Monday, August 6, 2012

Riga, Latvia - Day 1 (Part One)

4am The unearthly hour which I woke up.  Reason being today I was flying to Latvia, a 750am flight with an airline that I've never flown with previously, airBaltic.  I checked online for the train times and apparently the train was still not running because of construction works, so I had to make extra time in preparation.  After a quick breakfast and a shower I walked to the train station and to my surprise, I saw trains running, which was good.  I caught the flytoget (airport train) and arrived at the airport at 6am with plenty of time to spare.

7:25am or thereabouts, we boarded the plane, it was pretty small, 2 seats on one side of the aisle and 3 seats on the other aisle.  I had no one sitting next to me which was good.  The plane was quite empty.  Tried to catch some sleep as well.  This is the first time I'm flying to Latvia in summer.  Previously I flew during winter last year.

10:25am  I arrived and I picked up my luggage 10 minutes later.  The plane was due to land at 10:50 so we landed much earlier.  I went to the ATM to withdraw some Lats which is the currency used in Latvia, and remembered to take my ATM card out this time (last year I left it in the machine!), then caught the bus 22 to the city.  Cost was 0.70 lats, it's cheaper if you purchase it from the machine, 0.50 lats as I remember.

11am I arrived earlier than expected, and was due to meet A. at Stockmann shopping centre which is right in the city.  It's nice to see Latvia in the summer, much more pleasant during winter and I could actually see what the buildings look like.  After a 10 minute wait I spotted A. and we went to drop our luggage at the bus station and then walked to central station to buy train tickets to Vilani, a small remote town east of Riga and 2 hours from the Russian border.  A's grandmother lives there, and I thought it would be interesting to visit that part of the country.  The cost of a one way ticket for an adult is 4.60 Lats, or 7.70 australian dollars or 6.6 euros.  Just a comparison, the train ticket just to the airport in Norway costs 27 australian dollars or 24 euros and you can see how ridiculous things are.  The train would leave at 4:52pm so we had time before that to explore.

Clock next to central station.

Central Station.

There's plenty of graffit in Latvia, this is part of an underpass.

Along Janvāra iela (January street).

Along Janvāra iela.

12pm We caught the tram to Lido, which is a recreational centre for kids but also has a large restaurant, similar to Marche.  I went there last year as well.  We had lunch outside which was nice.

Opera house opposite the tram stop along Aspazijas Bulvāris, which seperates the Old Town area and the city.

On board the tram.

Where you swipe your ticket, just like Singapore, Australia and Norway.

Here's lunch.  BBQ chicken, potatoe straw, shrimp salad, ham and cheese pancake, kvass and some raspberry dessert.

Here's the Lido restaurant.

Carp swimming in the pond.

Amusement park ride.  We didn't go on it as we didn't feel like throwing up our food. :D

Water feature.

Decor outside the restaurant.

Decor outside the restaurant.

Giant mushroom.

Entertainment stage.  Last year they had characters dancing on stage, and this was during winter.

2pm Caught the tram back to the city, walked around for a bit and had some lemonade in a cafe.  Before resuming our walk around the city.

Here comes the tram!

Horse and carriage figure, I took this shot from the tram.

Vērmanes Garden, the oldest public garden in Latvia.

Vērmanes Garden.

Lemonade break.

Freedom monument.  I saw a bunch of Chinese tourists here too.

Opposite the Freedom monument.

Along Kaļķu iela.

Along Kaļķu iela.

Along Kaļķu iela.

Markets along Kaļķu iela.

Door along Kaļķu iela.

Melngalvju nams (House of Blackheads), architectural treasure of Riga.  The statue in front is the statue of Roland, a symbol of free medieval cities of the Hanseatic League.  The house was built as a meeting and celebration venue for different social organisations in Riga.

Svētā Pētera Evaņģēliski luteriskā baznīca (St Peter's Church).

Houses next to St Peter's Church.

Bremen Town Museums and me along skārņu iela.

Along Jāņa iela, last year during December Santa Claus type of clothing was hung along this street. :)

Fake owl along Jāņa iela.

Sleepy cat along Jāņa iela.

There was a watch shop located along this street, so we dropped in and I got my watch battery replaced for 5 Lats, or close to 12 Singapore dollars.  Which is reasonable, it would the same pretty much in Singapore.  I didn't want to get it changed in Norway, it would cost more, I didn't even bother to find out. :)

4:10pm Picked up our luggage at the bus terminal and proceeded walking to the train station to catch the train to Vilani, but not before picking up some coffee (iced coffee for me, I was soooo hot).  It was a really warm day.  28 degrees!!  I didn't expect it to be this warm.

Bus terminal

4:40pm Boarded the train, it was hard to find a carriage with 2 person seats but we managed to find them.  12 minutes later the train departed.

The next three hours took us through the countryside of Latvia.  There weren't many stops and if there were, the stops were extremely remote and there weren't many buildings.  I can imagine if I lived along any stops along the way the only exciting thing to see would be the occasional passing train.  Fortunately I copied some movies to my iPad but I couldn't stay awake enough to watch them, and the carriage was pretty warm, there was no cold breeze blowing, it must've been at least 30 degrees in there.  I swore I was back in Singapore in that carriage.

Here's the train carriage.

This was one of the train stops.  The country side pretty much looks like that, and so was almost the entire journey.  The headshot is some random person who stuck out their head for a split second.

8:20pm  Arrived in Vilani.  A.'s mum and uncle were there to pick us up, so that was nice of them.  The car ride was about 10 to 15 minutes, and the first stop was grandma's house.  I took plenty of photos here and will post them in a follow up post.

Goodbye train!

Hello Vilani!

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