Today started with a bit of a fail in Riga, we missed breakfast! Somehow we managed to sleep through our alarms and woke up after breakfast was finished – bad times.
Due to us oversleeping, it almost sent my carefully planned itinerary into disarray! We literally lept out of bed and ran around the room in a state of mild panic, trying to get ready asap. Actually, correction, I did this, Chris seemed less than concerned by the situation!
Eventually we were ready to go and ventured out into the cold, ready for another jam packed day of exploration.
We began the day at the Riga Ghetto and Holocaust Museum and we found we had the entire place to ourselves. This museum is very small and the majority of it is outdoors (so dress appropriately for the weather that day). Although small in size the museum is extremely powerful and we wandered around in near silence taking everything in. There was a small exhibition with light boxes hanging from the ceiling, each representing the story of someone who was directly affected by the events of this horrendous period in history. I thought this was a really powerful and unique way to convey the individual stories that so often get lost in the magnitude of the holocaust. I felt deeply moved as I walked amongst the boxes, reading facts and stories about these individuals.
After the museum, we headed down the road to the famous Central Market. I believe this is the largest market in Europe? (don’t quote me on this though!). The market is housed in 4 WW1 hangers and it is massive. We first walked into the fish and meat one, but quite quickly came back out as unless you are buying these items, it’s not really a place to wander around! The next hanger was like a massive green grocers, packed with fresh fruit and veg. It was packed with people going about their daily shop and there was a constant buzz of excitement as people bartered for their food! Unsurprisingly, the bakery section was my favourite, and I think a lot of other’s favourite as well, as there was quite a few people queuing at every stall selling baked goods!
We then carried on with our exploration and went on the hunt for the House of Dannenstern. This had been highlighted throughout my research into Riga and what to do/see whilst we were there. We wandered up and down the street it should have been located on (according to my map) and after scratching our heads, looking rather confused and increasing our step count as we went back and forwards, we finally settled on the building we believed should have been it. There weren’t any signs or plaques to state that the building we were looking at was correct and if I am honest, the building really didn’t look like much and certainly wasn’t worth a stop. I do not know if we had found the correct building though, so maybe we missed out on something here? If not, don’t bother with this one!
We were feeling rather peckish at this point, especially as we had accidently missed breakfast and so we headed off for lunch at a nearby eatery. We settled on a little cockerel themed place called Petergailis and you can read my review here.
After lunch, we wandered across to the House of the Blackheads. This spot was possibly my favourite in Riga, especially at night when it was all lit up by fairy lights and by the light from the nearby Christmas tree. The building itself was unfortunately closed for renovation at the time we visited, but I could have spent ages taking pictures and looking at the building itself from the outside. It was just stunning.
We then walked to the Museum of Occupation next door to the House of the Blackheads, which as it turns out was also closed for renovation – typical! Luckily, they had set up a temporary exhibition, so after studying the map showing the location of the temporary museum, we ventured off to find it.
The temporary location of the Museum of Occupation is actually up past the Freedom Monument, so it is a little distance from the original location, it doesn’t really matter though as Riga’s old town is quite small and easy to navigate around, so it was only about a 10 minute walk back through the centre. It is actually housed in one of the Embassy buildings up near the giant space monkey statue!
Entrance to the museum is by donation, so come prepared with some cash, we were running a bit low and would have liked to have donated more than we actually could. We purchased heavily from the little shop in the museum though to try and make up for it!
We ended up having the museum pretty much to ourselves, and after removing our now soaked outer layers and hanging them up on the hangers provided, we wandered up the grand stairs and into the exhibition space itself.
The exhibition was laid out like a timeline across a few rooms and had a mixture of pictures, items and artefacts and detailed extracts and information to read. The most powerful part of the exhibition were the video interviews with those directly affected by the events of the occupation. Numerous times I found myself in tears as they recalled, in such incredible detail, some of the most harrowing moments of their life. The resolve they must have had to not only get through these events but also to then relive them for the interviews was really inspirational. A couple of their stories really stuck with me, one was a lady detailing the very last time she ever saw her father. She remembers it in such detail, the almost mundane, every day moment they shared. She said how she remembers her father leaving with his jacket strewn over his arm, as he would any other day but she then goes on to say how that was the very last time she ever saw her father. Another lady recalled the starvation they had to endure due to the lack of food provisions for them. She said another family used sawdust to make pancakes to eat and she was offered some but her mother said that they are not to stoop to such a level, they were people after all and nothing anyone could do to them would break that. She then recalled how the family that ate the sawdust all died of poisoning shortly after consuming the pancakes.
After listening to their stories I found myself feeling very somber and reflective. I needed to take some time to let everything sink in. I think I sat on the bench in the middle of one of the exhibition rooms for quite some time, trying to comprehend what Latvian people went through. I have to say that the whole exhibit was so well put together and it really is a testament and fitting tribute to those who were affected by the occupation.
As you near the end of the exhibit, you learn about The Baltic Way. This is possibly one of the most amazing bits of history I have ever learnt about. The Baltic Way was a chain of about 2 million people that stretched, unbroken for 600km from Lithuania, through Latvia and up to Estonia. On the 23 August 1989, the Baltic people became united against the occupation in ways I don’t think people ever have before. To form an unbroken chain of that length, all at the same moment, is just incredible and it was one of the first steps to finally obtaining independence for the Baltic countries. I genuinely think this is an incredible moment in history that more people should know and learn about as it shows how powerful we can be if we all stand together. Each individual person made a difference that day.
I have to say, after reading the history of Latvia, I felt rather ashamed that my country (England) have so quickly thrown away our membership of the European Union. To Latvians, the EU means an incredible amount and they truly appreciate the power and strength that being part of a unified continent means. I do not want to go into a political debate here, but I felt quite saddened that our country had not appreciated what the EU represents.
After feeling like I had gained a deeper understanding for Latvia and Latvian people, I decided it was time to explore more of present day Riga. As our guide at the KGB house said, although this is their history and it is crucial we know and understand it, Latvia is so much more than that, and the last thing he, or Latvian people want, is for us to leave their country only focusing on this one aspect. He is right, Latvia has so much more to offer and I completely fell in love with it!
I therefore had to find a souvenir shop to buy lots of bits and pieces to bring home with me to remind me of this amazing place. There is a really good souvenir shop at the end of the road where the embassies are located, just behind the Freedom Monument. It sells a huge selection of souvenirs to suit everyone’s taste, whether you are after something classy and tasteful, or like me, something that screams tourist tatt but that you will love and display proudly for all to see!
After quite a long time, and way too much money spent, we emerged from the souvenir shop and made a bee line for the Laima chocolate shop near to the front of the Freedom Monument. There is even a Laima clock outside!
The smell of delicious chocolate hits you as soon as you walk in. I was spoilt for choice and ended leaving with a few large boxes of chocolates! Oops!
With our feet weary at this point, we sought solace in the Black Magic Café for hot drinks and chocolate goodness. You can read my review here.
On return to our hotel, we decided to make use of the sauna facilities. We had a large relaxation area complete with sun loungers, mood lighting and showers with a private sauna and steam room. It was pure bliss. We had everything to ourselves for a couple of hours and were provided with towels, robes and slippers along with a large jug of iced water filled with fruit slices. Heaven.
Feeling suitably relaxed and warmed up, we got ready to head out to my now favourite place in Riga, Folkklubs. You can read my full review here but trust me, it is awesome!
After dinner we headed to B Bars right by the cathedral. We settled into a window seat and watched the world go by as we drank our cocktails and reflected on what had been an amazing weekend in Riga.
If you want more of my Riga adventure, check out my Riga Vlog here: