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Potato Juice

The long ride to Riga

sunny 66 °F

The road to Riga, Latvia is long but, fear not!... Michael tells us he will play a movie on the bus and we will have a wonderful time! He suggests that we will have to try the potato juice (vodka) in the Baltics but the best potato juice is in.....you guessed it....Krakov! "Ladies and Gentlemens...if I were in your shoes...I would buy the potato juice in Krakov...you not going to believe it.......it is the best and much cheaper". That sounds fine to us! Thanks for the tip. "And, by the way, Ladies and Gentlemens...we have a very exciting day ahead in Lithuania"! Several correct him...."Latvia"! (He's a bit confused.)

After several hours of driving, napping and reading we stop to stretch our legs and snap a photo of the Baltic Sea. During the stop there is mention made that Michael may be drinking. Another detected a faint smell of alcohol but didn't see him drinking. Thank goodness he's not driving. Off we go again...Riga here we come! We ask him to tell us something about Latvia...he replies "wait, wait... I'll tell you later on". We then have more questions about Estonia and his reply is "google it out"! (I guess we'll have to!). He said we should write our questions on the piece of paper he is passing around the bus. In this way he will have a list and can answer them all and if he doesn't know....guess what he'll do for us...(can you say Google?). As we get closer to our destination (we still have another few hours drive) he tells us there are many good restaurants in town and everything is good.... pierogies, kielbasa but "when we get to Poland..you will have the best..)". We are informed that wherever we eat In Lithuania it will be good. Again, we remind him we're in Latvia and dinner is included. His reply is ... "you sure?" He checks on this and informs us when to meet for dinner.. "Don't worry ladies and gentlemens I will post all the times by the elevators!"

One of our travelling companions, Jim (a man of many talents) is a musician and plays the harmonica. He motivates us to participate by "call and response". We're clapping and singing and enjoying the moment. If it weren't for Jim (the only entertainment we have so far)...there would not be been any stimulation of any kind on this 5-6 hour ride from Estonia to Latvia. Michael suddenly decides to tell us some Polish jokes..there are no reactions. We are also informed of the different meanings of different hand gestures in different countries..some appropriate, some ...not so.

We are FINALLY nearing our hotel and by the looks of the architecture, we are all getting excited, Baroque churches, Gothic and 19th century buildings are calling our names! We cannot wait to get out and explore! But first, the check-in to our hotel and an announcement from our illustrious leader..."there is a beautiful view from the restaurant on top of this hotel. Meet me upstairs, have a drink and see the view. I will meet you there.."

Michael is right...the views over the city are beautiful. "Little Paris of the North". They have a tower that looks like the Eiffel" hence ...the "tag line". There's a beautiful formal garden, a park, the Statue of Freedom and beyond that...the Old Town. There are bridges and rivers and the Zeppelin hangers turned Central Market I read about. I'm enthused! As we wait, I order a drink called the Hugo Spritzer. It is delisiously refreshing.

Here is the recipe:

Hugo Spritzer

200 ml Prosecco
100 ml sparkling water
1-2 teaspoons elderflower syrup (Ikea or Amazon )
1-2 mint leaves
1-2 slices of lime

1. Muddle the mint a d a slice of lime in a glass
2. Add 1 teaspoon of elderflower syrup ( if you want it sweeter you can add more)
3. Add Prosecco and mineral water. Stir.
4. Add ice
5. Garnish with mint and slice of lime


After an hour Michael is a no show and the clock is ticking. I cannot wait any longer and we head to town.

We walk to the Freedom Monument which is a memorial honoring the soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence. There is a beautiful park and then the Old Town. Restaurants, cafes, shops, churches and plenty of old architecture to admire along with markets selling everything from juniper handicrafts, amber jewelry, flowers, gingerbread, food and much more. We end up in the square where The House of the Blackheads now stands once again. It was originally built as a guild for unmarried merchants, shipowners and foreigners. The building was destroyed by the Germans and the Soviets but reconstructed from 1995-1999. In the center of the square is a fountain where I enjoy a wonderful treat. A minstral is playing an electric cello and he's wonderful. It added an extra bit of specialness to my visit to Riga. See what you think...

You can follow him on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram...Elemental Cello.

Previously Michael mentioned that the dining room opens at 6:30 for breakfast. Luckily we remembered that since NOTHING was posted by the elevators. Well..(another boo-boo)..most of us were waiting in the lobby for the dining room to open at 6:30. Guess what...it doesn't open until 7:00 and they won't let us in. So we stand and wait in the lobby. We won't starve by any means but I sure could use a cup of coffee right about now!

A local guide from Riga takes us around town. Part of the tour is a drive through the city and the second part is a walk through the Old Town. The summer solstice is in 2 days and it's a big happening. The town is celebrating with a solstice festival. Girls with beautiful flower wreaths in their hair, men with oak leaf wreaths adorn their heads, more markets and food ..and lots of music.

Latvia is made up of Russians, Germans, Swedes and Poles. Population in Latvia is 2 million...in Riga-700,000. The timeline regarding their occupation and independence is as follows:

1941. Nazis came
1945 Soviet Republic
1991 Independence
2004 NATO/EU

We are then guided through town to view some of the beautiful architecture. Art Nouveau is always showy and stands out with its keyhole windows. Water lilies, calla lilies, daisies and iris are always represented in its design; sometimes the initials of the owners as well. Michael Eisenstein was the popular architect here and designed many of these beautiful buildings. The design of the city center was planned by the Russians. All the streets run straight, perpendicular, diagonal. The Old Town has winding cobblestone streets and alleys. We enjoy the city tour where we learn of a popular drink here created for Catherine the Great. It was originally made for medicinal purposes in 1752. The recipe was lost and recreated with similar herbs and is now consumed as a drink. It is called Riga Black Balsam and the thought behind it is if it's good enough for the Empress it's good enough for all. It is sold in dark brown clay bottles to preserve the integrity of the herbs. It is taken on the rocks or with ice cream....(this doesn't sound bad!). Besides amber, this Black Balsam is very popular along with wooden juniper handicrafts, wooden Christmas ornaments and, of course, Laima Chocolate- Riga's own famous brand.


Some of us decide to take an optional tour to an open-air Ethnographic Museum. It is a recreated village with 72 structures that represents 18th century farm life. Unfortunately for us, Michael forgot to give the local guide the microphone for our listening devices (called whispers) and he couldn't be reached. We went without and our guide made due just fine.


Three types of trees common in Latvia are Linden- represents the beauty of woman, Oak- strength of a man and Birch-new beginnings.

It was nice to hear that schools still teach arts and crafts. For example..children are taught to make bird houses for nature. They then come out and have field trips to place these bird houses in the forest. They have many different classes for different types of things to help and preserve nature.


Even here in the forest the Summer Solstice is celebrated...it represents new life, wake up, drive away the dark devil, start anew. There are bonfires which bring everyone closer to nature...friends and family. Men wear wreaths of oak leaves, women wear flower wreaths and headbands. The wreaths are kept in the house to collect all bad and then the following year (summer solstice) they are thrown on the bonfire and start it all starts anew.


A wedding tradition that started back in the 1700's is ...after the couple is married a ceramic plate is placed under a towel and stepped on . The broken pieces are counted to see how many children they will have. Another ...is ... a plate has two (2) pies on it. One has money in it, the other- a key. This will show who the earner will be and who will run the household.


They had pagan traditions as well...they would build their own coffin which stayed in the attic until ready for use.

A popular hobby was collecting mushrooms, gooseberries or berries of any kind and filled baskets of them. It was known as "keeping two (2) rabbits at the same time"...walk and exercise in the woods....then enjoy the fruits and the mushrooms to make jam or soup. This is another hobby children are taught..which fruit and mushrooms are edible and what can be made with them. They made little structures and raised bees to have their own honey.


We have Latvia's version of fish and chips for dinner. It is very good -had I not been told what it was...I never would have guessed.

I read about the Zeppelin hangers turned Central Market in 1930 so we take a little walk down to the river to explore. These structures are also included on the UNESCO list. There are five pavilions constructed of reused old German Zeppelin hangers and today they accommodate more than 3,000 trade stands. It was worth the look.


Posted by Linda Fluckiger 11:58 Archived in Latvia Tagged monument market museum central freedom ethnographic

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