Latvia is a great place to be depressed

Property 852 – Historic Centre of Riga

If you want to have a terrible time, go to Riga.

Captain Clingy and I rolled into the Latvian capital after the world’s longest train ride from Vilnius. It took ages, as for two countries so close together it seems unduly difficult to get from one to another. But it was also emotionally lengthy because by this point my seething, burning hatred of my unwanted travelling companion had reached its peak. His every movement irritated me, his every word was like an invitation to stuff one of my increasingly fetid t-shirts into his noise hole before clubbing him to death. He seemed to require constant feedback and constant conversation about the most trivial of topics.

I am not an unsocial person. But I am only human.

At the time of my visit Riga was an undeveloped tourist destination. The post-Soviet gloom hadn’t quite lifted in 2002 and finding backpacker-friendly accommodation was a pain in the neck. We ended up staying in a dormitory of a university half an hour away by bus. The dormitory was made of grey concrete. The skies were grey. The sea was a stormy kind of grey.

I decided to leave Latvia almost immediately.

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The least ugly building in Riga

Riga’s main function has long been trade, especially of the trans-Baltic and East-West variety. The Hanseatic League, the fascinating multi-national mercantile consortium had a major settlement here. Riga was one city in a trade network that extended as far east as St Petersburg and as far west as London. However being a Hansa merchant seems like a pretty grim way to make a living. Riga’s weather was cool in the middle of summer – I can hardly imagine what it must be like in midwinter, with only linen and wool clothes for protection while sailing across the Baltic.

Also, it seems that much of the Baltic trade was in fish. That must get a bit whiffy.

The World Heritage nomination for the historic centre of Riga is another of the numerous “old town” sites in Europe. However much of the old town has been destroyed by fire and war in recent centuries. The medieval street layout remains, but there are relatively few traces of the Hansa still extant. Much of the interest in Riga relies on buildings from the the nineteenth century. Art Nouveau/jugendstil style-buildings are well-represented and apparently quite attractive.

I say apparently, because I hardly saw any of them. My feeling of depression and frustration on arriving in Riga had metamorphosed into a sense of great unease. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the intolerable prattling of my traveling companion, but I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I hung around the main square for a while and took a couple of photos. But I couldn’t bring myself to explore further.

The evening cooled further and Clingy and I went looking for food. Surprisingly we found very little. Everything just seemed to shut up shop, that’s if they were even open in the first place. We managed to locate, of all things, a Korean restaurant.

I had never had Korean food before, and here at last Clingy proved his worth by knowing what to order, metal chopsticks and all. We went back to the concrete dormitory under leaden skies and planned how to escape to Estonia.

Riga – not my most pleasant memory. But I did have the unusual experience of being an Australian, eating Korean food with an ethnically Chinese British national in Latvia.

Take the interest where you can find it, I say.

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