Monday, July 31, 2017

[RIGA] Old Town, New Art

It took two hours and forty minutes for the bus to reach the Latvian border. Devoid of traffic and border checks, this has been quite a long journey. It’s one of those lengthy road trips that give you random views of green and yellow fields along the way. The good thing about Ecolines is they have comfy seats, a toilet, and WiFi that actually works. At least you won’t die of boredom before you get to Riga. Tracking our location live, I kept Google Maps open as my phone charged. Yeah, they have power sockets too!

Overall the trip took around four hours of my time, which is not bad when you are traveling in a comfortable bus. The building where my Airbnb place was had McDonalds so I just had dinner and decided to call it a day early. In my Minsk – Vilnius – Riga spectrum, the Latvian capital has been the most tourist-infested so far. Vilnius was also touristy but not that crowded. In Minsk, of course, tourists are a rarity. Here in Riga, you see non-European tourists with backpacks and DSLRs everywhere you go.

I haven’t even gone out for sightseeing yet. This is just the walk from the bus station to my Airbnb near the old town. According to Wikitravel, this city has an old town which happens to be on the UNESCO World Heritage list. What the tourists tend to love, though, is that area called Centrs. It roughly equates to the modern city center but the difference is that it is full of art nouveau architecture. It is said that when Riga was destroyed during the war, they had it rebuilt with tourism in mind. They got what they wanted.

For me, Riga is the last pit stop before I fly back to Germany for my two-month German course. This is nothing more but an extended long weekend on my book. And as it fell at the end of the itinerary, I just felt like I needed to chill more. The good thing about Latvia’s capital is that it is one of those towns where you don’t really need an itinerary. Basically, you just walk around and “stumble upon” the main attractions via aimless wandering or by following the flow of tourists. It’s as simple as that.

And that’s exactly what I did the following day. Before I knew it, I was already entering the premises of the old town with the usual cobblestoned streets and familiar architecture. In short, so very Vilnius. What differentiates the two are some unique buildings. For Riga, that is none other than the House of the Blackheads. Sorry, House of the What? No, it’s not a derma clinic. You can’t get a Botox shot there. According to Wiki, it was built by a guild of unmarried German merchants back in the 14th century.

But you know war. When a city is ravaged with bombs, so are its cultural heritage buildings. Some of Riga’s old gems are actually just reconstructions of the original. But then again most people won’t know the difference anyway. The House of the Blackheads now serves as a museum and also houses a tourist info center. Next to it is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia whose black and modern façade lends some contrast to that of the House of the Blackheads. The square is quite small but not that crowded.

I continued to roam around, my feet complaining about the cobblestones because my shoes were not that comfy. The narrow alleys reminded me of Stockholm’s, although when you think about it this is really just a common feature of old European towns that have survived to witness 2017. I told myself that my Riga album will end up as a collection of alleys and façades of various architectural styles. I wasn’t wrong. I still enjoyed it thanks to the weather.

The weather has been cool with threats of rain that did not really materialize. The clouds be, like, yeah we be raining on you BRUH! NAH, just kidding! Sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle. It was way better than being toasted or getting drenched in rainwater. I passed by another square, a bigger one where the Latvian Radio building was. There was a church and a resto with al fresco dining as well as buildings with façades of varying architectural designs. And then they topped it off with a cool graffiti, one of the few I saw here.

Another building on Wikitravel’s list was the Three Brothers, which I found rather underwhelming. Those three are said to be the oldest houses in the city. Tourists don’t seem that interested, though, because there were just two or three of us there taking photos on a Sunday afternoon. I just kept on walking after that, crossing over to Centrs to have early dinner. I think I should have spent more time there for the art nouveau buildings just to witness something different. Too bad my phone died. Again. Fucking killjoy.

But I think I like Riga better than Vilnius. Perhaps it’s the contrast that the old town and the art nouveau combo gives? The presence of more foreigners also made me feel as though both racism and xenophobia were less pronounced. Perhaps if I end up studying Russian in Tallinn one summer, I will come again for a short visit. Ecolines plies that route anyway, and I’m now a fan. For now I am okay with the general impression that I got. Between Riga and Vilnius, I feel as though I like it better here.

[RIGA] Old Town, New Art

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