Riga, Latvia

Still find it strange that I can be walking the dogs in Dunblane one morning and sitting in a Cuban cocktail bar in Riga later the same day. When my folks were my age we went to the Dordogne and it was 2 days and 2 nights travel involving trains, ferries and buses. And even when we eventually arrived we had motion sickness for the next 24 hours ffs. Noo it’s a doddle, like catching a bus. Greta will be ragin’ mind you.

Arrived in Riga at 7pm on a cold dry January night. Got the 22 bus without a ticket then jumped off before we crossed the Daugava river. Thanks for the lift, suckers. I had to walk 3km to my digs but it was a good introduction to Riga old town. Nice cobbled streets and Christmas lights and floodlit buildings.

Next day visited the huge indoor markets in 5 old zeppelin hangers. Theres butcher meats, fresh fish on ice, fruit n veg, cheeses, spices and bakeries. Its busy in a mellow sort of way. Latvians are a quiet people, understandable with their history of invasions by Nazis and Russians. Passed the ruins of a synagogue where 400 Jews were killed in 1941, locked inside whilst the Nazis set fire to it.

Got the train to Jurmala, an old Russian beach resort, 21km of beach on the Baltic. It was a glorious sunny day so I walked along a boardwalk through pine trees down to the beach, where lots of locals were walking. Passed a huge mansion with a perimeter fence, security guard at the gate watched me closely as he let his mafia boss drive out in a shiny limo. Other huge mansions have boarded up windows. Odd.

That night I go out its almost freezing but clear. Riga is two hours ahead so although I think its 8pm, its actually 10pm local time. I take many photographs of the river, canal, cathedral, trams on cobbled streets and Freedom Monument. Its nicely busy but I reckon in summer it be manic.

Today I revisited the market, just for the coffee and lovely cakes, total cost under 2 euros. The locals speak Latvian and I have learned the basics but I overhear much Russian spoken. Then I started to walk to the Daugavas Stadions, past brick built factories and car boot sales, the real Riga : grey January day.

One hour later there it is, the stadium where Scotland won in 1996. I’m well pleased and squeeze through a loosely padlocked gate. Wander onto pitch, take selfies grinning stupidly: this is the spot where John Collins scored a cracker. I recreate the goal: World Cup qualifier, crowd roaring,the silky turn, the strike, turns to the packed main stand to celebrate…. and theres a security guard … motions me off the pitch… “fuck off son ya daft Scottish bastard”. Its a fair cop.

Riga is lovely. Its compact and very flat with lots of history, bars and McDonald’s. Lots of parks too, just a bit grey in January. My Ryanair flight from Embra was £57 return btw.

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