The Two Cities Called ‘Riga’ – Part 2


On the bus trip from a small town in the east of Latvia to the capital Riga in the west, worlds passed outside the windows and the mundane metamorphosed into the profound.

The bus didn’t go directly to Riga.

Instead, it meandered through the countryside passed fields and wooden farmhouses and stopping at small towns where the atmosphere of the past was  clearly discernible in the stark, functionalist buildings and apartment blocks, the ordered parks and squares.

The past: 45 years of Russian colonialism.

People got on and got off, many of them dressed in an old style of clothing reminiscent of American movies set in the 1950’s.  

After an hour or so, a change occurred;. From a bus transporting locals from one town to the next, it was now a bus full of young people on their way to wider horizons….to another Riga and a very different one to what we had experienced only two weeks before….. …..

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The Two Cities Called ‘Riga’ Part 1

In May this year, when Anya and I flew to Riga, the capital of Latvia, it was to experience a part of the world where we had never been before.

Due to the unprecedented number of people travelling this year in Europe, flights o Riga were heavily booked. After a fair bit of cross checking, Anya was able to find two return flights to Riga on the Dutch airline Transavia, but there was no choice in determining the duration of our stay: just over two weeks. In the time we had, we were limited in how much of Latvia we would be able to see, given that the country was one and a half times bigger than The Netherlands and, that we travelled slowly.   

After the collapse of Russian communism in 1990, when the Baltic states gained their freedom after 45 years of Russian occupation, Riga became a popular party/drinking/sex tourism destination for groups of British men. Cheap booze, grub and women: Mecca for the lads. Over the years, their illustrious ranks were joined by other groups of ‘lads’ from various other countries. In 2023, their ranks were joined by a surge of post Covid package tourists most of them on cruise ships (‘From Riga Passenger Port it’s a 15-minute walk to Riga’s Old Town with its main tourist attractions!’).

Our walks around town revealed a really quite charming area with a surfeit of historic architecture, open squares and cobblestone streets. However the fascination one might normally experience in a city like was replaced by a stealing of glimpses, this whilst manoeuvring amongst the thronging masses. So too, the groups of men, drunk and noisy, hardly made for a conducive atmosphere.

When we left Riga, it was with a sigh of relief. I was glad to see the last of the place.

Never could I have imagined then that two weeks later I might view it with different eyes….that there were two cities which went by the same name….…..

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