Replenished with hot food we resumed our walk through the city and made for the old Jewish Quarter called Little Russia, which took us through the market on the way. This area of the city was interesting for consisting of buildings constructed of timber that are fighting a losing rearguard action against decay and neglect and caught in a catch twenty-two situation, too expensive to repair and restore and too culturally important to be demolished. If something isn’t done soon it is almost certain that Mother Nature will have the final word on the matter.
Adjacent to this area was the Academy of Sciences building, constructed by the communists in the style of the Seven Sister’s Skyscrapers in Moscow and although impressive in its appearance was seriously ill conceived in respect of location.
The sky was still clear so we decided to make the Skyline bar for the sunset, which the guidebooks described as not to be missed. We walked back through the market, this time through the old zeppelin hangers that had been converted into a huge indoor market with an impressive array of produce. The meat looked especially good and Micky (being a butcher by trade) gave us a guide to the cuts and the comparative costs to those back home.
On the way back we passed some currency exchange kiosks and Micky panicked because he had already spent about twenty Lats today and he felt the need to convert more sterling just to restore the size of his wad and to be on the safe side just in case the inflation rate hit 1000% overnight. He became even more concerned when the first kiosk had run out of Lats! Christine was fortunate not to be arrested when she hung about outside looking suspiciously like a bank robber under a black hood and neckerchief auditioning for a starring role on Latvian Police Five. The rest of us moved on and kept a discreet distance away not wishing to be involved in a potential incident with the authorities if by chance she had been caught on CCTV.
Walking around Riga is quite safe so long as you keep to the pavements and watch the traffic signals carefully because the drivers are not very pedestrian friendly if you inadvertently stray into their road space when they have priority. Walking back to the Hotel Latvia we used the pedestrianised central reservation of the boulevard style road, which at one stage required a perilous negotiation of an intersection.
Four of us strode confidently across ignoring the nearby line of traffic waiting at traffic lights with snarling engines and drivers scenting blood with right foot poised to hit the accelerator pedal and lunge forward at the first hint of green. We made it (but only just) but Sue had hesitated and got caught almost mid way across in a stream of traffic that heavily resented her presence on the highway. “Hold on” she screamed but I’m not sure if it was directed at us for uncharitably leaving her behind or at the drivers moving in for the kill. Anyway she judiciously retreated to safety, waited for the lights to change and then carefully but quickly made her way across to join us.
Riga has a curious system for pedestrian crossings, which is designed to deliberately confuse the foreign visitor. For the person on foot standing at the pavement edge the pedestrian light turns green and it is their turn to go but the traffic ignores this and continues to hurtle uncontrollably forward almost daring the confused visitor to try his luck. This is followed by a moment or two of nervous hesitation and jerky indecision and then a hokey cokey leg in, leg out test of willpower to see whose nerve will break first, the driver or the pedestrian.
Not a bit of this roadside performance is remotely helpful however unless the pedestrian is prepared to take a deep breath and a massive leap of faith and put a foot down firmly and confidently on the carriageway as though playing a game of ‘chicken’, because it is only at this point that the traffic is finally obliged to stop. Reassuringly it almost always does but I wouldn’t recommend trying it in front of a Riga tram, which seem to be excused from all of the most sensible traffic regulations and weighing in fully loaded at a little under fifty tonnes or so just might take a bit of stopping.
The Skyline Bar is a great place to relax in the early evening after a day sight seeing and a good spot for watching the sunset and it is the place to be seen with modern trendy furniture and décor that suggests a level of exclusivity to this place that is in contrast to its total accessibility. It is easy to just wander in off the streets and take the external lift to the top and you are in the best cocktail bar in the city. One of the best views is from the men’s toilets where there is full length window and the panoramic view from it is quite stunning.
Getting one of the seats by the windows is essential but can be a chore when the place is busy and competition is fierce, and you really need one that looks to the west to enjoy the stunning view of the City and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral that stands nearby. Sometimes you have to sharpen elbows, wait and stay alert for window seat opportunities but it is worth the effort, especially if there is a sunset to be seen and with a view like this it really doesn’t matter when the service is slow.
It is supposedly designed to resemble a Manhattan bar but as I have never been to New York I am unable to confirm whether it has achieved this objective. The place has a relaxed atmosphere and a friendly ambience and it certainly doesn’t have Manhattan prices with generous cocktails costing on average less than a fiver.
There are many suggestions for the origin of the word cocktail, almost as many as the choice of drinks available at the Skyline Bar. Some say that it was customary to put a feather, presumably from a cock’s tail, in the drink to serve both as decoration and to signal to teetotallers that the drink contained alcohol but my favourite is that after a cock fight it was customary to mix a drink with a different shot of alcohol for each remaining feather in the winning cock’s tail.
At the bar we found a grandstand seat by the window and settled down for the sunset that we estimated to be due at four-fifteen. We got that wrong and had to wait until five-to-five but there was a pleasing atmosphere in the bar and we watched the last puddles of sunshine laying on the rooftops of the city until the sun quickly dipped below the horizon and it went dark.
More posts about Riga…