We spent one night in Riga on our way to St Petersburg because it was the cheapest and the most interesting way of getting there, and a chance for us to visit one more country. We stayed at the Monte Kristo Hotel, which is just on the edge of Old Town Riga, and as we discovered, very close to the local bus that goes to the airport. We got a room that was advertised as having no window, which was fine with us – we were arriving late at night and weren’t planning on spending much time there. There seemed to be a neon sign right outside our room, but in the light of day (yep, pun intended), we realised it was a fluorescent light in a fake window, and the only way to turn it off was to take the room key out of the activator, which of course turned everything else in the room off as well. Very strange. Still, the room was comfortable, the breakfast was good and the reception staff very kindly let us leave our stuff at the hotel until we were ready to go out to the airport.
It was raining when we left the hotel, and it rained a couple more times during the day. In between the rain, the sun shone and it was warm and humid. We walked around Old Town for a while, then went to the newer part of the city and wandered across the river to look at the magnificent new National Library of Latvia. It’s not finished yet, but from the outside it’s a very impressive building. I had known about the city’s central market, but wasn’t sure where it was, so it was a nice surprise to find it back on the city side of the river. It’s huge! We went into the wet market first, with a whole hall full of fresh, smoked and dried seafood, then into the meat and smallgoods hall, a partly empty fruit and vegetable section, then outside to see lots more fresh food stalls. So many stalls, so much excellent produce at really cheap prices. We only had enough cash to get us back out to the airport on the local bus, so we couldn’t buy anything … which was probably just as well.
We headed to a large shopping centre to find some lunch at a sit-down restaurant that took credit cards – the above-mentioned no-cash problem, and we wanted to kill some time. The shopping centre was mostly full of womens’ clothes shops (just like at home), but we found an Italian restaurant and settled in for the afternoon. Even so, we got out to the airport either way too early or in plenty of time, depending on how much pre-flight time your internal clock needs before boarding a plane.
It was a good day,and probably a good buffer for us to start making the transition from friendly, English-speaking Sweden to mildly scary non-English speaking St Petersburg, which I’ll write about soon.