Relaxing in Riga: Cappuccino Cremes, Soviet Cameras, and Church Organs

Last Thursday I flew from Moscow to Riga, the capital of Latvia. I was visiting the EU once again, which seemed almost like being in western Europe – such a difference compared to Asia and Russia.

I had gotten a great deal on a hotel in the Riga UNESCO Old Town, and was staying in the old, 17th century wing of the building. I opened the door to my room and noticed that the floor sloped quite a bit, but the room had a definite charm which included half-timbered beams. The mini-bar was actually also quite reasonable, so I was able to satisfy my craving for water, Pringles, and something new, made in Riga…Black Balzams, a local liqueur that’s 45% alcohol and, more importantly (for me at least, it depends on your priorities), quite tasty. Remember that tilting floor? Well, it was even more charming by the end of the evening.

I had found a couple of interesting walking tours online, and was taking the first one during my first day in Riga. This one was a private photography tour where I could use an old Soviet-era camera called a Zenit. It has a light sensor in front that makes a needle swing in different directions; you adjust the aperture and shutter speed to make a second needle align with the first to ensure your photos aren’t overly washed out or blurry. I had a lot of fun playing with the camera, and the photos look like they came out quite well. It’s almost a shame – I would have liked to play more with fade out effects!

Anyway, we walked through much of what is called the Quiet Center, an area that is full of Art Nouveau buildings, many of them currently housing international companies or embassies.

I also discovered an amazing coffee drink my first day in Riga: cappuccino cremes, cappuccinos with a thick topping of (optional: chocolate) panna cotta.

After my walking tour, I took it easy until it was time to go to an organ concert in the Riga Dom (Carhedral). It seemed like a great way to see the church and occupy an evening, and tickets were only 5 or 10 lats. I opted for the cheap seats as supposedly the only difference was the view. Unfortunately, a large group of 30 or 40 school children also had cheap seats and I was surrounded by whispering and wiggling kids. I was torn between being happy to have only paid five lats versus thinking that maybe their whispers couldn’t be heard in the ten lat seats! I did, however, manage to enjoy the concert anyway!

I realized it was time for dinner and stumbled across a modern Latvian restaurant that literally had one seat left. I ordered some lamb, a glass of wine, and started writing some notes in my little notebook diary as I had forgotten my kindle at the hotel. I almost got the feeling that the restaurant thought I might be a food critic or blogger, as I caught some looks at my scribbling. The chef came out with my dinner, but it was the wrong dish. I pointed out that I hadn’t ordered fish, and I think my poor waiter was yelled at. (Fish was above the line saying lamb on the menu, and I think he saw my finger and didn’t hear me say lamb. After all, English isn’t his native language.) I got my lamb and it was delicious. When it came time for dessert, and I was asking about after dinner drinks, my waitress told me to forget the menu, she would give me something really Latvian. I then had Latvian apple brandy on the house – definitely worth waiting for my dinner!

Around the Dom

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Day 2, I took the free alternative walking tour of Riga, one that goes outside the Old Town to places actual Riga residents go to, like the Central Market, Stalin’s birthday cake (like the Seven Sisters design in Moscow but with a baroque point so it blends into the panoramic view – after all, Stalin was several years dead by the time the building was completed), and the “Moscow suburb”. We saw an old wooden church, and since it was Saturday (aka wedding day) we all got distracted by a bride and groom posing for wedding pics.

On my last day, I made sure to see parts of the Old Town I had missed, drank delicious hot chocolate, and picked up some hostess gifts for my stay with friends at my next brief stopover – Berlin.

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