Saturday, May 12, 2007

Riga- All grown up

I just spent a lovely weekend in Riga, celebrating a close friend's impending loss of liberty (also known as marriage).

I was excited to go back to Riga, a city I hadn't been to in almost 10 years. I had loved it then, the palpable excitement at the pace of change, the country shrugging off its 50 years of Soviet-enforced indolence and re-embracing its language, values, and unique identity, while modernising at breakneck pace.

A decade later, the difference is astonishing. Fortunate to arrive on Independence day, the clean, orderly streets were thronged with flag-waving Latvians, prosperous and creative bars and restaurants were doing brisk trade, and the beautiful old city was resplendent with reconstructed or restored monuments and architectural delights.

While (for a tourist) Riga retains some benefits of it's recent history (lower prices and Russian women's fashion amongst them), the city is now virtually indistinguishable from other Western European capitals. Blink in the old city, it could be Stockholm; in a nightclub and it could be Berlin. Latvia (or at least Riga) is no longer Eastern Europe. And while that for most residents is a positive development (although there were plenty of people I spoke to (mostly Russians) who didn't think so), as a visitor, I find that mildly disappointing, the quaint charm of the Baltics replaced by comfortable but bland Western Europeanism...

Rather than my yearnings for yesteryear, you'd probably prefer to hear more about the excitement of Riga? It has a well-deserved nightlife reputation, gorgeous girls and great nightclubs, and I think it's safe to say our whole crew had some late nights and an absolute blast of a time... Throw in some go-karting and shooting, and it's a perfect boy's weekend!

It's hard to write about Riga & it's nightlife without reference to the overwhelming number of English people there now that the Baltics have been "found" and budget airlines fly direct. I can't complain too much, since my other 7 compatriots flew in from London and we were, after all, on a bachelor party weekend (stereotype anyone?), but it did detract somewhat from Riga's considerable delights.

A few photos from the trip are here.

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