We arrived and were delighted to find the sun shining and a lovely warm day to greet us when we left the arrivals hall and were met by Alona and the mini-bus that she had arranged for our transport. We went first to the Maritim Park and she ordered us to check-in and return immediately to the bus. We had to explain to her that as we had been travelling for eight hours or so that we needed some time to freshen up and therefore wouldn’t be able to proceed with the planned tour without a little rest and recuperation. Finally it was agreed and the remainder of us left the Maritim group to change and get ready whilst we went to the Albert to do the same.
We had a short debate about the alternative choices of shower or beer and after satisfying myself that personal hygiene was not a problem I predictably went for the alcohol alternative and returned down to the bar and had a glass of Cesu Alis – a fine local beer. I reflected on the minor disagreement on tour itinerary times and it was then at about this time that I had my first misgivings about the possibility of tensions in the group, so I had another glass of Cesu Alis to see if this would take them away. It certainly helped.
The Hotel bar wasn’t especially busy and I became conscious that the barman was particularly attentive and he kept winking and nodding in my direction in that screwed up face sort of way that people adopt when they are trying to attract attention. I hoped he had an unfortunate affliction, worried he might be gay and wished hard that Kim would hurry up and join me but then I realised that he was trying to draw my attention in the direction of two young women sitting in the window; I still took a while to catch on but when Kim finally arrived she was astute enough to work out that he was enquiring if I required the services of a prostitute! That was thoughtful of him but when Kim arrived he realised that I wasn’t in the market for a tart and he moved on. Riga is allegedly the place to go if you like to pay for your women and later we were to discover that this hotel was sex city central.
The mini-bus returned and the party was reunited to begin a guided tour of the city that started with a bus trip that due to the confusing one-way system circumnavigated the city at least three times. Some actually fell asleep and woke three times to see the National Opera House and made the reasonable assumption that we had sat in a traffic hold-up for thirty minutes or so. The mid-day sun was hot and made life in the mini-bus a bit of a challenge and I for one was glad when we arrived at our lunchtime destination, the Lido, which is an out-of-town garden centre sort of attraction that is centred around a self service restaurant in a unique type of wooden building called a guļbūve that was built using specially selected hundred year old Latvian fir-trees and is said to be the largest of its kind both in Latvia and in Europe and I for one was not going to dispute this piece of information.
I had expected the choice of food in Latvia to be somewhat limited so this place was a real eye-opener. The service areas were set out with a gut-busting selection of high quality food, every type of meat imaginable of course but also vegetables and salads, dips and sauces all presented in a mouth watering way and with eyes bigger than bellies there was, to be honest, far too much food choice for hungry people with empty stomachs.
For a first visit the vast array of fare made decision making very difficult but eventually we all selected a meal and after a bit of a scramble to find a table for ten we enjoyed our food and a glass of beer. It was delicious food and excellent beer but we couldn’t linger too long because our insistence on a freshen-up break earlier had put Alona’s itinerary at risk so we were allowed only a very brief look around the gardens and the craft shops after lunch before we were obliged to quickly move on.