Posted: 5/26/2009


       It's one of my favourite and friendliest cities on earth - RIGA, Latvia, Pearl of the Baltic on the River Daugava, and the sun is high in the sky and it's very warm.

       I made my first visit in early November last year at the end of the local soccer season and had a delightful, if chilly time.   11/2/2009 Pearl of The Baltic; 11/3/2009, Hot Chocolate and Vote for Alexander; 11/5/2009 The Baltic Freedom RoadRiga Airport (RIX) is the largest in the Baltic States with Ryan Air flying all over Europe and the national carrier Air Baltic doing the same plus also to exotic locations in Central Asia.

        Once again I am staying next to Central Market, my vote for the world's best and largest market which occupies 5 former Zeppelin airship hangars moved here a long time ago with thousands of stalls selling meats, fruits, drinks, honey, clothes, fish and spilling outside with hundreds more stalls and as I walk out the door of my hotel I am in the outdoor flower market which is colourful and aromatic.

        Strolling into the Old Town and its winding cobbled streets, the eye is pleased by the well kept old buildings and the miriad of exciting pubs, restaurants and shops.  I tour the wonderful House of Blackheads(Melngalvju nams), an architectural treasure rebuilt to all its former glory in 2001, the city's 800th anniversary. Dating from 1344 it was destroyed in the war in 1941. and the ruins were pulled down by the Soviet occupiers in 1948 because it was considered to represent 'decadent' German architecture! You ought to see some of the eyesores that the Soviets built here.  It has a Dutch Renaissance fascade and inside a treasure trove of art and some magnificent chandeliered meeting rooms and interesting cellars.

       There is an excellent free guide book available called 'Riga In My Pocket', and I browse the restaurant section and choose an interesting one. At Peldu 21 I walk into the tiny 'VARZOBA', named after a small town in Tajikistan near the capital Dushanbe, in Central Asia.  I chose a cool salad of peas, eggs, beans, and mayonaisse, followed by the speciality, 'Lagman', tomato, noodles and lamb soup, with fresh non(bread), and I wash it down with a cold draught Uzavas beer. The one room place has Central Asian art on the walls and plays Tajik and Uzbeck music.

        By late evening I find myself attracted by the music from Dom Square, where the Riga Cathedral, the biggest in the Baltics is situated. Started in 1211 A.D. it has an organ with 6,700 pipes and 124 registers, built in 1883-84. Outside I take a spare table at '13 KRESLI' a steak house and order a draught Aldiris beer and listen to Mitrokhin's Master Band, and during a break chat with Deniss and Vjaceslav, the Mitrokhin Brothers, who have as a background a huge red fire engine, in which they stash their electric guitars and sound equipment.

       It's still light at 10.45 pm as they finish and I turn to my right and the next huge outdoor cafe, 'NO PROBLEM' '(Nekadu Problemu'), where a quartet: of guitar vocal Andalo, percussions Roberts, bass Eduardo and piano Eriks start their gig.  'West Virginia', Stand By Me', 'Cotton Eyed Joe' and 'Cotton Fields of Home' delight the locals.  Definitely NOT Central Asian!!.  I also visit 'STARS' a huge sports bar at Grecinieku 11a, and renew my aquaintance with the main barman, who I had chatted with in November.  Where else can you find lots of photos, scarves, team jerseys and action photos of BLACKPOOL FC, my home town club, owned by a Latvian businessman Valery Belokon, who owns the Baltic International Bank across the street, and who is President of Baltic International Group, with another bank in Bishkesh, Khyrkystan and a tennis school and other projects in Riga.