After the first visit to Riga I made myself a promise to go back one day but I didn’t expect it to be quite so soon. Returning to a place for a second time is something I have vowed not to do if I can possibly avoid it mainly because there are forty-five countries in Europe and I have only so far been to thirty-0ne. But with cheap flights helping me to shorten the list of places left to visit I decided that it would do no harm to take another look at Latvia.
I found the 1p flights to Riga in September and snapped them up immediately, Micky and Sue did the same and Christine signed up for the trip a little later on. We had been to Riga before in a pleasantly warmJune and really liked the place so we were keen to return and see the city in the grip of a cold Baltic winter.
In the couple of weeks before the trip we kept our eye on the BBC Web Site weather pages and were disappointed to see that the conditions were changeable and that we could not reliably be guaranteed the snow and the cold temperatures that we really wanted to see. This was unusual because Riga in January should be very cold indeed but this year the temperatures were unpredictable and that made us anxious.
There was also a useful Web-site with some web-cam pictures that as the trip got closer encouragingly showed streets covered in snow, but we weren’t absolutely convinced that these were genuine and we began to suspect that they were recordings of what the tourist office wanted people to see rather than representing reality.
We travelled to Stansted Airport by taxi, which at £30 each seemed a bit expensive to go eighty-five miles compared to the 1p airline flights to go one thousand two hundred. To put that into perspective I calculate that if we were going to the moon it would cost £42,150 by Cockrams Coaches but only £1.99 by Ryanair.
When we landed in Riga the airport was covered in snow because there had been a big fall during the day and the snow ploughs had piled it high along the sides of the runway. This looked very promising. We found a taxi and had an entertaining ride into the city along untreated roads covered in snow and ice and with a driver bursting with testosterone who was determined not to make concessions to the conditions as he picked his way through the traffic in an over confident way that made us grateful to arrive at the Hotel Albert in one piece.
After we had all settled in we assembled in the lobby and set off on foot into the city. It was cold and the snow was delightful, new and undisturbed but not too thick to make walking difficult. The city authorities hadn’t started to tackle the clearance plan yet so everywhere we walked was through fresh virgin snow and especially through the park that took us into the city past the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Freedom Monument.
Because we had been here before we had a good idea of direction and we knew that we were heading for the Lido for a cheap but substantial meal. Sadly when we arrived there the food was finished and after an unsuccessful conversation to identify an alternative establishment with the most unhelpful barman in Riga we went back to the streets to see what was available. It was only half past nine but the restaurants all seemed to be closing down for the evening so we had to settle for TGI Fridays, which to be honest wouldn’t have been our first choice but turned out to be extremely good and unexpectedly the food had a predominantly local rather than a corporate flavour.
After dinner it was off to the skyline bar at the Hotel Latvia, twenty-seven storeys high and the tallest building in the country with a cocktail bar on the twenty-sixth floor giving panoramic views of the city. On the way back Christine slipped and tried to plunge head-first through a plate glass window, knowing how accident prone she is we were relieved therefore that after that she clamped herself onto Micky’s arm for safety. At the Hotel we found a window seat and we spent an enjoyable two hours experimenting with new cocktails.
The prices were nicely inexpensive and the vodka must have been cheap too because on an adjacent table there were two extremely drunk local men sharing the last remains of a bottle under the watchful eye of an attentive hotel security man who looked as though he had stepped from the pages of a Len Deighton novel.
Later we walked back to our hotel through the snow. This was snow as I remembered it when I was a boy, not the stuff we get now that disappears almost as soon as it hits the ground. This was the sort of snow that you can go confidently to bed safe in the knowledge that it would still be there in the morning. So we did.
More posts about Riga…