RU Abroad

RU Abroad with Justin: Latvian Love for Riga

Alright, back at it. It’s been a while, but now with the good old foot fully functional, it’s time to get out of the mother land. Now, because I’m super adventurous and can’t stand the idea of immediately returning to school, I figured I’d take the newly healed foot out for a test drive. After landing in Amsterdam and catching a train back into Tilburg, I spend the next 48 hours in Tilburg just kinda… chilling. In those two days, I had two classes, and then with Katie and Isy, I hopped back on a plane and flew to Riga.

For those of you who’ve never heard of Riga, I don’t blame you. It was never even on my radar until Isy asked me if I wanted to go. Riga is the capital of Latvia, which is right beside Russia, kinda beside Poland and sandwiched in between Lithuania and Estonia. The city itself is right along the baltic sea, and is best known as a resort town in which Europeans tend to vacation during the summer. Why go to the middle of nowhere for vacation? Because Latvia is so cheap. To put things into perspective, let’s say you and four friends are going to dinner at a fancy restaurant. You each order two drinks, an appetizer, and a main dish, followed by a dessert. Rough Canadian estimate would be like what… a $130 bill? That might even be a little low, but we’ll roll with it. In Latvia we did exactly this and spend a total of 50 euros (conversion is like $70CAD). See what I mean?! Super cheap. Just for perspective though, they make 2.70 Euros an hour. I’m sure if you live there it all comes out in the wash, but traveling there barely dents your wallet.

If everything in Latvia is really cheap, wouldn’t that mean that their cities are a little crumby? This is basically the mind set I went in with, but was more than pleasantly surprised. Riga is gorgeous. Like every European city, it’s got an old city centre with old churches and three times the amount of history in one little square than Canada has in it’s entire 13 provinces and territories. Sorry mate, but with Russia and Germany so close, you can’t compete. Their version of the St. Lawrence market is three times larger, and housed in four World War Two aircraft bunkers along the river. Because the winters get so bloody cold, instead of carrousels in the park, they have a tea house, which is the same shape as a carrousel, but is instead closed in and serves every single warm drink imaginable. The tea house/park is conveniently located right beside the National Opera House where if you’re feeling aristocratic you can snag a ticket (and a good one) for under 10 Euros (still can’t get over the fact that we went to the National Ballet for under 10 bucks. Blows my mind).

If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed the trip. I think I’m starting to become obsessed with eastern Europe and the Scandinavian countries. I really want to go to Russia, but enough of that. Back to Riga.

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Before leaving Isy, Katie and I were researching Latvia so that we’d have a better idea of what to expect. I came across some random website with a list of things not to do in Latvia, and it’s super scary. If you wanna read it, feel free to HERE, but I’m going to tell you about my trip by trying to debunk “Destination Riga’s 10 Things For Tourists to Avoid in Riga, Latvia.” Before we begin, I would like to note two things. 1) the person that wrote the list is American and 2) They clearly left their ‘positive mental attitude’™ at home (the ™ belongs to Isy).

Ready? Here we go.

1. “Don’t Hail a Taxi”

Busses and trains cost 1.15 Euros, why would you ever take a taxi? It’s midnight – the public transit is still running and it’s really reliable. Plus, everything is really close together. It’s not an especially large city. You could walk. Or maybe you want to go to the Frozen beach along the Jurmala coast of the baltic sea. It’s 40 mins away, obviously that’s going to be really expensive. The train runs there every half hour. So maybe you’re right, you shouldn’t hail a cab, but it’s not like that’s the only option.

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Frozen beach in Jurmala

2. “Don’t Give Money to Beggars”

These people don’t make half of what you do. Based solely on the fact that you can afford to travel, giving someone two euros (which, remember, is what they make per hour if they have a job) won’t kill you. While wandering around Riga we walked through a park where a man was beautifully playing a trumpet. Me, a student, was still able to spare a few bucks because of all the money I saved on my opera ticket. If you’re going to flaunt the fact that you’re wealthier than the people in the city (by lets say, getting directions on your iPhone, or taking a picture with your DSLR camera), don’t be surprised if they aren’t friendly when you aren’t even willing to spare some loose change.

3. “Don’t Talk to Strangers”

“Riga is simply not a friendly place” – That’s a direct quote from this site, and it’s simply not true. There wasn’t a single person that was unfriendly to us. When we first arrived we didn’t know how to get to our accommodations, and because of this random website were too scared to ask. A woman came up to us and offered her help simply because she could see we were flustered. That’s never happened to me anywhere else in the world.

4. “Don’t Smile or Be Friendly”

So ,Latvian’s probably aren’t smiling because it’s -30 degrees, that doesn’t mean they aren’t friendly, and if you’re friendly they aren’t going to hate you for it. Have some faith in humanity.

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5. “Don’t Visit Unknown Clubs or Bars”

Just out of curiosity, how is a tourist supposed to “know” bars compared to “unknown” ones? Without saying much of anything, the issues raised under this point did not exist anywhere I went.

6. “Don’t Engage in Sex Tourism or Prostitution”

Did you go to Riga just for this? I could be wrong, but I don’t think the majority of tourists spend a couple hundred Euros to fly somewhere for just this. Out of the people we met while in Riga, most of them were couples… This seems a little unnecessary and out of place.

7. “Don’t Walk Around Late at Night”

Why does this only apply in Riga? Have you been to Berlin? 20 times scarier. Or even Toronto… Violence exists in every city. It’s the sad reality of life. Riga is no better or worse. I know I’m a man so it very different for me, but I walked around in Riga and night and didn’t get approached. Sorry, but in my opinion Riga is only as bad as every other city.

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8. “Don’t Make Yourself an Obvious Target”

Do people do this on purpose? This seems like common sense.

9. “Don’t Small Talk with Russians and Latvians”

Why do you hate Latvian’s so much!? Who broke your heart? Every person is different!

10. “Don’t Ask the Locals for Help”

See number 3.

11. “Don’t Use a Credit Card or Bank Card”

Not a problem. Did it.

Whoever wrote that blog post made me really want to not go to Riga, which is sad, because it was so lovely. I had the best of times, thanks to Isy and Katie, and just the city in general.

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So, Dear blog writer person,

Go back and try again. Because I really want you to love it as much as I did.

Cheers,

Justin

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Justin Anthony
Hello, my name is Justin and I’m a third year arts student. I’m fortunate enough to be moving to Tilburg University for a year in the Netherlands on exchange, so I'm blogging about it for the RU Abroad series!