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Riga March 17, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.

Riga. The name itself conjures up nothing in my mind. As a matter of fact 99% of the people I’ve ever asked said they’ve never heard of the place. Maybe thats why it holds such a fascination with me. The capital city of Latvia was, for hundreds of years, the largest and arguably most important city in the Swedish empire. Extensive Baltic trade made this port a strategic and economic powerhouse in its day. Because of this fact Riga has changed hands many times: from the Swedes, to the Poles, to the Russians, back to the Swedes, to the Nazis, to the Russians again and finally to their own independence only 16 years ago. Fascinating history! This is the story of my trip to this former Soviet Union stronghold. Ryan, Meg, John and myself took the 17 hour boat ride from Stockholm and were greeted with coal upon landing.

You could tell the city was large and, from the abandoned warehouses in the harbor, that it was trying to recover from harder days gone by. We only had about 6 hours to explore (not a lot!) and so off we ran to see what we could. We found a cool little cafe that a friend had recommended when he had been in Riga and we ate some Latvian bakery items for breakfast. I was amazed at how strong the Latvian currency is; it cost me 30 Euro to get 20 Lat! Thankfully things weren’t too expensive. After the cafe we took a brief walk to one of the two nearby churches that dominate the skyline. One had an elevator which took us to a high observatory from which we could see the entire city for miles around.

We had quite a view although it would have been nicer without so much wind. Don’t ask me where I’m trying to climb to, I just like to climb stuff.

From the church we made our way briskly (we are in a time crunch after all) to the center of old town, and here we found the House of the Black Heads. Apparently, once upon a time, there was a prominent traders guild in town called the Black Heads. These guys prospered by ruling the streets and just like the city they became wealthy from trade. So wealthy they were able to build one nice guild house.

O.k. so the picture doesn’t quite do it justice. Inside there was a great deal of art, statues, richly furnished rooms and other such impressive things. Here is their guild crest, and here also is a picture of us in the main meeting hall which is still used today by various groups and the government of Latvia.

Hi Meg! After exploring the museum we were ready for some real food but had no idea where to eat. We explored more of the old town and completely randomly we ran into a sign that said:

I’m pretty sure the conversation went something like this:

Mike: “Guys, wow check this out, a medieval restaurant. We gotta try this.”

Others: “Whatever, we’re hungry.”

Once we opened the door, there was no further convincing needed.

I truly believe the best things in life come spontaneously and randomly, unplanned and unannounced. This restaurant was one of them. The entire place was candle lit. I love candles. Everything was carved wood, the walls were adorned with medieval tapestries, there was music from the 14th century coming from somewhere and the smell of roast venison and poached rabbit was wafting through the room. Our senses overwhelmed, we were instantly transported back in time.

I ordered the pumpkin soup with lentils and the venison stew dish which came out looking and tasting simply perfect.

We would all agree later that this place was the highlight by far. I can honestly say this was one of the most fun eating experiences ever, if not for the impeccable ingredients then for the atmosphere and ambiance in general. Well worth the trip for. Even the waiters were dressed in period clothing!

Good times. We took our leave of the restaurant and visited another church before heading back to the boat. Somehow John and I actually got kicked out of the church (this is a first for me!) because we didn’t pay extra for a “photo ticket” upon entering the church. First of all, paying to go into a church is really really really stupid to begin with. I mean comon, its the house of God not a museum. In any case. One thing that I forgot to mention is on the boat ride to Riga Ryan and I almost got completely beat to bloody pulps by a group of drunk Russians. Friends, do not, I repeat do not mess with Russians, especially those under the influence. This is an especially important lesson for me, before I go to mother Russia in less then a month. I won’t get into the details of how we almost got decimated but I am simply thanking God (because I told him I would publicly) that I am alive. Those boats have no security on them whatsoever, no police presence. You could throw a couple Americans overboard in the ice cold Baltic sea at night and no one would be the wiser…

Anyway, Mark is coming in like a week and I’m excited to no end about that. Another friend, Amelia from France is coming to visit me on Sunday so that will be very cool, hopefully can give you some pictures of that later in the week. Things are busy and thats just the way I like them. I can tell this last period of time in Sweden is just going to fly by and one day I’ll wake up in Seattle again thinking “what just happened?!”. Thats all I got, time to sleep. Have a good weekend everybody.



1. Melinda Larson - March 17, 2007

Wow! What an amazing restaurant in Riga!! Gramma McCord used to have to disguise venison in our meals just to get us to eat it. So glad you think it is delicious!
The scenery looked impressive. Was it cold? Appears you got away with wearing a light jacket?
Liked the history about the Black Heads. Will have to read a bit more about them. This is an area I know so little about!!
So glad God protected you and Ryan. Encounters with drunks anywhere can be somewhat unpredictible. Best not to go near them, especially while in Russia. Otherwise, you may be there for much longer than you wish!!
Love your blog and all the exciting new travels you have experienced.


2. marcovinicio - March 18, 2007

I really like that first pic–glad to hear that you had such a great time. So I think we need to get you a pin for your jacket that says “Don’t Hug the Russians” lol I can’t wait to hear the whole story, but I’m very VERY very glad that you did not find yourself at any point in the ice cold Baltic Sea. Also, I concur with your mom–the Black Heads thing was really fascinating to me….1 week man, 1 week!!!

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