Well, after a few bumpy days to start the trip it was nice to have one that consisted of two of my favorite things to do while traveling…
Walking tours and eating.
Yup, it was a great day today!
It started this morning when I woke up ahead of the rest of the room again.
I asked the girl at the front desk where to go for breakfast she immediately pointed me towards Pipars Bistro which was just around the corner from the hostel.
Now, while they didn’t actually have any breakfast available they did have a wide (and I mean wide) selection of dishes to choose from.
Everything from salads and seafood to soups, chicken and different meats.
All the food was already prepared and in dishes buffet style but you picked what you wanted, had it weighed and were charged accordingly.
Think of a buffet but with really good food instead.
Anyway when I arrived it was just after 10am and they had just opened up so I was the only one there.
I hesitantly walked into the empty restaurant but when I saw the row of food available my hesitance was gone.
Despite the employee serving me being, well, less than pleasant I looked over the array of food and decided on a chicken breast topped with braised cabbage and some rice.
The chicken, by the way – soooooo good! Oh my God! If I had that recipe I’d be eating it everyday.
Anyway, after my quick “breakfast” I headed back to the hostel and did one of my other favorite things to do while travelling – talking with fellow travelers and hostel staff.
The staff here at the Naughty Squirrel Hostel are so friendly and helpful and I spent the good part of the morning chatting with Kristine at the front desk about things to do here in Riga.
I also met Farhad hanging around in the common room. He’s also from Vancouver (actually lives 5 minutes away from me) and is at the beginning of his 7 month travel journey.
7 months! I’m sooooo jealous!
That’s one thing I’ve noticed when you’re travelling – no matter how long your trip is and how envious some people are of yours, there will always be someone out there doing something more that in turn makes you envious.
We chatted about different places we’ve been as we’ve both seen quite a bit of the world now.
It’s a conversation that’s hard to have back home as it usually ends up being a narcissistic one-way conversation of “hey, look where I’ve been…”
To have a two-way back and forth about, for example, our times in Vietnam was so nice and we sat and chatted for quite awhile as I waited for noon to arrive to go on the free walking tour.
The free tour was actually an “alternative” tour in that they actually started off by point blank telling us if we wanted to tour the old town that this wasn’t the tour for us and we should leave.
Instead, we headed out of the old town and explored the city around it. As Agnes, our tour guide, put it – the old town was about 1/300th the size of the city of Riga.
I’ve noticed that before too. When I’m in a city where the hostel is more than likely in the old town you tend to only stay within the confines of the old town and end up missing the “real” city.
Anyway, this wasn’t the case today. We walked for over two hours outside the old town exploring the markets, the art nouveau district, little Russia, and the old Jewish Ghetto.
Along the way Agnes shared alot of different stories and history about the city and Latvia.
Similar to Tallinn in Estonia the history of Latvia revolved alot around attempted independence while in a tug of war between Russia and Germany.
To give you an idea of that struggle for independence – their current independence which began just 25 years ago in 1990 is the longest time in their history they’ve been an independent country.
Just before 3pm our tour was done and after tipping Agnes the usual 5 euro walking tour tip Chau and I headed to lunch.
Since I had raved to her about my breakfast earlier this morning, it was only logical we went back there for some more.
This time around I had a salmon soup, the same chicken breast but also a bbq pork rib and some roast potatoes.
Total cost: 5 euros ($7).
So, to sum up – great food, great selection, ridiculously cheap price.
We headed back to the hostel after lunch and not more than 5 minutes later it started to pour rain.
I’ve noticed that in the Baltic weather the last couple of days – no real sense of what the weather will be like for the day and it could turn on a dime.
We hung around inside for a bit chatting and getting things organized for tomorrow when we take an afternoon bus to Vilnius, Lithuania.
After the rain had cleared and I had spent entirely too much time in front of my netbook booking things we headed back out just to explore the old town that the tour had skipped out on.
It wasn’t long before we saw a restaurant with swinging hammock chairs.
Yeah, we weren’t gonna pass that up.
We had plans for dinner somewhere else but I suggested we just hang (literally) there for a bit and have a drink.
A drink and a shot later it had gotten a little cold and I was really missing my hoodie I had left back at the hostel.
We explored the town a little more before making a v-line back to the hostel to warm up.
Nothing like a good game of foosball to do that.
I suck at it, by the way…
I did work up a good sweat though and it was fun to meet some others staying at the hostel as we had paired up with a couple of brits on the table.
By 8pm we were pretty hungry and ready for dinner.
As with the other restaurant this morning, the girl at the front desk didn’t hesitate when recommending a place to get an authentic Latvian meal.
She recommended Ala Folkklub and even showed me a menu.
When I spotted three dishes that Agnes had talked about on our walking tour earlier I knew this was the place.
We walked over to the restaurant and headed down the stairs into the dimly lit basement. The place was packed and we thankfully found a spot on a large communal table to sit.
I already knew what I was having for dinner so it didn’t take long for us to order.
We started with potato pancakes to share. There were 5 cakes on the plate and it was served with sour cream and a couple of different jams. Price: 3.10 euros.
For dinner I had the Traditional Grey Peas I had heard about on the walking tour. Now, if I hadn’t heard about it, I wouldn’t have even considered ordered it as a main dish because of its’ lack of a big, meaty protein.
But in the interest of experiencing true, authentic Latvian cuisine I went without and had this instead.
The peas were served with bacon in an onion cream sauce which was all put in a hollowed out loaf of bread. That along with a little garden salad was only 4.10 euros.
Now, I almost didn’t make it to dessert because the meals were so huge but I just couldn’t turn away from their Thick Rye Bread Pudding (3.30 euro).
The Baltics are known for their dark rye bread and, sure enough, they even use it in dessert.
The pudding was finely mushed dark rye with a berry compote and fresh whipped cream.
It looked heavy but actually was a pretty light dish and you could distinctly taste the rye bread.
It was actually really, really good!
In all, between us our meal was only 20 euros ($30) and considering we had spent 30 euros each on a handful of tapas earlier in the week in Finland, this was feeling like a steal.
After dinner we went back to the hostel and did our nightly “parting of the ways” where Chau went out to join others in a drink (or two, or three) and I stayed in and relaxed.
It actually works out well because you don’t necessarily want to be with someone 24/7 so this way we get some independent time to do our own stuff.
Now, granted, my “own stuff” was taking a shower and going to bed but it was 11pm and I was tired.
It had been a full day of walking around and eating and I was going to bed a happy camper…