Riga. There are litter bins and ashtrays every ten feet or so, and people actually use them. Over here they'd be vandalised and be of no use to anyone. It's a very poor country, and like anywhere there are beggers. Apart from one who was dancing to earn her money, and a couple who were musicians, I think they were ex monument guards. Once they got into position that was it, no movement whatsoever, not a flicker. I saw one who was sat on a railing outside one of the churches and I'm surprised she didn't have a numb bum. Lots of the stalls and shops sell amber in one form or another, and it's fairly cheap too.
Thursday morning was cold and dull. After breakfast we again took the trolley bus into the city centre. We walked down the Esplanade and this was when we realised that the soldiers guarding the Freedom Monument were real - but only because they were marching. LOL. We went into the Old Town again and bought a few souvenirs. We had lunch in Groks Bar then walked round to the National Opera House to get a tram to the Lido Recreation Centre. This is a massive log cabin on three floors that serves up authentic, inexpensive Latvian food, beer and music. It's also an amusement park with various attractions for kids, which were mostly shut when we were there. The food was good though, and the serving wenches were dressed in traditional costume. And the beer was cheap! After eating our fill and having a few drinks we headed back into the centre, bought some vodka and Rigas Melnais Balzams, then got a taxi back to the hotel. Craig and I packed our cases then Dene and Kevin came along and we chatted and had a few drinks before heading off to bed.
We mostly spent Friday in the hotel lobby, although Craig and Dene did go into the city centre to look for a few last minute souvenirs. We had booked the hotel shuttle for 5pm to take us to the hotel and it took us almost an hour to get there through the rush hour traffic. We had something to eat before check in and changed our money back to pounds. The flight took off on time and we were back in Glasgow just after 11pm. Of course, we'd parked in the wrong car park and had to pay £31 to get the car out (we'd pre-booked a car parking place but didn't know where we were supposed to go so just parked in one of the airport car parks) but we were soon on our way home. Craig drove for most of the way back, but I did the last 60 miles or so when he was too tired to drive. We dropped Kevin off at his house and 10 mins later we were back in our own house and unpacking the cases and filling the washing machine.
Mollie was pleased to see us. Kate got herself engaged while we were away, to Matt, who none of us like. The less said on this subject the better I think. Craig took her back to Hull yesterday and I took Mick his presents from Riga - a bottle of vodka and one of Balsam. I made him have a glass of this while I was there so I could see his face when he swallowed it (it's vile stuff - imagine Veno's cough medicine, but 100 times smellier and 100 times fouler tasting!), and it was well worth it! Saying that though, he has vowed to get his revenge. I rewarded him with a pint in the pub. On my way home I picked up the tigers from the framers, and they've made a lovely job of it. Will post a photo of it later when I get it out of the wrappings to show Craig.