We were up early this morning to catch the 8:15 Lux Express Bus to Riga. The bus left from the Panorama Shopping centre in downtown Vilnius and seeing that it was raining, as well as the fact that we had our luggage, we caught a taxi to the bus stop. The taxi driver invited us to stay in his cab, out of the rain, until he was called for another job. This happened rather quickly, so we stood under the little bus stop shelter chatting to a woman from Brazil and a young man who had been studying Journalism in Poland.
The non-stop trip took a little over 3 1/2 hours. Along the way, we passed through some small villages, but mostly through areas of woodland and some very humble little farms that were mainly growing canola, cereal crops and corn. While most farming process were mechanised, we did see people making stooks of hay by hand and cutting grass along the roadway with scythes.
The bus terminated at the central bus stop in Riga that is just opposite the old Zeppelin hangers in which the market is located. It was only a short walk around to our hotel, but Jill didn’t enjoy the broken footpaths and the steps down and up through the underground passage to cross the main road from the railway station.
We are staying at the Metrolpole Hotel, where I stayed with David after our journey on the Trans Siberian Railway. The hotel has been closed for renovations for the last two years and just reopened in May. While it is nice that it now has a lift and modern bathrooms, the new interior decoration has caused it to lose some of its old world charm (in my opinion). It’s a little too much like Alice in Wonderland for my taste. I also found that Latvia has just recently changed its currency to the Euro so the old Lat has now disappeared. That was also an unexpected change.
When we arrived at the hotel, they couldn’t find our reservation and all the standard rooms are booked out. They have put us up in suite while they sort everything out. This hotel was apparently a hot bed of spying activity during WW2, but I’m sure that it is much lass interesting and flamboyant now.
After lunch, we went for a walk along the river and the town park thorough which it flows. I was reminded just how pretty this little city is. Its full of garden beds and statues. The Opera House looks very grand and its surrounding gardens are beautiful.
We timed it well to watch the changing of the guard at the national war memorial which is officially known as the ‘Freedom Memorial’. We asked a couple of nearby policemen what era of freedom it actually represented – perhaps freedom from Nazi occupation or Communist rule, but they either didn’t know or didn’t have enough english to explain. Later, we found out that it commemorates the end of WW1 when Latvia gained freedom from Polish occupation. This was a bit unexpected, but from my knowledge of history, it would have been the first time that Latvia had self rule for over a century.
Tomorrow, we can explore the old town.