Day two in Riga: (one too many) winter warmers

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I’ve been back in the UK for a few days now and fuck me, the world’s gone bloody bonkers. Politically, I’m scared of commitment (you’ll never hear me say “I’m Labour,” “I’m Lib Dem,” and never, ever “I’m Tory”) but, as a left-leaner, I’ve been asking myself some pretty big questions this week: why are people with right wing views (which are no less valid than left ones) too afraid to admit to the pollsters who they’re really voting for? Have we all shot ourselves in the foot by demonising people who sit too far away on the political spectrum? Have we been too quick to assume that “you’re racist” is the end of the conversation? Have we stopped discussing, arguing, because we look down on the right? Have the right stopped discussing, arguing with us because we wrongfully call them racists and bigots? Have we become so reductive that we think left = socially responsible and right = socially irresponsible? And for the love of God, when has anyone been persuaded by being lambasted as a deplorable, boneheaded racist?

Yeah, there’s been a lot on my mind. Whenever I’ve sat down to write this week, all that’s come out is politically charged ranting. But it’s Sunday morning, the tea is brewing and I’m ready to take momentary solace in the memories of one of the best weekend breaks I’ve had in years.

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After our delicious Friday evening, D and I awoke to find a fresh blanket of snow had been laid over Riga while we’d slept. The only things that made our artist’s studio/home for the weekend more beautiful were the icicles framing the window views. We bundled ourselves up in our winter’s best* and started our search for Central Market, Europe’s largest market. Housed in five old German Zeppelin hangars, it shouldn’t have been too difficult to spot; but we still managed to arrive, not notice, ask a taxi to take us there, and be told it was behind us. Nailed it. 

<small>*For D, this meant leaky trainers that required sellotape to stave off the frostbite. Classy bird

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God knows what this source of tastiness was.

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Of the market’s 3,000 stalls, we spent a disproportionate amount of time in the cheese zone (deliciousness won’t sample itself, comrades). Breakfast and a coffee will set you back around E1.50, and a family-sized bag of raw sauerkraut isn’t much more; though how and why D could eat this is beyond me. As far as we could see, the Central Market was devoid of your usual tourist crowd but that could be something to do with the fact that it’s tourist low season as it’s certainly your go-to place for little Latvian trinkets. Damn my hand-luggage-only ticket.

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Snacks in hand, we ventured over to Riga’s Old Town. With its pastel-coloured buildings tipped with snow, Old Town is even more fairytale-like than it is picture-perfect. I half expected some Disney princess so come careering around the corner, bursting into song about how much she loves the snow but alas, I was treated only to D’s dulcet tones.

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While I like to think of myself as hardened to weather types of all sorts, sun seeker D started to get chilled to the bone. Wiener. We tried to seek shelter from the elements in the self-professed “most romantic cafe in Old Town” but were, quite poetically, turned away. Once again, romance itself has thrown us out into the cold; WOE BETIDE US. But where romance rejects, booze beckons. Despite only being 2pm, the low-lit, stylish Balzambars offered no judgment as D ordered her first-of-many balsams, the Latvian national drink. I played it far cooler with a Bailey’s latte, but the barman was having none of it and soon switched me to balsams (which I interspersed with yummy, yummy whiskey throughout the afternoon). He taught us some Latvian phrases, caramelised us some oranges and generally looked after us as best he could, bless.

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What we’d intended to be a quick pitstop to warm ourselves up turned into a full afternoon’s drinking, and we were soon joined by a Riga inhabitant, D’s boyfriend’s friend and sourcer of more delicious chow. He took us across the city to a restaurant we’d never have found if not for him, which had the added bonus of being accessed through a snowy park of Christmas trees (!). Fun fact: the Christmas tree comes from Latvia! I was obviously overjoyed at this revelation and this year’s tree will have a number of hand-luggage-friendly Latvian decs.

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Our Riga inhabitant left us briefly, only to find us again a few hours later in possibly the cheesiest bar the city offers. World Kafe is run by a man who was so delighted to host us that he played anything we requested three times. It was always three. I do hope that’s to do with some freaky-deaky superstition because hey, I love a story. When D befriended some Latvian revellers, the barman cleared the bar of tables and chairs to allow them space to dance. Now that’s hosting. 

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In efforts to stay warm, we’d been drinking for roughly 11 hours at this point; leaving us with a hangover that made day three hardly bloggable. I’ve been raving about Riga since my return and have already convinced one pal to go next week (or so I like to think; he may or may not have been going without me waving a big Latvian flag in his face). I didn’t make enough of the beautiful Art Deco architecture, but that alone would be reason enough for a visit. And when the flight is 2 hours and £30, there’s absolutely no excuse. It’s a wildly under appreciated gem in the heartland of one of Europe’s most intriguing pockets. I currently have another window open and am potentially scooting off to Lithuania next week.

Ta-ta for now, my little chickadees; and sleep tight in your probably-not-minus-seven-degree-temperatures.

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