Sunday 9th July
We spent today exploring Riga, despite the lacklustre Lonely Planet descriptions of Latvia’s capital city. Phrases such as “not overwhelming” and “it’s a pleasant addition to a longer trip” abound in the Latvia section of our Lonely Planet guide to Europe, and Riga itself is described as “subtle”. I’ve read enough Lonely Planet guides in my time to be wise to their lingo. Any description which isn’t completely over the top with gushing praise and phrases such as “once in a lifetime!” or “unmissable experience!” translates to “we think this is a bit shit but tried to put a positive spin on it since you seem to be planning to go here anyway.”
Still, we’ve actually enjoyed Latvia an unexpected amount. Riga didn’t smack of mass tourism in the same way Tallinn did, feeling on the whole more chilled out and authentic. The city centre is famed for its art nouveau architecture, and creepy gargoyles adorn a lot of the buildings.
Plus, they really love animals in space suits.
We also liked this wall showing all the coats of arms for all municipalities across Latvia.
However, like we found in Tallinn, Riga’s restaurants are guilty of forcing their staff to dress in medieval garb, to add to the “atmosphere”. We are certain that the staff are all very happy about this.
One lady in medieval attire was half way through her standard tourist spiel when she caught sight of Lex.
“You are welcome to our restaurant, where we serve authentic medieval dishes such as… wooooooolllf?” Her sentence sort of morphed into a questioning howl, as she tilted her head to peer at Lex while we walked along.
As with Estonia, people love Lex here. And they all think he’s a wolf. I left Morgan and Lex alone for 2 minutes, and came back to find a crowd of people surrounding them. Turned out it was a Spanish tour group, and they were all eagerly awaiting their tour guide to translate what Morgan had said to them in response to their frantic whispers of “Lobo? Lobo?”
Some of them even sounded slightly fearful.
Our current theory is that all the dogs in Riga are so small, the people might never have seen a dog as big as little Lex. The old town is filled with dogs the size of rabbits, trotting along on tiny legs. And there are a lot of wild wolves in Latvia, so I guess it’s easy to assume we trotted off into the woods and put a leash on a wolf puppy, which we now happily parade around town, until it becomes unmanageably large and eats us.
Later in the day, Lex attempted to prove his wolfish prowess by initially being afraid of a small cat, before changing his mind and trying to hunt it. The cat was having none of this.
At the restaurant where we stopped for lunch, Lex was so popular with the staff that the chef came out and asked if he could give Lex a whole bowl of free steak! I’ll say it again; people really love Lex here.
Morgan ordered a Kvass with lunch, a disgusting drink from Russia which looks like Guinness and tastes like fizzy gone-off bread. It’s about 1% alcohol, so Russians and Latvians obviously count it as a non-alcoholic option. We tried this drink in Russia last year, and Morgan claims to actually like it.
We’d found out yesterday that the annual Baltic Drum Summit was happening in Riga this evening, so of course we had to check that out! A skate park had been taken over for this free, open air concert, which featured two guitarists, one bass player, and… over 200 drummers!
A lot of children and young people get involved in the drum summit, and we were very impressed with their synchronicity. I mean, imagine hearing 200 drummers playing to different beats. Nightmare. But everyone did a great job, playing covers by AC/DC, Van Halen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Lex, however, was bored out his mind by the whole affair, and somehow managed to sleep through it. Yes, it was extremely loud.
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