My much-awaited Riga experience started from arrival at the airport. I have always believed that one could get a basic sense of the wherewithal of a destination from the aural of the first place of contact, how viable is such an assumption is another question. I got out to fetch a taxi and right in front of me are varied options. Brand new, neat, exotic branded taxis. But looking around a bit more, I also saw a few that look quite different in quality. So, I decided to go for the second option. The price is controlled so there is little or no room for negotiation. The driver spoke decent English and I was surprised he didn’t assume I understand Latvian like an average Finnish taxi driver would probably speak Finnish to me first. He said from his experience as a driver plying the airport rout, it is often the opposite. That most traveller rather expects them to speak their languages. He narrated his experience with a French costumer, who kept speaking for almost a minute before having to interrupt her to let her know he does not speak the French language. He explained the shock and disappointment on the lady’s face. But my driver speaks English, Russian, Latvian and intermediate German, which I think is impressive. While on the way to my hostel, I kept looking around at amazing views of the city while having a nice chit chat with my driver who was always ready to respond to my countless questions.
Riga is the capital city of Latvia and largest city of the three Baltic states. The river Daugava and the five beautiful bridges connecting the other part of the city with the city centre is a beautiful sight to behold especially at night. The architectures are a beautiful mix of modern and ancient structures. Riga city holds the place of pride as the largest collection of Art Nouveau in the world, and the historic centre (Old Riga), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Art theatre, opera, museums and the countless number of small bar and night clubs make the city fun at night. The transport system is amazing. The city is well organized, and the people are well behaved. Except they are in a hurry sometimes and can’t stand the unintelligent decision of the traffic lights. Contrary to the common opinion and what I read on the internet, I think Riga is quite safe and less dangerous than presumed by many. Many international students tell nice tales of their night experience in odd hours without any sense of danger. Without exaggerations, Riga has a lot of tourist attraction and the city centre is always buzzing with tourist. It is sometimes the problem of choice out of too many options when it comes to where to relax or catch fun. I got an app that helps me deal with that and take away the stress of searching for a place to relax on weekends. With the city essential (your city in your pocket) app you could get useful info most event happening every day in the city of Riga, ranging from art, music, opera, theatre, sport and exhibitions. Nice locations like special and historical building and beaches are also enlisted on a section of the app. Simple google search or talking to fellow students would also give you a good head start. The city transportation mobile app (Traffi) also comes handy, with the right address typed in you can be sure that it would provide you with a viable direction to get to your destination.
The first wonder of Latvia I enjoyed was cheap transportation. I got an unlimited one-month students’ bus card for 16euro, the equivalent of that in Jyvaskyla would be 51euros for a segment of the city, 70euro or more to cover larger zones. I could go anywhere anytime any-day for the next 30days with the 16euros bus card, how amazing. I think Latvians like the Finnish people are not poised to start a conversation, but they would interact with a foreigner as cordial as they can, either purposefully or for courtesy, without necessary under the influence of alcohol. Latvian in my opinion drink less, this could also be an economic factor more than a cultural one. The younger generations are multi-lingual. They speak decent English and some other European languages. Latvian and Russian are the most languages understood by the older population. I think the older people speak mostly Russian even if they are natives Latvian, the Soviet influence perhaps. I have never seen as a much older population on a public transport system in my entire Europe experience. In my opinion, older people in Finland drive most fancy cars and they barely hop around on public transport. I believe that this phenomenon may be due to the convenient transportation system. The bus or tram stops are as close as they can get! I have experienced 6 stops in a tram in about 8 minutes journey. Though this makes public transport takes longer, they are consistent and on time most often than not. Another reason would be the affordability because like the students, they also get 16euros bus card per month. We could however also talk about the viability of the pension scheme and the economic status of the retirees. But I like to think that they (the elderly) are just active populations.
The increased number of older people in the buses or trams I believe birthed another public transport culture. It is a common practice to get up from a sit for an elderly person, especially the frail ones in the public buses or trams. It is so normal that they (fellow commuters) seem to be expectant and it feels like all eyes are on you when and if you defy the norm, even though it is not an obligation. I feel a bit embarrassed though when they refuse to take my own sit whenever I offer it because they know that I am a foreigner and only conforming to the odd norm. I quickly realize why young people would rather stand even when there are empty sits in the truck buses especially. So, I rather stand sometimes because it is mostly the case that there would be no sit available at some point and there would always be an elderly person who needs a place to sit especially during the busy hours. I think mostly at any instance, one-third of the commuter are above 50years of age. This may also point to the population distribution or constituent of the city, an ageing society most likely, unbalanced economic distribution or nature-friendly society fight carbon emissions.
Life in Riga is cheaper compared to any city in Finland. I often get my favourite large size chicken-bugger at either Hesburger (my favourite) or McDonald’s for 2.5euros. and alcoholic beverage could be as cheap as 1.5euros. Except on special occasion or concert, clubs are a free entrance at any time of the night. Club hopping (moving from one club to another) is a common practice among nightcrawlers. There is plenty of activity to enjoy really. The Pepsi viewing centre is a nice place whenever I want to have a feel of spectatorship energy watching the EPL or Champions League. There are lots of foreign cousins in the centre of Riga and the cost is relatively cheaper compared to average European capital cities. A buffet at a Chinese restaurant in the city of Riga cost as low as 6.5euros with excellent service and social atmosphere. There is a free gym in my hostel and a swimming pool visit every Saturday is not too far from my hostel and they charge 4.5euros for a student, which is not a bad bargain. The swimming pool is neat and the sauna that comes with it reverberates Finnish sauna atmosphere. There is also a multipurpose sports centre a few stops from my hostel, I go there to watch since I left my sporting gears behind and my budget cannot handle new sporting equipment. It’s torturing to be in such state of want or desire, though I really would love play badminton at least, in the absence of sports kits, spectatorship becomes the best form of sportsmanship.
While you could be held spellbound at the modernity and glamour of the city, one possible can’t as well look away from the falloff. Some amazing infrastructure are craving renovations, but for a country running under low budget it understandable that projects would be planned on a priority basis. It is not uncommon to see fancy-modern building stand side by side with a crumbling and decaying structure, you can sight a world-class road surface lie parallel to a ditch laden pathway. However, one would feel the determination of the city to be the best it could amid the limited resources and challenging economy. An if there is anything that assures the city would come out strong, it is the resilience of a Latvian, their patriotic and hopeful mind. While the number of other ethnic groups continue to decline due to emigrations the numbers of ethnic Latvian continue to rise according to statistic and rise, they would certainly, their city with