30 November 2010

Riga- "The Paris of the North"

We have been to many places recently that left us saying, "Wow. This would probably be really beautiful in the summer/spring/fall." It now feels officially like winter and, of course, there are places that are absolutely at their best in the snow. Riga is one of them. For a big city, it doesn't seem crowded or overrun. In fact, its other nickname "The Second City That Doesn't Sleep" doesn't really seem to fit at all. Though, I may be biased. Sure, people stayed up late, but it didn't seem like this constant flow of people and traffic and life. Anyway, less trudgers and cars meant that the snow didn't instantly go from "it's so pretty" to "I just stepped in a foot deep puddle of grey slush." It didn't seem like an inconvenience, but rather the perfect backdrop to really feel the personality of the city and the neighborhoods that made it up.
The architecture in Old Town reminded me of gingerbread houses and Christmas toy villages. I resisted the urge to carol, don't worry. The area is made up of thin, cobbled streets that are closed to vehicles, which makes wandering slowly while looking up at buildings far less dangerous.
The Christmas markets were starting to get set up and we saw construction workers around town hanging lights from the telephone poles. If the neighborhoods of Riga were the Little Women, Old Town would be Beth. Dreamily quaint, quiet and cheerful. It gives you a warm fuzzy feeling that induces a craving for cocoa and mulled wine.
Behind the Old Town are some pretty spectacular cathedrals. Let's call this Meg- classic, traditional, regal and undoubtedly beautiful in its own way. In the foreground of the picture, there is a stand selling babushkas (Russian dolls). A lot of other tables had ones painted to be the Harry Potter characters, the last few American presidents, famous dictators, but these were the 'real' deal. I was going to buy one, but when I approached, the vendor began to shout prices and telling me I just had to have one, which turned me off.
The Art Nouveau District is obviously Amy, with its fancy trimmings and adoration by the masses. This is really the only place we saw a handful of foreigners snapping pictures. Riga actually has the most Art Nouveau architecture in Europe, so it makes sense that this area gets so much hype. It wasn't our favorite, simply because there didn't seem to be a neighborhood there. I think I would have appreciated the buildings more had they been spread out, but face after face after face became a little boring. You can't deny how pretty it is, in a Fabergé egg sort of way, but like little Amy, it lacked depth or anything that really drew you in.
We aren't exactly sure what the neighborhood we stayed in was called, but it was definitely outside the realms of any of the others. There were small organic markets, hipster shops, thrift stores and a cafe named 'DAD' that we liked a lot. (Amongst the couches and piano benches, there was a single cardboard box, filled solidly enough to sit on. Oh, those whacky alternative types).
It was a little bit of a walk from any 'sight,' but had some really interesting old wooden buildings and churches that we both found to be the most beautiful. Jo, obviously.

P.S. I apologize for the Little Women analogy. This time of year always makes me think of the March sisters and their wassailing around. Like Riga, they seemed to be at their most charming in the winter. (There's a reason 'Camp Laurence' never made the movies).

1 comment:

  1. Hey, hi! :) I accidentally find this blog while I was searching some market picture in the google. It was interesting to view all these stories about my country although my language knowledge isn't so bright. How did you choose all places where to go? and, yeah! DAD cafe is very cute. It was hard to find where are you come from? I'll definitely search again for this blog after some time.
    Greetings and if there are some questions, let it know!