Riga, Latvia. Vulgar Beyond Reason, Fun Way Over Expectations


The Moon Safari club in Riga is stupendously vulgar. Coarse beyond belief. You’ve been to Las Vegas or in the roughest bars in Caracas? That’s amateur. The most vulgar club I’d ever been to before I visited Riga was a saggy and malodorant strip club in Las Vegas. The critical part is I said “was”.

The Moon Safari is raw. Dirty. Nasty. Filthy. It is a wretched and decadent prostitute that hasn’t showered in three weeks and tries to cover the stink with Chanel N°5. This is professional. This is the Rolls-Royce of vulgarity.

It’s not the scant, if not absent at all, light or the black painted walls or the quality of the drinks or the general appearance of the dancers that make it vulgar. Nor are the green polo shirts that all bartenders seem to be obliged to wear. It is the atmosphere. The overwhelming sensation of being a part of something that was designed for no function at all.

Because the Moon Safari certainly doesn’t look like it had a function. Not drinking, not having fun, not hitting on girls. The night I was there people didn’t look like they were enjoying the night out. They looked like they were merely existing with a glass of an undoubtedly tasteless albeit expensive cocktail in their hands.

Mine certainly was tasteless.

But my God the girls were pretty.
Which brings me on to the first of various reasons why I loved my time in Latvia.

Out of the three Baltic Republics Latvia surely is the one with the strongest aftermath of the Soviet Union. Tangible.
It’s in the air. In the contrast between old and new. Past Communism and present EU.
And the people too, they give you this definite feeling.
Where Lithuania is raw but rather nice with people looking eastern but kind of Latin and Estonia and Estonians feel like Austria and Austrians, Latvia is packed with heavy, tall, mean-looking, bouncer-looking even, 6 foot 5 boys that pay no attention to the gorgeous, scarcely dressed, incredibly slender and tall girls they all appear to be surrounded by.

Even on the streets of the Old Town during daytime they’re there. They sit in the coffee bars, they walk around, they shop, they’re shop assistants. They’re bartenders. They’re hotel receptionists. Not one of them was anything other than gorgeous.

It is a nice place to be, Riga.

On paper, the features required for any small city to be a gem are there. In reality, there’s even more.
You’ve got the river Daugava, you’ve got the river banks with benches and girls jogging and couples walking. You have souvenir shops that can sell you so much more than the usual fridge magnet. In one shop I had to physically stop myself from buying every single one of the hand made (probably) agendas with leather covers. Then you have a cat and a rooster. Apparently, they’re both a symbol of Riga and you can find them in every possible and conceivable material, design, shape, size and price you think of.

You have souvenirs and gifts made of wood, metal, porcelain and cloth. You have an astounding variety of restaurants and bars and clubs.

If I were to liken Riga to any other city in Europe I’d say Prague. And even that doesn’t exactly explain the point. The old town of Riga looks indeed like a more antique version of Prague, except for the buildings and the hotels and the restaurants that definitely appear newer.

Ah yes.
Well, of course you have the churches.

Sveta Petera Evangeliski luteriska baznica. Or as it is known to people who speak only English, St. Peter’s Church. It is a Lutheran church in Riga, the “first stone” was laid in 1209 and it has been completed and then expanded and then twice rebuilt ever since. If you visit Riga next year it might already have changed. It is a thing of unspeakable beauty. Second only, in the whole of Latvia, to the “bite-the-back-of-your-hand” pretty waitress at Ribs & Rock Restaurant in central Riga.

I don’t know a single person that’s been to Riga. Not one. And that alone is a good enough reason to go and visit.
That, and the food, and the women, and the river, and the churches, and the old town, and the odd sort of wooden installations/statue of what I can only assume is modern art that resemble giant animals near Kalku Iela. And the roads. You think you’ve driven on nice roads in the South of France or Italy. You haven’t driven on the road that goes from Riga to Tallinn.

Frankly, going on about Riga is rather pointless.

I’ll run out of space before I run out of good things to say about Riga. I’d get morbid and verbose before I’d get to the point. It is a hidden and ignored pearl geographically located in the middle of Europe. It is spectacularly overlooked and unmentioned. I’ve been writing about traveling and consequently been reading about traveling for about four years now and not once have I come across an article that was even vaguely talking about Riga.

Break out an Atlas and look at that area, everybody says Tallinn.
Well, now don’t bother. Throw the Atlas away and go to Riga instead.
And buy that wooden frog.

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words and photo by A.S.V.

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