A very bumpy flight later and we arrive in Riga (where for some reason the whole plane started applauding???)
I had little hope about Riga, not least for the kids but for me. I had visions of this Eastern Bloc, war ridden country.
After arriving at the airport a woman and her daughter took and instant liking to Charlie and Abi and whilst queuing for the currency we got talking. Their English was bad, but not near as bad as my Latvian! Anyway I explained we were going to Riga Central station and they said come with us, so we walked out into the car park and I was wondering what was happening as we walked past loads of minibuses all claiming fares to Riga for 3 LVT each, either way we crossed a road and ended up at a bus stop. The bus came and the cost was 0.50 LVT with the kids free, so a saving of about 9 quid.
Riga itself – It has to be one of the most welcoming and friendliest cities I have ever been to. It is stunningly beautiful and is steeped in history, yet at the same time is overtly modern and chic. To begin with I was wondering why all the Latvians make a bee line for the UK with such a prosperous and beautiful city which in my opinion is better than any UK city. Now, here is a bit of advice – If you are looking to go on a diet and become supremely good looking then put down the Atkins diet, forget about cabbage soup – Get yourself on a flight out to Riga and ask any of the woman that pass you by how they do it. I am not joking, every other young woman is slim, beautiful and yet (in a way the British females have yet to comprehend) they do not love themselves. However, there is a massive downside – There is evidence to suggest that once the Latvian Woman reaches 40 – Bang – They get battered half to death with the ugly stick. MILF is a phrase certainly never used in Latvia.
Anyway I started to question why anyone would want to leave such an amazing city and then it hit me. Sadly there is a road which ironically is opposite a huge multiplex cinema and shopping centre – Once you cross that road you see the Riga you imagined. People begging, people obviously so ill with hunger they are dying whilst holding a paper cup, their head held down in shame. There is a huge market and the stench is unbearable, food hygiene is non existent – I saw meat being on a rusty freezer, pieces of chicken which were mouldy. It really was a stark reminder that whilst Latvia has a strong performing economy and its streets littered with Versace and similar it has a much darker side. Unfortunately the busiest part of town is the poor part. It was so bad I put my Video Camera away because I felt so guilty.
In terms of what next? I went to the Train Station and queued for an hour in a queue where there was one person in front of me. (Window 24) and booked our tickets to Moscow – The total cost was 120 LVT or $250 for 2 beds in a 4 bed booth. It is expensive, but the alternative was a $700 flight, or a 4 day bus journey.
Then we went and watched Ice Age 3 which was great, the Latvian subtitles only really did my head in for the first 90 minutes of the film.
Im actually a bit sad leaving Riga, its a great little city with loads to do for adults and kids – I hope to be back some time in the future.
Next stop……. 17hr Train journey to Moscow