Riga has become well known in recent years as a venue for stag weekends. This means that plenty of venues have sprung up to cater for the needs of that particular demographic.
Now, I went to Riga in a 'family group' and encountered nothing more worrying than a few overpriced restaurants. Going out at night without the family meant the touts were out with offers to visit some of the the aforementioned establishments. We stuck to the 'normal' bars and found them fine. The lap dancing venues, dodgy bars and gentleman's clubs were left to their own devices. It is in these venues that you can almost expect to be ripped off. Internet stories abound of 250 lat drinks bills for a couple of beers, bouncers charging the same for you to leave without the aid of a plate-glass window. Worse still the Latvian police can also be in on the act and support the club gangsters and their cronies.
Taxi drivers are not exactly seen as the most upstanding members of society in any port of call in the world. There are plenty of internet warnings about dodgy taxi drivers in Riga, so the Renault Red taxis are a good idea. Getting a hotel to recommend a taxi firm and a guide price is obviously a good idea as well.
Probably the most annoying extra charge is however perfectly legit - the five Lats it costs to enter the central old town zone. It's quite a small area, so if you want to save 5 lats (about 5 quid, six euro or 270 dollars at the current rate of exchange) ask the taxi driver to drop you at the barrier and walk.
Taxi drivers of course try to charge customers on the way out as well. Unless you telephoned him then he would have paid it already and is thus trying it on.
Before I went to Riga I had read the tips here on VT about the unfriendly and rude people one where to encounter in Latvia. I must admit it made me a bit cautious and I really thinked twice about travelling to such an "unfriendly place". However, it is clear one is NOT to believe everything one read....! During our stay we didn't encounter a single unfriendly person or stuck up waitress. EVERYONE - from the middle age male bus drivers to the young waitresses - were all friendly, smiled and gave quick service.
I'm not saying that other people are wrong (they might very well have been treated badly) but I also want to tell everyone that it is not happening to everyone. We had a very pleasant stay and I'm not going to think twice about going back if I get the opportunity!
When I saw this car - an Austrian made Steyr 220 - in 1992 I just was surprised about the excellent quality Austrian cars from the 1930-ies (this car was probably made in 1937 and was 55 years old then). And I was trying to consider how this car made its way to Riga two generations ago. But when my car was stolen in neighbouring Lithuania in 1995 I made other considerations about this car's history. It became clear for me that it must have been stolen in Austria between1945 and 1955 by somebody from the Soviet army (after WW 2 Lower Austria and the part of Upper Austria north of the Danube were occupied by the Soviet Army from 1945 until to Austria's independence in 1955 so there were chances enough to steal such a car in Austria - you can guess how much Ausrian police had been able to do to inhibit that - and to bring it to the Soviet Union). I think this car is no longer running as it is seen here on the pic but restored by specialists. I found recently on the web a restored Steyr 220 offered for 140.000 EUR by a specialist for restorations of vintage cars in Ukraine.
The biggest thievs in all of Riga. We (I and my wife) came to Riga by boat from Stokcholm and outside the terminal there were only white taxis (red taxis is more honest).
So we took the withe one, the driver turned on the meter, starting cost at 1,5 Lat. So it say on the window. We went to the Freedom Statue, taxi driver stops and says 8,5 Lat and so it is on the meter, so I asume that the taxidriver drowe with high speed meter all the time. My first rip of and I havent even started sightseeing.
WELCOME TO LATVIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I'd heard of this happening in other cities but it had never happened to me before.
In the Old Town near the Blackhead's House around 7pm one evening, a guy came up to us speaking in what sounded like Latvian. When we looked blankly at him, he looked relieved and started off in English. He said something to the effect that he only had coins but no-one would take them and did we have a 20 lat note to exchange. Thinking that this was just quite bizarre, I just shrugged my shoulders and said , sorry but no. He simply wandered off and we watched him stroll ahead, interestingly not asking anyone else on his way.
It wasn't even until a few minutes afterward that it occurred to me that I'd read of people trying to palm off dead and useless currency in coins to unsuspecting foreigners who would not recognise whether or not it was actually valid coinage. And I'm guessing that's what he was trying. Ironically this happened on our last evening after a totally uneventful weekend.
Ho hum. No damage done.
The amount of traffic on the streets of the old city centre might be heavy at times. In theory the old city centre is closed for traffic. However, if you have a special permit as many of the locals living in the old town centre do, there are still quite a lot of cars driving around and the pedestrians really need to look out where they tread.
When leaving Riga International Airport, do keep an eye open for gate changes, which seem to happen at a moments notice.
Our gate was changed twice in the space of 15 minutes, and the screen was not always updated.
Another flight that was departing to Berlin changed 3 times in the same space of time.
Someone attempted to pick my small rucksack one evening when I was coming out of the underpass close to Riga's railway station. Luckily I noticed the slight weight shift as the zip undid and Iturned and shrugged off the pickpocket. They were almost lucky! I had plenty of cash, cards and my passport in there.
I then realised that a couple of days previous it was not me who had left another rucksack zip open. Someone must have opened it in the same area but found nothing in the pocket.
My mistake was that I had forgotten to remove the rucksack from my back when I walked into Riga city centre. I normally carry it by my side where I can see it and that is where it should be.
Few cities in the world are free of pickpockets. Riga suffers in the same way. The area of the railway station seems to be the hotspot. I have also heard of wallets being stolen from people walking accross the city centre parks at night.
not that ive read this for a fact, but from our experiance, no no touching, being someone who has always touched people on there shoulders, i found that women in cafes / on the market were very stand offish when we did this, in one bar, we just wanted to have a look at what beer she was serving us, when we grabbed hold of the bottle, she shouted and took our drinks away, crazy!.
you say hello to them, they shrug you off and smerk,
it got to the point that i was really curious what would happen to me if i was to pinch one of there bums, probebly the only place ive visited in the world where i thought i would risk death in doing so....
as someone who enjoyed there stay, i feel obliged to fire from the hip and advise any british people of the culture shock you WILL get.
1. smiles dont come easy from the locals, unless your in a bar
2. get ready for the constant shoulder barging whilst walking around
3. dont expect anyone to hold doors open for you,also, dont expect a thank you or smile if you open the door for anyone else.
4. no one lines up for anything, toilets, clubs, shops, so dont bother yourself.
5. get a really big feeling that tourists, or mainly english people are not welcome here.
6. watch your mouth! no one talks on the buses ,as soon as you open your mouth, you will be centre of attraction, and i dont think in a good way.
7. keep your hands on your money in your pockets
8. for gods sake, if your out drinking, make sure you dont end up on your own whilst pissed!, this is definately a place where the walls have eyes,
9. keep away from any bars or clubs (especialy strip clubs) where you have to go downstairs to gain entry, from the bouncer to the rats, there all in on it as soon as you enter.
If like us you chose to visit Riga later on in the year then Be Prepared for Cold and Snowy weather !!
We saw one young woman getting off the plane that we were about to board for our return journey, It was blowing a Blizzard and she was wearing open toed high heeled sandals -- Now exactly appropriate foot-wear for the conditions and getting chilblains is not a good way to start your holiday
Well it's not really a danger, but don't get lured into the fairytale that everything in Eastern Europe is cheap. Latvia is not and neither is Riga.
1 Lats equals the English Pound and prices easily match those of any western capital. But don't be tricked that everybody therefor is rich, Latvians don't make so much money and with the high prices they cannot afford as much as you would expect.
My experience was very bad, I was just going to my hostel - Turiba which was maybe 3-4 km from Riga centre and 100m in front of entrance two guys just came out of the bushes and attacked me. They wanted to take my wallet and backpack, by the way, security office was just 50 m from that place. I suceeded to escape and after I had told the story to the Turiba security only one minute after the attack, they told me: " It`s dangerous district, never go alone, if you want you can call the police!'' They could see those guys who had attacked me, but they didn`t do anything. I was lucky I had no trauma. So, never go alone, esspecially in districts out of the centre and if you are alone NEVER speak English!!!
Having taken the Eurolines bus from Tallinn, we arrived at Riga Bus station, which is in a very crowded, busy part of the city and is itself quite crowded. Keep an eye on your stuff, and try and ignore anyone coming up and trying to start a conversation. Within a minute of us walking out of the front entrance, some guy came over and started demanding, "Mezny? Mezny?" I didn't know what he was saying, my Russian is pretty limited, but my girlfriend, who is Estonian, understood, answered, "Da, da, mezny!" and waved him away. He walked over to some other guys and they had a discussion while looking at us, but I have to say I felt a lot better being there with someone who spoke enough Russian to pass as a Latvian local (unless there is a sharp distinction in accent in Russian between an Estonian speaker and a Latvian speaker).
If you don't know Russian or Latvian, better to just shake your head and ignore them, maybe go back inside the station, who knows why a complete stranger comes over and starts demanding if you are "mezny" (local)? Not for any good reason, I would say.
For what it's worth I have learnt a new Russian word that I won't easily forget :-)
Also, except for this incident when we first arrived in Riga, I felt completely safe.
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