June 29-July 1, 2000
Latvia's hopes for Riga are for it to become the de-facto capital of the three Baltic States, much like Belgium is for the EC; however, Estonia and Lithuania don't seem to see it that way and think of Riga as just a train station between the two countries.
It's interesting to find that there are few Latvians in Riga. In fact, Latvians are minorities in all Latvian cities since they were deported out of the cities by the Russians during WWII. When the Nazis came to take over Latvia, the remaining people welcomed them as the Russians left immediately; however, it was only a few days before the Nazi party was sending the people away to the camps again.
The Occupation Museum gives a slightly slanted story by leaving out some of the historical details, but goes in great detail of life in the Russian work camps.
Today it's a great place to visit. The old town isn't one walled area, but spreads out over a larger area and the newer areas are historical by American standards as well. Accommodation and food are also very cheap here, not driven up by tourism like they have been in Tallinn.
"Do tell me more - I have this vision of markets selling fresh produce and Russian peasants…" a friend says in an email to me here. Well, it doesn't have the peasant feeling, but there's a huge fish market and there are Russians selling their wool socks and amber coated insects on the streets.
Where I stayed had some Soviet character to it. There's no sign on the door and people come only by word of mouth (although the place is now listed in a Let's Go guide) where a Russian babushka let's you in to work things out. The place hasn't been painted since this was a part of the USSR and repairs may not have been done since Perestroika, but it gives it all the more character. High ceilings with rusty pipes and wires run across with a simply wooden desk shares the room with my bed and blinking lamp. The shower across the hall is large, almost the size of my room, painted with the same factory green as the rest of the place and has more semi-rusted pipes making it look like a sort of gas chamber. I've heard that this building is owned by the circus and when they are out doing shows in the summer, the rooms are rented out.
I bumped into Steve, a young American guy I met in the hostel in Estonia, and we figured we'd see each other again in Riga; however, this didn't happen. It rained most of the time, but I didn't let that change my plans much. I wore my raincoat and let my boots get wet.