Saturday, 8 October 2016


5th - 6th Oct 2016

The bus journey from Tallinn down to Riga took 4½ hours and cost a very reasonable 19 Euros. They go once an hour; I caught the 11.00am departure. Still can't understand why their trains don't operate a service south, but c'est la vie. Maybe they will in future. Anyway, the bus was comfortable; it had free WiFi, plugs for chargers and entertainment consoles at every seat and loos which were clean and worked. The main road, the E67, took us all the way down the coastal east side of the country. It was a single carriageway road but in good nick (paid for by the EU no doubt, i.e. us) with no roadworks or traffic jams...a smooth steady 70kph all the way. We had a five minute leg stretch in the seaside town of Parnu, about half way down. Parnu is a popular holidy resort in summer, noted for it's pleasant beaches and 'mud treatments'. Can't think why I would be tempted to leave the countryside of England for mud treatment....we have enough already thank you. We crossed the border somewhere but I failed to note where (no stop) because I was heavily engaged in playing Backgammon against my 'entertainments console'. 

The countryside is flat as a pancake all the way. There is, however, a noticable difference between the landscapes of Estonia and Latvia. Estonia has a lot neat and well tended arable, animal and grass farmland, with pretty little homesteads and villages dotting the scene. From what I could see from the bus (trees) Latvia is entirely covered in forest. I remember now that Estonia is noted for grain exports and Latvia for timber.

It took us about 30 mins to negotiate the straggling and rather drab outskirts of Riga before arriving at the central bus station, co-located with the railway station. I wish UK bus and train stations were like that.
My hotel, the Radi un Draughi, was fortunately only a 5 minute walk away. From the 'Schmelli in Tallinn to the Draughti in Riga'; what next...the Dinji perhaps.

Riga is a larger city than Tallinn and, as with Tallinn, has a central cobbly medieval and 'Baroque' (whatever that is) 'Old Town'. Having checked into the hotel I decided to soak up a bit of the local atmosphere, and beer, in the nearby Paddy Whelan's Irish Pub (left) where I enjoyed a refreshing glass of the local Guiness.

On my first walkabout that afternoon my initial impression was that the place somewhat lacks the charm of Tallinn. The 'Old Town' is smaller and exists for about a kilometre up the eastern bank of the river Daugava which  bisects the city. As norm, loads of churches and a couple of cathedrals, many bars, restaurants etc. but as it is all very flat and no left-over city walls to contain the area, it doesn't have quite the same character and wasn't as clean or well manicured as Tallinn. The fact that the weather was cool, grey and overcast...some drizzle...didn't help. I also noticed that it has a more 'Soviet' or Russian feel to it. Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian are all separate languages and peoples, but here one heard a lot of Russian being spoken. I am told that there is a large proportion of Russians, or locals who like to be Russian, in Latvia; perhaps almost 50%. I suspect Mr Putin could count on a lot of support!

Don't get me wrong, it all seemed quite jolly and cosmopolitan even if a bit brash in places. The old mixed with the new, and I suspect it is much more attractive in the summer when delightful British  stag and hen parties are popular. The city also has the reputation of  being at the forefront of the 'Art Nouveau' architecture movement in the early 20th century.
Right: Is this Art Nouveau architecture? I will have to swat up on that before passing comment.

Before an early night during a quick wander, I passed the enormous Riga Cathedral in Doma Laukums Square (left). It the largest medieval church in the Baltic. Once Catholic, it is now Evangelical Lutheran, whatever that is.

Right: Sitting at the corner of this Cathedral was a chap playing a 'cello to an audience of zero, and I didn't count because I took this from a long distance; zoom lens and all that. When I say playing, he was dragging his bow across the strings and making a dismal funerial tuneless noise. Perhaps this was Art Nouveau music, but I wasn't terribly impressed.

Left: Latvian and Riga City flags.

The aim tomorrow is to do a walk around the whole Old Town. It's not that extensive, and I will report back with my  usual less than erudite and inaccurate observations.

I have been warned that some of the bars around where I  am staying get a bit noisy at night, but I'm not staying up late and  am a heavy sleeper. I hope my snoring doesn't disturb them too much.

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