On Wednesday We had a walking tour of Riga
We had been here for 4 days and we were so ready for a bit of Riga; our neighborhood Angenskalns is rustic, picturesque, and historic, but not heaps to see but houses. However, you take the 21 bus in to town and boom, plenty of history; from original walls from when Riga was a castle fortress, founded in 1201, to the moat and cobble stones. We learned a lot!
Our local market at Angenskalns, just west up the road (away from Old Town) has just about everything we need, and pretty moderate prices, but we’ve found we are spending a lot for things like meat and vegetables. Our fears of bread and cheese being plentiful and cheap have come true. We eat like expensive tourists. We’re going to have to figure that one out soon.
Anyway back to the story!
Toms is the MAN
Our guide Toms
We decided to risk the “Free” walking tour (knowing in the end it probably would have some string attached, which it did, but this wasn’t a big deal as I’ll epxlain later) starting at 11am at the church just outside the main public square of Riga’s City Centr (Old Town). Here’s Toms’ company website and many wonderful reviews of Toms’ tour on TripAdvisor.
We were joined on the tour by about 15 other people from many different countries: 2 Canadians, a Lithuanian (both Latvians and Lithuanians think Estonians are full of themselves), three Americans (not related), two Dutch, an Italian, a Scottish bro, and three Chileans. Forgive me if I left anyone out, ha. Toms was fantastic at including everyone and remembered most of our names after only one or two times hearing them. He asked Alpha and Lennox to participate and made sure we didn’t go too long without a good laugh.
At this point in the trip our solid impression of Latvians is they are very reserved to downright grumpy so we knew being a tourguide entertainer for 2 hours must be completely exhausting for a Latvian, and Toms really pulled it off.
Old Town Riga has a rich past
The builder of this house turned the cats tails toward the guild that shunned him
There were many stories told and history presented along the way, Toms even saw and shook the hand of the captain of the Latvian football team, Kaspars Gorkšs. The story of the rebellious rich man snubbing the architects guild (or City Hall, depending on whom you ask) by pointing Cat’s butts at one of those buildings (or both!) is now legend. It’s representative of the get-on-with-it spirit that Latvian’s have; you better know what you want or get out of the way. Not unlike ordering a sandwich in Queens, New York.
Wikipedia has this story pretty much correct, according to what Toms told us, and the building is well kept which says to me that Riga is happy to have the story continue unabated.
Riga Old Town was the defensible keep for several hundred years, and it was surrounded by a moat, some of which is now a tourng river and hill parapet, and evidence can be seen on the cobblestone streets that carriages used to be the mode. Cannons on the corners of buildings in alleyways protected them from racing carriage wheels at Swedish Gate.
Here we are at Swedish Gate, see the cannons on either side.
The House of Knighthood, also the Latvian Parliament, has a story behind it as well. See the statue high above and to the side of the entrance? That is Lāčplēsis, the Bear Slayer of Latvian legend. The story goes he fights his battle with the bear every day; he defeats it, but has to fight the Bear every day to vanquish him in a neverending struggle; this also speaks to the Latvian spirit of determination against impossible foes and slim odds.
Latvian Parliament building with a statue of the mythical Lāčplēsis, Bear Slayer.
Of course a bar would not be complete wihtout a 13th century wall next to it
A wall from the 13th Century in Riga
Yes, this wall is from the 13th century. Beat that! It was part of the fortification defenses of Riga. Being from two very young countries, the US and New Zealand, seeing a wall is such amazing condition, this old, is amazing. Of course no traveller lets on that something like a brick wall is amazing, so I will simply tell you this here. 🙂
There was more to the tour, but these are some good highlights. Latvia has had a bit of a troubled past with being handed off between the Swedes, Germans and Russians since its founding in 1201, and it’s battles over Christianity and struggles with the Nazi regime, but for the past 25 years its been independent and in a few weeks celebrations start for this. We won’t be here, unfortunately, for those, but the Summer Solstice festival is coming up next week or the week after, so maybe we’ll catch some of that.
At the end of the tour Toms gave us the soft sell for a nighttime kayak tour, which we were seriously tempted by!, but we had to give it a miss. No 9 or 6 year old kid wants to kayak on a cold night at 10pm. Circumstances being different we would have done it in a heartbeat.
We really appreciate Toms tour, and so do many others! (See all the reviews of his tour here.) Toms made us feel like Riga is no longer a strange place to be feared, and we understand it so much better. People are no less gruff, or in a hurry, or busy trying to make a living, they are just like us – making their way in their way in the world as best they can, free of the Russian yoke. Well done Toms and thanks for the tour!
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