Okay, so I kinda lied at the end of my last entry. I had a five hour layover in Rīga, Latvia between Tallinn and Tel Aviv, Israel, and decided to take the opportunity to blitz through the old town. With the city about 40 minutes away from the airport by bus though, time was tight.
I certainly didn’t make it easy for myself by getting lost immediately after stepping off the bus. Turns out I had taken it too far – but no one told me where the old town was! There were hardly any directional signs either, like there were in Tallinn – and the ones that were there were all in Latvian. (Despite the proximity of Estonia and Latvia, and the fact that they are both tiny countries, their languages have absolutely nothing in common.)
I eventually found my way into old town, intending to find the tourism office. I overshot it by a lot and ended up nearly walking the entire length of the old town. In the end, I found the office, and I had about 2.5 hours left. The lady gave me a pamphlet, literally titled “What to see in Riga if you have more than 3 hours”. Ah well. She drew a quick route on the map for me to follow, and warned me to walk fast.
Well, I certainly didn’t need to – I only took an hour and a half – but I did, cause it started raining. The city is quite pretty though, and the old town’s buildings are eclectic. I felt as though I was seeing an amalgamation of all the European countries I’ve seen so far.
I closed off by rushing through the Museum of Occupations, covering Latvia’s history from its first independence, through the Soviet and Nazi German occupations, and into its second independence. The German occupation particularly hit hard – the country had hopes that they were liberated from the Soviets, but found themselves almost equally oppressed. All through this time, many states (including Canada) did not recognise the illegal occupations of the Soviets, but external pressures left them unable to do anything about it. Latvia lost over 550,000 (one-third) of its population in that time to forced deportations and gulags, and so many Russian settlers were moved in during the occupation to the point that Rīga’s population is still now half Russian, half Latvian. Buildings in town are German influenced too, due to the German occupation (and their status as the elite at the time, before their forced deportation by the Soviets). Serious, compelling stuff – and I wish I had more time.
I feel bad in that this is all I got to see of Latvia. Next time, I’ll have to see more of the country!