Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Baltic's - Part 2

After spending a week in Tallinn, Amy and I hopped on a bus and coached down to Riga, Latvia. Much like Tallinn, Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. And also like Tallinn, Riga's old town is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike Tallinn, Riga is actually the largest city of all the Baltic states. Riga lies about 10 miles from the Baltic coast on the Daugava River. This is noteworthy because a canal was built that encompass the old town and a beautiful park has been built around the canal.

Once again we were lucky to score an inexpensive room in the old town and this made it easy for us to drop off our things and hit the town.

Riga was different than Tallinn in that it felt a little bit wilder, a little bit edgier. During the day it was a tourist magnet, but after the sun went down (again, it didn't really go down because of the latitude, but you know what I mean) the bars came alive, the stag parties came out, and old town turned into a show.

Just outside of Riga's old town is what many consider to be the finest collection of Art Nouveau architecture in Europe. The buildings  are exceptionally ornate and integrate many different themes into the design. There are entire blocks with nothing but exquisite examples of Art Nouveau, and it's easy to see why people embraced this movement.

I think my favorite thing about Riga is the park that surrounds old town. The city's done a fantastic job creating a space in the middle of everything that feels removed and separate from all of the commotion. There are meandering paths, tea houses, and of course, the canal which sports paddle boats, row boats, and electric skiffs that you can hop on to tour the canal and the river.

My second favorite thing about Riga was the food and beer! There's seriously just some incredible food in this part of the world. Maybe it's just me, but how can you not enjoy a potato sausage!

On my day off we rented a car a drove into the Latvian countryside. We visited some old castles, my favorite being the castle at Cesis. Not only does it look like the quintessential castle, in order to tour it, you have to take a lantern with you so that you can actually see where you're going!

Before leaving, we ventured to an infamous bar in old town know as Black Magic. The bar is the home of a local elixir know as Riga Black Balsam. We'd heard about this magical drink, and how it can be added to coffee, tea, juices or enjoyed straight, and we knew we had to give it a try. The Black Magic bar is fantastic. The top floor is warm and inviting, but if you turn the corner and descend the steep steps into the basement, it's like wandering into a mad scientists secret lab. We ordered a round of drinks and quickly realized that the Black Balsam is NOT something that you want to add to your coffee, tea or juice. Nor is it something that you want to drink straight... or at all. So, we've got a bottle of it waiting around for anyone bold enough to give it a swig!

If you look closely you'll notice that there's a Ouija board carved into the table top.

In the next post we reach our final leg of the journey, Vilnius, Lithuania!

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