The Great EU Quest: Latvia – Snow In The Forest

For those who may note be aware, being a tourist in Riga on a Monday is being a tourist in a city where the majority of museums and other sites are closed. I’d already cottoned onto this, so made sure that today’s itinerary would reflect that.

Starting off was a trip to Riga’s Central Market as we did not have time to fit it in. However, we first went back to the Blackheads’ House. Last night, having read up on the building, I found out about there being some sort of monument to the site of the first Christmas tree from 1510. Being that we are in advent, the city have put up a little model Christmas tree to ensure that people are aware of the history. Coming back to this building again really reminds me just how beautiful it is.

The Central Market was a bit of a blustery walk away down the riverfront, which might be the coldest that I have felt all holiday. The market itself is situated in a number of large warehouses where it seems that different warehouses lend themselves to different food types. For example, we found ourselves in a huge building where nearly everyone was selling meat. Some of the sausages looked and smelled amazing, if I was a native I wonder how often I would end up buying things here.

This wasn’t the longest trip, as there wasn’t really anything we could buy, so it was time to find the bus stop that would take us to the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum. A bit of a stress because the bus we were looking for (the 6822) isn’t listed on any bus stops, so it’s a bit of a miracle that we found it at all.

So, what is the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum? Well, this is a place that was inspired by Skansen in Stockholm and contains a large number of preserved buildings in a natural setting. For this particular one on the outskirts of Riga, the setting is in a forest on the edge of Lake Jugla and the buildings were gathered to preserve homesteads from four cultural areas of Latvia.

As you can tell from the photos, this open air museum was practically deserted. Also, the lack of footprints in some of the snow mean that there hadn’t been many visitors here in the last few days, which really did make us feel like we had this vast park of abandoned homesteads all to ourselves. Being winter there were only two buildings that were open for entry, but that worked out fine as we still spent nearly 3 hours here.

Seeing how today was the first time in a while that the temperature was due to go above freezing, Lake Jugla was frozen solid. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a frozen lake and this really did add the beautiful bleakness of the snow covered surroundings. Oh, and I’ll mention this before I forget, it started to snow heavily when we were in the park and it seemed to stop the moment that we left. That was cool, a bit weird and like something out of The Truman Show (so, thank you television overlords I guess).

The crunch of fresh snow beneath my feet, whistling of wind through the trees and the tapping of what sounded like a curious woodpecker made this whole experience in the park a bit otherworldly – especially when you factor in over 100 empty historical buildings.

Seeing the buildings of these previous generations of potters, fishermen and farmers really does make you appreciate how we live today – although I wonder how many houses built today will still be standing after 2-300 years. The most interesting buildings, however, were the old churches and windmills that came up periodically (especially the little Orthodox Church) as well as an unusual two story granary that stood near the lake and a warehouse from the 1600s.

If I ever find myself in Riga in spring or summer I think it would be great to come back to this museum. The experience in warmer weather with more of the buildings open would be entirely different to the snowy ‘last humans alive’ vibe that I felt today.

A long bus ride later (as the more express bus just drove right by the station without stopping) and we were back in central Riga to get a really late lunch. After our folk restaurant yesterday (as well as some pretty sodden boots) having some hearty traditional Latvian fare felt like the right way to go. So, we went into a restaurant called Province and had a delicious filling meal – what you’re seeing is pork and vegetables with cheese in a pot, which I really want to learn how to make.

After a rest and a drink in the hotel room it was time for a final browse of the Christmas markets… the first stop being the bunny village in the park market. Seriously, I know I have been there every day, but this weird little showcase has so enchanted me whilst staying in Riga. If it wasn’t for the time, weather and some remnants of self-respect I could see myself as having accumulated a few hours over the last few days.

Instead of dinner there was a quick snack of a crepe from a market stall – mine contained cheese and sunflower seeds. Perfect market food to eat as you look up at the Christmas tree and marvel that 0 degrees is feeling perfectly mild after the freezing weather in the previous few days.

That basically it for Riga. There’s some time in the morning tomorrow so am going to see if we can fit in a museum before leaving for the airport. Have to say that Riga has certainly surpassed my expectations. Really made me wonder if I need to be back here in the summer so I can see more of the country than the capital city – then again I feel the same way about Estonia, Lithuania and Poland so a bit of a line is forming.

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