Rīga Rundown

By Stephen Ewashkiw | July 18, 2013

4280 km so far.

We began our day in a leisurely fashion, since this is a day off. This meant coffee, internet, and laundry at ‘home’ (our amazing loaner apartment) before heading into the old city for the first time.

You have no idea how exciting clean laundry is for cycle tourists!

You have no idea how exciting clean laundry is for cycle tourists!

We were tipped off to a free walking tour by Inga, one of the owners of Saules Joga.

Jane LOVES a good walking tour. This particular tour, Rīga Free Tour is an alternative tour, so skips the main tourist attractions and purports to take you to see the real Rīga.

Before the tour started, we popped into Miit, a bike shop, coffee shop, and vegetarian eatery. The perfect collection for me, especially considering it is next door to ALEhouse (see below).

I got a double espresso of the Andrito Coffee Roastery Ethiopian bean and it was the most amazing coffee I have had since the roaster at Karma slow-pulled for me back in Kraków.

Sweet, balanced, and bitter, it was perfect.

Run If You Can, Walk If You Must

Our walking tour guide warned us that we would walk a lot, and that she walks quickly. She didn’t lie. It really felt as if we were in a race against some other unseen walking tour group, as we practically jogged between sights. When we did get to one of our POIs, we were hurried through it, past it, or given a quick rundown of why we might want to come back and see it properly on our own. It was the most bizarre walking tour I have ever been on.

The locations we went to, apart from the central market (which we walked through in a matter of about two minutes), did not seem to be places locals would go very often, and didn’t seem to be very alternative.

They included sights we have seen in many cities on this trip already:

The Communist building built for Stalin…

Stalin's birthday cake in Riga.

Stalin’s birthday cake in Riga.

…the Holocaust Memorial and old synagogue, KGB headquarters, and the tallest wooden building in town.

The tallest wooden building in Riga, a Lutheran church.

The tallest wooden building in Riga, a Lutheran church.

We also visited the “black market”, where we actually had five minutes to look around.

scissors for sale junk market

All kinds of stuff for sale, at the junk market in Riga.

It didn’t include any alternative cafes, bars, or shopping streets as I would have expected. As far as I could tell, the only difference from other tours was that she showed us sights outside the old city (which she disparaged at every opportunity).

I should add that our friend, Inga, was one of the first tour guides for this tour and assured us later that it very much depends on the tour guide you get, as with any walking tour. Inga, as a way of illustrating this point, told me she would often spend around 30 minutes in the central market with her groups.

Beer Beer, Everywhere Beer

We left the tour a little early because we were very hungry, and we were close to ALEhouse, a brewery and bar we had heard was also vegetarian.

Turns out it is not vegetarian, but they do brew their own beer (available bottled and on tap), and carry an impressive selection of bottles (hundreds of different beers) including many (possibly 40 different kinds) of Mikkeller beers, a gypsy brewer from Denmark. They also had Norwegian craft beer, Dutch beer, and micro-brews from the States (including Alesmith!).

I tried the ALEhouse Pale Ale, called Bitter Poet, which the bartender had difficulty pouring, and I was not sure if it was off, but it was very sweet and a bit like a weissbier – not my favourite flavours. I chased it with a Flying Dog Brewery Snake Dog IPA, a delicious staple from Colorado.

beer at alehouse riga latvia

Cherry beer and the ALEhouse pale ale.

The next day we went back, and I asked about the Bitter Poet. Yesterday’s keg had gone off, so they let me sample the new keg, and it was definitely different and better than the glass I got.

building in riga latvia

Riga is filled with gorgeous buildings like this.

Crazy ass rain began to fall this afternoon just as we got back to the apartment. So glad we are not cycling today.

This worked out well as we needed to plan our route and dates through Tallinn, Helsinki, and St Petersburg so that we can jump through the hoops required to get us into Russia for our 72-hour visa-free jaunt. Our hostel is in the process of being booked, and by tomorrow we should have some plans finalised for the last leg of Rome to Russia!

Five Wolves And A Baby

We met up with JY, Inga, her husband Christopher, and their beautiful 8-month old daughter, Emīlija Sofi, for dinner at Pieci Vilki, which means Five Wolves. The restaurant is named after the owners, the Vilki family, of whom there are five.

Christopher, Inga, and Emīlija Sofi at Pieci Vilki in Riga.

Christopher, Inga, and Emīlija Sofi at Pieci Vilki in Riga.

It’s a biker and car-enthusiast bar and restaurant where Inga and Christopher had their wedding reception. They are VW Beetle fanatics, it turns out. We always love to eat at places where friends know the owners, and this was a perfect example of why. The food was simple, well-made, and absolutely delicious. The service was swift and polite and the company was perfect. We had a great evening talking about each others lives, joys, and challenges. And yoga, of course.

It’s great to have the opportunity to get to know each other better.

Our nightcap of Balzams at Pieci Vilki.

Our nightcap of Balzams at Pieci Vilki.

We really have found a wonderful community in Rīga and I am constantly reminded when these experiences play out so well (as in Roma, Budapest, and Kraków) how fortunate Jane and I both are to have yoga in our lives. Of all the things yoga has given us, we never knew that it would also help guide us to wonderful people all around the world.  

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