Riga: Postcard from Latvia
Note: EuroCheapo editor Tom Meyers is traveling in Europe, inspecting hotels in Paris and Riga, Latvia. He’s blogging about his travels along the way.
February 2, 2009–Greetings from Riga, Latvia, where I’ve spent the last four days exploring the town, getting acquainted with its history, and, of course, checking out budget hotels.
Riga has a wonderful and picturesque “Old Town” neighborhood. This section of town dates back to the city’s Medieval beginnings, and has been preserved (and rebuilt) over the centuries. Fires, wars, occupations… you name it, the city has perservered, rebuilt, and clung to its cultural identity.
The Old Town is where I’ve focused my hotel search, and where most of the super-charming lodgings are situated. And what a selection! So far I’ve seen a handful of budget-friendly “boutique” hotels (with funky artwork and eclectic decor), a convent-turned-hotel complex, a super-old no-star with style, and several completely new hotels that were built to look old.
Today I’ll check out some ultra-cheap hostels (with private rooms), as well as some two and three-star hotels located in the “Center,” which is the neighborhood just outside the Old Town.
A street in Riga’s Old Town.
Hotel owners and managers have been very friendly, and for the most part have spoken flawless English. In Riga, tourism makes up an extremely important part of the town’s economy, so most in the business speak at least Russian and English, in addition to Latvian.
Right now, the Latvian economy is hurting. Money is tight, banks are on the verge of failing, and budgets are being slashed all around. (For example, when checking out performances during my stay, I found that the ballet had slashed its performance schedule.) Everyone’s talking about the crisis, and it’s only made worse by the tourism calendar–the tourist season doesn’t begin until April, when the weather finally warms up.
The financial mess has spawned a political crisis, as well, as protestors took to the streets two weeks ago in an effort to overthrow the current government. These protests, which ended in a handful of injuries, occured in a square just blocks from my current hotel. It seems so hard to believe, walking the cobbled streets today.
And so it goes. I’m off to hunt down some more hotels and treat myself to one more Latvian blow-out lunch. Here’s an idea of what I’m talking about, snapped yesterday at 1 PM at the “Lido” cafeteria-style restaurant in Old Town:
The plate features chicken stroganoff (a dish I was delighted to hear existed!) with stewed vegetables over rice, with a side salad (lettuce, shredded carrots, and pickled red onions), grape juice, and a beer. The meal, including juice, cost 3.90 lats, about $7.00. The beer cost 1.50 lats, or about $2.50.