Riga – Latvia

We arrived in Riga on a chilly afternoon of 13th December. Beginning a trip whereby we encountered very different architecture, culture and food from the ones we are used to in London.

For the weekend we were there, it was a bit over one week until Christmas. I started to get a sense of what Christmas may be like here. The cosy local Christmas stalls and markets were magical. The picturesque city mixed with a surrounding of old and new colourful buildings, which gave it a rich architectural diversity. This followed with occasional bursts of Russia from the buildings and the winter clothes needed by the locals from the chilly weather.

As we walked in and around the city many buildings stood out and were really unique from the next. I can now understand why Old Riga is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Riga itself offers a mixture of feels varying of medieval times, countries such as Russia and Europe. Nevertheless it also incorporates modern life seamlessly into their city.

Christmas in Riga

For me the highlight was being there so close to Christmas and to be able to experience their Christmas atmosphere. There were many cosy Christmas stalls and events scattered around town and I liked being able to enjoy them without feeling rushed or surrounded by big crowds of people(which is what it can be like most the time in London – Winterwonder land, South Bank).

Here each Christmas gathering is filled with the unmissable smell of mulled wine (karstvīns) and gingerbread (piparkūkas). Then there were the beautiful candles, winter garments, amber and silver jewellery and the detailed handcrafted local items ranging from wooden match boxes, kitchenware, furniture, toys…Which gave it all an additional sense of Latvian tradition.

IMG_7958We found about 5 Christmas markets. My favourite was one we stumbled upon on our last night here, by the Riga Orthodox Cathedral. This one had about 20 stalls, live music (we briefly heard some Christmas carols as we were walking towards it), a large bunny donation section, a few rides.

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We made several purchases here: a real leather document holder with the outline of Riga skyscrapers, Christmas tree decoration balls and candle holder.

What we found surprising was having the best tasting sweetcorn at one of these Christmas stalls. The sweetcorn was covered in salt, butter and lots of cheese. The final touch added a sense of cleverness and completion – this was a green napkin wrapped at the bottom of the sweetcorn like it was the leaf. I’ve had my fair share of sweetcorns before and must admit this one was by far the best!

I liked their way of promoting the Christmas spirit through the creative and artistic Christmas trees (Christmas Tree Trail 2014) scattered around the city. I found this provided great visual diversity to the typical traditional Christmas tresses. Some of the ones we saw were made of wood, glass, bricks and plastic.

We stumbled upon some and I have provided a collage of them mixed with some other Christmas themed items we saw along the way. Hope you like them.

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 My two favourite Christmas trees that I saw were the below:

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Riga Town Hall Square and House of Blackheads

I personally found this as being one of the most splendid buildings I saw in Riga. As a lover of watches and clocks this was unmissable. The decorative details on it adds class. The intricate details on this Astronomical clock showing the date, month and time was a pleasure to observe.

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The reason why the building looks so new and untainted is because the current reconstruction was erected in 1995 to 1999. The original was bombed by the Germans in WWII and then further destroyed by the Soviets in 1948.

The Town hall square is surrounded by cobble streets. I have always been a fan of cobbled streets there is something about it which subconsciously feels like I have been transported back in time to when walking on street was like this.

St. Peter’s Church

Is a very gothic style church standing tall and dominating Riga’s skies.

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Bastejkalns Park

We stumbled into a nice park which happened to be close to the Freedom Monument. The day we were there it was rather cold that a part of the canal in the park was semi frozen as you can see below.

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There were lots of cute birds in the park and happy kids feeding them.

Along the way we noticed that the trend of padlocks on bridges was catching on here as well. It wasn’t as many as the ones I saw in Paris, Luxembourg and Budapest but nevertheless it was nice to see them there.

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As we walked towards the end of the park we saw an adorable looking café (Konditoreja) and through the window we could see the warmth and yummy pastries. So we wandered in and weren’t disappointed. There were a large variety of pastries and warm beverages (tea, coffee, latte, cappuccino).

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Freedom Monument (Brivibas Piemineklis)

This 42metre high monument is a memorial honouring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918–1920). You instantly get a feel of the importance of this monument to the Latvian people, the surrounding and memorial is untainted, nicely maintained with fresh flowers at the base. In addition standing guard are two solders.

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The freedom monument is a woman standing tall and holding three stars in her hands. Each representing historical regions of the country: Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(a bird happened to be resting on it when I captured the picture)

Orthodox Cathedral Riga

This dome church appears to be on a much grand scale than that of St Peter’s church. Located a few minutes away from the Freedom Monument, when you encounter this you will recognise it straight away. It looks very new and inside it is really grand.

Central Market

I highly recommend visiting Central Market; here you get a feel of what it is like to be a local instead of a tourist. Inside the pavilion halls, it is quite busy but you instantly feel like a local surrounded by different visuals and a variety of tasty smell. You can buy lots of fresh products ranging from fruits, vegetables, dairy, cheese, sweets, fish, sausages, meat…Along with lots of yummy pastries, wine, day to day items and clothes. The prices seem very reasonable; the pastries were very cheap, it was a delight to taste them.

Latvian Academy of Sciences

A few minutes away from Central Market there is a building that stands 65metres tall, reminding the city of its Soviet past – Latvian Academy of Sciences. The height and scale of this building gives it a strong sense of power and importance. Apparently the view from the 17th-floor balcony is worth seeing. Unfortunately we didn’t go up there, but if you go probably best to see the view from the top.

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National Library of Latvia

This eye catching building looks somewhat futuristic. Its suppose to symbolise culture, scientific heritage, education, the development of knowledge and the quality of life of Latvia. This is a very important building to them and how they want the world to see them.

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Hotel

The hotel we stayed at for the weekend was the Maritim Park Hotel, situated only by a short walking distant to the National Library of Latvia and a 5-10minutes tram journey into old town. The hotel’s location is very convenient as a tram and bus stop is just outside the hotel. As it is not based in the heart of centre I got a local feel of the surroundings. There are a range of different kinds of view, from ground level there is this rather worn out house opposite but then if you went to the top floor where the restaurant is the view is amazing. We saw the night view of Riga from here and it was like the whole city light up, definitely worth doing if you stay at this hotel.

-Very cool reception ~ see below for yourself

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There are 231 rooms (7 floors).

-A lot of facilities within the hotel: restaurant, shops, spa, hair salon, souvenir shop and 24 hour reception.

-Hotel staff members were very friendly, pleasant and helpful. They were efficient and spoke English well. We managed to buy tram tickets at the reception desk and they helped us book a taxi as well. They also provided us with maps and detailed information about the area and attractions.

– Interesting lift which was transparent. This lift is on the right side of the main lift. We found it a bit slower than the main lift; however you feel so much more free and will have a more interesting view from this lift…..

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-Full hot breakfast is served 6.30 to 10.30 which is very flexible timing and a wide range food and beverages.

-The room we stayed in was very clean.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here.

 Symbols of Riga

-I had wondered why there were roosters on top of some Christmas trees in Riga instead of say a star or cross. It turns out that Rooster is one of the symbols of Riga, and when you see roosters on top of roofs it is not only symbolical but it is believed that they are used to defend against evil.

-The meaning of their logo: “The shield of the coat of arms depicts a silver field with opened gates and two towers that symbolise the city’s rights to autonomy. Under the raised grate of the gates is a golden lion’s head. Above the gates are two crossed black keys symbolising the patronage of the Pope, and above the keys is a golden cross and a golden crown, indicating subservience to the bishop. The holders of the large coat of arms are two golden lions on a grey plinth. The small coat of arms is contained within the shield of the large version.” — (( This is from the following link and can provide you with more information))

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Language

Main language here is Latvian, a lot of people also speak Russian. However English is widely spoken by everyone we encountered from the souvenir shop to the local markets in central market.

 Transportation

As always when I am on holiday I tend to enjoy wandering around on foot, because I get a greater feel of the city, the people, the atmosphere and the surroundings. It is an observable pace rather than a quick glance at everything from a car/taxi/bus. However I would recommend taking the tram a few times if you are here. It is like getting transported back a few years; quite a few of their local trams are still quite old. Further into the city you will see brand new ones. However it is fun trying out both.

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Wanderer’s discovery ( As previously mentioned in other travel posts, I enjoy wandering of the usual path sometimes to see other stuff which may not be on the top 10/20 must visit of a place).

On this trip we went on the tram number 6 and went out of old town, into local areas and randomly got off at a stop and walked around for 10-15minutes and saw the below sunset and scenery.

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We also came across this church but wasn’t able to find the name of it. However we both thought it was very unique and pretty. So were the houses around the area.

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Our first visit and experience to Riga was extremely pleasant and fun, I really enjoyed the Christmas atmosphere and the friendly people. The pastries and cakes here were also delightful. It has been an unforgettable experience.

 

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Bristol

For a weekend break the choice of visiting Bristol came up. It just so happened that it was recently named the best city to live in the UK by Sunday Times. (Read more: http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/Festival-city-s-named-best-Britain/story-20841105-detail/story.html#ixzz30DHEifco)

I was there from Friday night to Sunday evening.

It is definitely a lively city, which is diverse in the activities that are available to do. Within the city center there are countless clubs and pubs to keep you awake into the early hours.
On the night of Friday (11th April) the night view that was presented to us was full of lights and “flowing water” =)
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Behind this artwork stood fittingly the Rainbow Casino hence the variety of color lights.
In the city center also stood firmly a very big metal ball. To be honest I am not too sure of the purpose of this. If you know please let me know
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We stayed at The Bristol Hotel – Great location in central, neat and artistic hotel. This is more within the pricey range, however it is worth the money if you are looking for an comfortable, nicely accomodated hotel.
I would recommend this.

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A trip to a British City would not be complete without having a full English breakfast in the morning. This was so tasty and was much-needed to fuel us for the day ahead.
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I was also surprisingly happy to see a Morph character statue, I clearly remember occasionally watching this during my childhood. It was a strange but entertainingly addictive cartoon.
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National Cycle Network in UK
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As we wandered around the city I noticed that, there were lots of different designed buildings. I loved how they were so modern and unique. Nothing like I had seen before in London.
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After a long walk we got to the Clifton Suspension Bridge built by Brunel. To think of how this was built before significant technology was available enhanced my views on the skills required by Brunel and the workers to create from scratch such a long and sustainable architecture. 

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Another free but priceless view within Bristol is the beautiful harbour. Luckily when we were there the skies were blue which gave a glimpse of the tranquil side of Bristol.

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A top must visit in Bristol is the Brunel’s SS Great Britain. You can easily spend 2-4 hours within here. A delight for kids and adults. Plenty to see, learn, do and play within the ship. Please find a few pictures below to give you an idea of what is within the ship =)

Brunel Great Britain

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Restaurant I would highly recommend in Bristol is “Don Giovanni’s” – great Italian food and Service.

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As our time drew to an end at Bristol we headed to have some frozen yogurt which we saw on our first arrival here but the shop was closed. We sat down to enjoy the sunshine, blue skies and some Angel Berry frozen yogurt.

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I share below one of my favorite picture of the trip with you.

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Hungary – Budapest

A city that has gone through more than most. I give to you my first travel post about the one and only Budapest.

I recently visited Budapest for the first time, I must admit it has been a memorable and a breathtaking trip.

I learnt that it is a city that has been deeply influenced by so many yet has rightly become its own. Budapest has been influenced by the Romans, Turkey, Austria and Soviet Union. As you wander around the city the presence of each of these are evidently still scattered around from churches, to statues, houses, buildings, transports, leisure activities, food and streets.

One of the key things I think everyone should know is the meaning of “Budapest” – originally it was two distinct cities “Buda” and “Pest.” Where Buda was the site of a grand Hapsburg palace and was the more wealthy side. On the other side “Pest” was more flat and busy. In 1873 these two cities were merged together through the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Thus occupying both banks of the River Danube. This 2850 km river goes through Europe from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea and passes through Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Hungary, along the Croatian-Serbian border, and it also forms the border between Bulgaria and Romania. Making it the second longest river in Europe after the Volga.

Today the city still holds many of its old architecture and history.
The top sights and visits are as follows:
Buda Castle
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Trinity Square and Matthias Church
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Night view:
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Fishermen’s Bastion
Funicular Budapest
Chain Bridge
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The stone lions of the Chain Bridge survived the bombing during the Second World War.
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St Stephens Basilica Church
Under the tympana a quotation from the Bible (Ego sum via, veritas et vita – meaning in English: I am the road, the truth and the life.
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Parliament – 3rd biggest Parliament in the world!
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Jewish Synagogue
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One of the other very famous must visits in Budapest are the Thermal Spa – I visited the Szechenyi Thermal Spa during the night and must admit it was spectacular. Not only was the view amazing but the spa itself was so relaxing and nice. The price was also very reasonable compared to that in London.
Due to the visit being on a weekday and after 7pm, it wasn’t too busy so this meant there was lots of space to swim around but not so empty that there wasn’t an atmosphere. It was perfect!
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Other interesting buildings I saw during my visit:
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View from the top of St Stephen basilica church, where in the distance you can see Parliament….
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Transport system in Budapest are quite old school (basically not modern), they still hold a sense of communism and tradition. A tip about their transport system: always stamp in and out when using them and have a valid ticket. As their transport office wardens are very strict, not friendly and unlikely to speak English. You can buy single or a pack of 10 tickets at the train station which can be used on trains or buses.
From the pictures I took below you can get a feel of their transport system (however they do run very efficiently and on time):
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Please find also below some pictures of yummy food. I would highly recommend trying the Goulash soup and paprika beef. To be honest I found that the style and method of cooking meat in Hungary to be very tasty and probably also very unhealthy. However they are reasonable priced and tasty. Ice cream and alcohol over there are also very cheap to consume.
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Lastly I would like to leave you with a beautiful picture of a statue that I wish will bless this city for many years to come, providing it with peace and harmony.
Liberation Monument ~ The statue was erected in 1947 after World War II. The statue figure is a woman, holding an olive branch, the symbol of peace in her hands.
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