Next stop on my trip was the capital of Latvia – Riga. The old city is particularly notable for its extensive German Art Nouveau architecture, which UNESCO considers to be unparalleled anywhere in the world. Similarly to Estonia, Latvia has a chaotic history and has spent much of the last few hundred years under the the boot of either the Nazis or Soviets. The population is still heavily influenced by Russian culture and history, despite declaring independance in 1991, 50% of Riga’s population is Russian. Many of these speak very little, if any, Latvian. Without seeing any direct evidence, it still seems to be a country burdened by its recent history. Things are on the up however, the numbers of tourists visiting Latvia is increasing, especially amongst backpackers. The country’s currency has its exchange rate to the Euro at a fixed rate, so a re-application to join the Euro will be in the not too distant future. Once that happens, the country will start to follow the example of it’s northern neighbour, Estonia.
We stayed at a hostel called Cinnamon Sally – easily one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in. Within a few minutes of arriving the owner took us to the local food market to show us around, when we returned later in the evening she had cooked up a local delicacy to feast on – Russian Dumplings. These are basically a kind of doughnut style dough stuffed with meat and fried. Very tired after our bus journey from Tallinn we stayed in an watched a movie with everyone – Lesbian Vampire Killers. A comedy that isn’t funny, starring the world’s least funny man – James Corden. The next day we headed out to the Black Market in an area called Little Moscow. Its basically a massive jumble sale of odds and ends, particularly old mechanical and electrical components. It’s an amazing place just to wander around. We spent some more time in the food market and old town before heading to the Museum of the Occupation. It is a small museum which details the the life of Latvians under Nazi and Soviet occupation and the mass deportation of thousands of Latvians to Gulags prison camps and communal farms in Siberia.
The following day I went with the hostel owner and a group of guests to a shooting range. We got to fire a Glock 9mm, an AK-47 and a Pump-action shotgun. The targets we chose was of a hostage situation, a man pointing a gun whilst hiding behind a female hostage. I did miss a five times but my other seventeen shots found their target and my hostage didn’t even have a scratch. It was an amazing experience and I’d do it again instantly. I got some video footage of me firing the shotgun and the hostel owner was on hand to take some superb photos us all. Overall I enjoyed Riga immensely, what really made it was the superb hostel and its owners, as well as the other guests there being so much fun. Obviously that and playing with some firearms.