Reflections of Riga

Unfortunately, my luxury bus ride from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius had to come to an end. I was now in the Latvian capital of Riga. In this article I’ve included photographic reflections of Riga as well as my own experience of the cosmopolitan capital city of Latvia.

The hours seemed to have flown by while I was on the bus and it was now dark. Very dark. But it wasn’t even 7pm yet. I don’t think I could ever get used to these crazy European winters!

There was something that struck me about Riga straight away. It instantly seemed more modern and happening than the Lithuanian capital city that I had just left. I had arrived in both cities at similar times, yet Riga was a lot more lively. More lights, more people, more traffic and more open stores.

Reflections of Riga – Confusing Subway Tunnel

I was hungry but as it was already dark I decided to drop my bag off at my accommodation first. Navigation through the city seemed rather easy. Except at the intersection of two main roads near the train station. Pedestrians had to use a subway to pass under the intersection. A subway that confused my map. Stupid GPS!

Reflections of Riga – Almost getting Lost in the World’s Most Confusing Subway Tunnel

So imagine being tired then having to try to get your bearings in a subway tunnel that seemed to have far too many exit options. There should have only been four but there were at least 10.

To add to the fun, the subway tunnel had an ever so slight curve that threatened to turn me around completely. I was not willing to give up like my map did. So I made an impromptu decision to take the exit that looked the nicest. That’s tired logic for you. Luckily, it turned out to be the right exit. Sort of.

Reflections of Riga – Not Quite, But Close Enough

I had actually taken the exit just after the one I needed. It wasn’t a major problem seeing as it has still taken me to the right road. Just the opposite of it.
I was able to rectify that problem at a ground-level crossing a few minutes up the road. Once I finally made it to my accommodation, I was in a very tired and hungry state.

Reflections of Riga – Chatty Chick and Local Eats

The receptionist at my accommodation was the opposite of everyone I had encountered in the Baltics so far. She was chatty. Extremely chatty. I’m normally always up for a chat but I’d had a long day and was very hungry. I asked her for recommendations for good places to eat local food. She advised that a chain called Lido would be a good choice.

Reflections of Riga – Local Non-Local food

There was a Lido nearby, so I made my way there. I was surprised to see that it was ‘buffet style’. Not only that, instead of a normal buffet, where you pay a set price and eat what you want, you had to pay individually for each thing that you ate.

Furthermore, there were only a few local looking dishes on the buffet. It mostly seemed like American kind of food. That’s not what I came to Europe for!

I was not interested in walking around town looking for some local food, so I settled on a €1 beef wrap from the place next door. It hit the spot and didn’t break the bank. My favourite kind of food!

Reflections of Riga – Beautiful Buildings and a Blue Bridge

Now that I’d got some food in me I was feeling much better and was ready to explore the town a bit!

While walking to my accommodation from the bus station, I had noticed a few things that I had decided to go back take a closer look at. Firstly, there were a crazy amount of Christmas decorations adorning trees on the side of the road. That wouldn’t be too strange if it weren’t the end of January. More than a month after Christmas was over!

The main attraction for me was the blue bridge I’d seen earlier. This bridge is the path of Krišjāņa Barona Iela over Pilsētas Kanāls or City Canal. Of course, it looks like any normal boring bridge during the day. But at night it’s mesmerising. Especially with the reflections of Riga in the canal.

The canal starts and finishes at the Daugava River which flows 1020 kilometres, all the way from Russia, through Belarus and Latvia to the Gulf of Riga. Pilsētas Kanāls is flanked on both sides by lovely parks and green spaces. But who cares about that, how about that bridge, eh?

Reflections of Riga – Day Trip to Sigulda

One of the main things I was looking forward to doing in Latvia was bobsledding at the international track in Sigulda. The town is about an hour from Riga by train. The train runs quite regularly throughout the day. I didn’t want to leave it until too late but I also wanted to leave after sunrise. Would you believe sunrise was around 9:40 am? I settled on the 10 am train.

Unfortunately, I had miscalculated the time it would take me to walk to the train station. I nervously approached the ticket window at 9:58 am. I half expected the lady behind the counter to refuse me the ticket as it was so close to departure time. She didn’t. She took my €2.10 then gave me the ticket with a smile and no hint of urgency. I still needed to get to the platform though!

Reflections of Riga – Train to Sigulda

Most people would run at that point, but I’m not a runner. I just started walking faster. To be fair, my fast walking is faster than some people’s running. I made it onto the train and was comfortably seated just before the train started moving. The train ride was quite relaxing and the scenery was very green. I was especially impressed with the pine forests where all the trees seemed to line up in perfectly straight lines. For kilometres upon kilometres.

Reflections of Riga – What’s in Sigulda

Just over an hour later I had made it to Sigulda. It felt like the temperature had dropped between Riga and Sigulda by at least 5 degrees. I might’ve thought this was all in my head if it hadn’t been for all the people dressed in snowsuits and ski gloves. This was amusing to me as I’d never seen people walking around in snowsuits when there was no snow.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Path in Sigulda.

I stopped for a quick eat in a cute little cafe near the station where they served soup in a bowl made of bread. Then I made the freezing walk to the international bobsled track. I was excited about the adventure on which I was about to embark. But of course, things didn’t quite go to plan.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Bobsled Track in Sigulda.

I saw many people walking around adorned with colours of different countries. Canada, Russia, Korea. Uh oh, it was a competition day! That meant that bobsledding was closed to the public for the day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. View of Bobsled Track in Sigulda.

I had gone all that way, so I decided to take a walk around the complex. It was rather impressive actually. After watching a few of the teams fly past me from a viewing area, I couldn’t stand the cold any longer.

Reflections of Riga – Train to Sunset

As I had decided to leave earlier than planned, I got back to the Sigulda train station rather early. More than 40 minutes before the next train was due. I was happy to wait inside the station where it was much warmer than outside!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Sigulda Train Station

The wait didn’t really seem to be that long, even though I was having problems accessing the free WiFi at the station. There was no announcement when the train had arrived. Luckily I’d seen it pass the station building on the way in. Once I was back in Riga, the sight that I saw was nothing short of amazing.

You know the strange thing, it wasn’t even night time yet! I had arrived at the Riga Train Station just after 5 pm! It was still afternoon.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Reflections of Riga. Train Station Clock at 5:20 pm

Reflections of Riga – Leaving on Another Luxury Bus

I had learned my lesson from having to pay extra by purchasing my bus ticket at the last minute in Vilnius. So I had pre-purchased my ticket online the day before. This was a weird concept to me, as transport prices are generally set, or negotiable, no matter when they’re purchased in most other regions that I’ve travelled in.

Reflections of Riga – Almost Empty Bus

After I showed the bus lady my ticket she motioned for me to get on the bus and said that I could sit anywhere on the bottom deck. The service was going all the way through to St Petersburg in Russia, but it was almost empty until Tallinn, which was my destination. This bus also had a swanky hot drink machine like the Vilnius to Riga bus. The seats weren’t as comfortable though.

We made some random stops along the way. At one of the stops, we seemed to just be waiting, as no one got on or off. One of the passengers decided to take the opportunity to pop off the bus to have a quick smoke. The driver wasn’t having it, but as he didn’t speak English, the best he could come up with was, “No bus stop please”. Can’t argue with that, I guess.

Do you have any of your own reflections of Riga? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Keep an eye out for the continuing Baltic adventure in Tallinn, Estonia

Need help planning a trip to Riga? Head to the Live Riga website.

Check out all the destinations visited on this trip –
Vilnius
Reflections of Riga
Tallinn
Helsinki
Kemi
Oulu

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Experience The Old World Charm of Vilnius

What happens when a warm weather person ventures into the Baltics in winter? A lot of complaining about loss of feeling in the extremities of the body. I will never understand how people can live in such horrible temperatures! But I had heard that the old world charm of Vilnius in Lithuania was something that I really needed to experience first-hand. So I put on 20 layers and got myself on a plane.

Experience The Old World Charm of Vilnius – Airport or Train Station?

As far as international airports go, the Vilnius International Airport, or Vilniaus oro uostas in Lithuanian, is a bit on the smaller side. It is still the largest of four airports in Vilnius and sees about 5 million passengers through its halls a year. Upon entering the terminal, you could be excused for mistaking it for a train station.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Airport

The nice lady at the tourist information centre indicated which bus went to the old town and where it left from. Luckily the bus stop was just outside the terminal building. So I waited inside, away from the cold, where I could see the bus stop. It was already dark at 5pm.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Airport Bus Stop

The number 88 bus didn’t take long to arrive. Unlike what I’m used to at home, where you enter a bus through the front door, this bus took passengers through the back door. In my tired state, I just sat down without paying. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realised I hadn’t paid. The driver didn’t seem fussed about this at all and nonchalantly took my €1 when approached later.

The Old World Charm of Vilnius – The Old Town At Night

Upon arriving at the bus stop near the old town, a short walk from the main road took me to a cobbled street. As lovely and old-worldy as it looked, it really wasn’t easy to walk on. The cobbles were the biggest I’d ever seen. A few metres of walking on that was annoying enough to make me switch to the narrow footpath to the side of the road.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Cobbled Road

The Old World Charm of Vilnius Where Everything Closes Early

I went to the old town centre to search for some food. Almost everything was closed except a small supermarket, that looked like a convenience store, and a Hesburger. Hesburger is like a Finnish version of McDonald’s. It actually outsells McDonald’s in Finland and the Baltic states. As options were running low, I settled on the €1 Cheeseburger. It was as disgusting as I thought it’d be.

I grabbed some supplies from the convenience store/supermarket. I didn’t want to eat another cheeseburger the next day. Most groceries were reasonably priced, which was great for the budget. The old world charm of Vilnius and its old town was nice, but it was also a little boring. At the time I thought it could be because it was night and many things were closed.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Empty Streets During the Day
Maybe it’ll be a bit more lively during the day, I thought. It was not.

Experiencing the Old World Charm of Vilnius by Day

I was struggling to get myself out into the cold, but I really wanted to see the city. Just as I was ready to go, it started snowing! I wasn’t going out in that, so I decided to stay inside a bit longer. I ventured out about 20 minutes later to find not one trace of the recent snow anywhere.

Where did it go? Did I imagine it was snowing? No, I’m 100% sure it was snowing. Obviously snow works in mysterious ways incomprehensible to the mind of a warm weather person.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Where's the snow?
Where’s the snow?
Old World Charm of Vilnius Under Grey Skies

Magic snow aside, the cloudy skies seemed to accentuate the beauty of some of the buildings. But they didn’t seem to do much for the mood of the locals. I’m quite used to people being friendly and approaching me wherever I travel.

Things were a little different in Lithuania. People just didn’t seem to want to talk. I mean, they would interact with me if I asked for directions, but they’d give the shortest answer possible. They would constantly look like they were uncomfortable with the situation and waiting for any opportunity to get out of it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Cloudy Sky

The Old World Charm of Vilnius – Entertaining Local

This happened with just about every Lithuanian I tried to engage with. All except the smoking lady at the bus station. She never actually spoke to me but her interactions with others were quite hilarious. She shamelessly interrupted conversations smokers were having with their friends to get a cigarette.

The hilarity leveled up when she approached a smoking tourist. She didn’t speak English, so she just stood near the tourist and his friend. Then she started nodding her head and looking at them while they were talking. When they stopped to look at her, she pointed to the guy’s smoke and put her hand out in a ‘give me’ kind of fashion.

Needless to say, the poor guy was a bit dumbfounded and handed her a cigarette. He then watched her walk off towards her next victim.

Not So Old World Charm of Vilnius – Street Art

I’d heard that a famous political mural with Trump and Putin kissing was near where I was staying. I wanted to find it! Of course, things didn’t quite go to plan. All I had was a street name, so I found that street. The mural was nowhere to be seen. I did find some other art along the way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Street Art

That mural was right across the road from this interesting statement hung on the side of a train..
K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Train Statement

Was it a sign of a dystopian future? Or are the people of Vilnius really not able to express opinions after 10pm? It would explain their stoic demeanors and standoffish ways. Anyway, back to the art. Once I’d given up on finding the famous mural, I came across this in a back street.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Alien Street Art

If it hadn’t been for this, I’d have never noticed the drainpipe next to it. The thing I had been searching for was there. Sort of.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Putin Trump Mural Sticker

As I couldn’t find the original, this was the closest I’d get to seeing it. Then I spotted an embroidered car. I wondered, how many months would that have taken to make?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Embroidered Car

The last arty thing I spotted, while not strictly street art, was still cool. What’s the best way to make something stare-worthy? Use coloured lights! Flashing coloured lights are even better!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Light Art

Old World Charm of Vilnius – Bernardine Park/Bernardinų sodas

On the west banks of the Vilnia River lies Bernadine Park. It has an interesting history that has seen it closed and reopened under different names by different regimes. These days it’s mainly full of manicured beds of flowers and fountains. From there you can access two historical monuments. The Trys Kryžiai or Three Crosses and the Gediminas Castle Tower.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Three Crosses K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Gediminas Castle Tower

Old World Charm of Vilnius – Hills of Attractions

I had intended to climb the hills for both of these. The path to The Gediminas Castle Tower from the Bernadine Park was closed for repair. This was also the path that allowed access to another path that led to the Kalnų Parkas and the Three Crosses.

That meant that both required a longer walk around the outside of the park to reach their other access points. So I chose to just do the castle tower as it was rapidly approaching sunset.

Experience the Old World Charm of Vilnius – Gediminas Castle Tower at Sunset

The tower is actually a part of the Lithuanian National Museum, the main building of which is a few minutes walk from the tower. The path up to the tower is short, but steep.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Path to the Gediminas Castle Tower

A lot of the path is cobbled too, which makes it a little bit more difficult to navigate. I guess that’s why a funicular has been built to take people to the top of the hill for €1, or €2 for a return trip.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. City View From Gediminas Castle Tower

The Old World Charm of Vilnius From Above

You can see almost the whole city from the top of the hill. I’ve got to admit that it was a pretty amazing view. The top of the hill was very windy. It was already quite cold without the wind. So you can imagine how difficult it was to take pictures with numb hands. But I just had to get a shot of this amazing sunset!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Sunset View From the Gediminas Castle Tower

Experiencing the Old World Charm of Vilnius at Night

Winter in Lithuania brings about an early sunset. So it starts getting dark before 5pm. The cold seems to really kick in after the sunset too. But that didn’t stop me from checking out the city after dark. Well, that and the fact that I was on the other side of the city from my accommodation and had to walk back.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Vilnia River

The river looked so pretty and peaceful after sunset, even though there was a main road running either side of it. It actually looked quite amazing at dusk.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Vilnia River After Sunset

Old World Charm of Vilnius – Waterside Parks

I walked alongside the river for as long as I could, before heading back into the city via an intersecting road. It wasn’t long before I came upon another park, so it seems like there are a fair amount of green spots in the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Lights in Park

This park was lit up with lights that changed colours at intervals. You don’t want to know how much time I spent staring at them! Let’s just say that I was so distracted by the lights that it took me a while to realise that there was an ice rink right behind me. Complete with a disco ball!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Old World Charm of Vilnius. Ice Skating at Night

Not So Old World Charm of Vilnius – Luxury Bus

Once it was time to leave Vilnius, I got myself a €16 bus ticket to Riga. I was not at all happy about paying that much for a 5 hour trip. But I guess that’s just par for the course in Europe. I remember wondering, when I purchased the ticket, what was so special about this bus? Was there a reason it cost so much?

Well, it was the most luxurious bus that I took in all of the Baltics. Or anywhere for that matter! The seats were roomy and comfortable. The heating was set at just the right temperature. And there was a hot drinks machine that dispensed coffee, hot chocolate and tea! I tried to drink €16 worth of tea, so I think I got my money’s worth!

Stay tuned for the continuing adventure in Latvia and in the meantime check out our list of free things to do in Vilnius.

Want to know more about the old world charm of Vilnius, the self-proclaimed ‘G-Spot of Europe’? Visit their Vilnius G-Spot website.

Check out all the destinations visited on this trip –
Old World Charm of Vilnius
Riga
Tallinn
Helsinki
Kemi
Oulu

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Shenanigans in Sunny Spain

It had been a long, long journey but I’d finally made it to Europe for the first time in almost a decade. With summer in full swing, I was ready to embark on some shenanigans in Sunny Spain!

Shenanigans in Sunny Spain – Marvellous Madrid

I’d landed in Madrid and decided to join a free walking tour of the city. It was guided by a South African named Max. During the tour, I started talking to a Portugese guy named Pedro, who also happened to have the same name as a Brazilian guy on the tour.

Mario Jumps into the Shananigans in Sunny Spain

We spotted Mario, or at least an old Spanish man dressed up in a Mario costume. Within the blink of an eye, Spanish Mario was right next to us making poses and asking for photos and selfies together. It turns out that those poses come with an expected donation, but whatever, itsa Mario!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Itsa Mario!

Walking Around the Capital City Looking For Some Shananigans in Sunny Spain

As we walked around Spain’s capital city, Max took us to many sites of interest and gave us a bit of background of events in the city over time. He even told us how the Bank Of Spain building was once home to over 500 tonnes of Moscow Gold. When we reached The Puerta de Alcalá in the Plaza de la Independencia, he informed us that it was ‘older and better’ than both the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Some Famous Gate in Madrid

After the walk was done, Pedro and I decided to get some lunch. While walking around searching for the perfect place, we stumbled upon a Tim Hortons. That’s a beloved Canadian coffee chain, just in case you weren’t aware. Pedro was so enamoured by the idea of a coffee shop that doesn’t exist in Portugal, that he wanted to go in and try what they had on offer. I think he’s in love with Timbits now.

Shenanigans in Sunny Spain – Joking About How to Speak Spanish

We crushed our hunger with a well-earnt buffet lunch. Then we joked with our Spanish server about the number of English words that become Spanish when adding an ‘O’ to the end. Like transito, for example. We came up with an surprisingly long list of words that seem to follow this arbitrary rule. After that, Pedro and I parted ways.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Eye Of The Tiger - orchestral style! in Madrid
Eye Of The Tiger – orchestral style!

Shenanigans in Sunny Spain – Festivities in the City

It might be worth mentioning at this point that Madrid was celebrating its annual Pride Festival and the streets were positively buzzing. While walking along, I saw a Spanish string quartet rocking out their version of ‘Eye of the Tiger’. I was invited to a make-up party, but eventually settled for some dancing in the streets with locals wearing pride flags as superhero capes. Good times.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Pride Decorations in Madrid K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Proud Potatoes in Madrid K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Proud Cow in Madrid

Back at the hostel, I booked my bus ticket to Malaga in southern Spain then grabbed my gear and headed to a local bar for an international Couchsurfing meet. I had a great time talking to strangers from all over the world and wowing them with my awesome travel stories. Including another traveller from Hong Kong. That means I got a bit fo Cantonese practice happening.. in Spain! Unfortunately, it had to end. I then headed to the bus station for my overnight bus to Malaga. Sounds fun, right?

Shenanigans in Sunny Spain – Modest Malaga

I arrived in Malaga bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a wonderful sleep. Nah, not really! I was semi-awake and probably resembled something like a lost zombie. Of course, the best thing to do at that point was to head to a cafe to binge on sugar and internet, right? Apparently the bus ride had taken away my ability to speak Spanish with any proficiency. Luckily the Spanish seemed to be a lot better at speaking English than I was at speaking Spanish!

Wandering Around Looking For Shenanigans in Sunny Spain

Feeling a bit more alive after some food, I was ready to venture out into the hot city and see the sights. I found myself walking along a dry riverbed that led me to a cute area of the city centre. It was only accessible by pedestrians and the occasional delivery van. Strips of canvas had been hung from the roofs of the buildings all along the cobbled roads to shade people from the harsh sun. What a great idea!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Modest Malaga Monument

Sunny Spain – Green Space in the City

Not far from that area, was a large inner city park between two busy roads, across from the port, complete with monuments and sculptured gardens. I sat on a shaded park bench for a while to take it all in. It’s surprising how easy it was to ignore the traffic buzzing on either side when surrounded by nature. Especially iwth the birds in the nearby trees that seemed to be squawking loudly in an attempt to be heard over the throng of the traffic.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Modest Malaga Buildings K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Modest Malaga Inner City Park

I ended up getting back to the station an hour early as I’d overestimated the time it would take me to walk back. I went to a ‘cafeteria’ across the road from the station, Los Villares. The first thing I saw as I walked in was the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana playing. I sat down to eat my egg and bacon special while the 90s video hits continued to play. It was a pretty good way to waste that extra hour! I mean, who doesn’t love 80s music videos? Right?!

What Comes After the Shananigans in Sunny Spain?

There was one thing left to do. Get myself on a bus headed for the Talifa port at the southern tip of Spain. From there, I’d hop on a ferry for a short ride to start my next adventure.. in Morocco, Africa!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Talifa Port Building K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Talifa Port and Sun K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Leaving Talifa Port

Want to create your own shenanigans in Sunny Spain? Check out the Tour Spain website to start your planning!

🇪🇸Spain Summary🇪🇸

In a few words – Sunny and colourful
Language – Spanish and English
Currency – Euro (EUR)
WiFi availability – 📶📶📶📶
Good WiFi is easy to find
Transport 🚗🚗🚗🚗
🚍 I didn’t try any inner city transport in Spain as I prefer to walk. Intercity transport is lovely and airconditioned, but probably more expensive than it should be. A 5 hour trip could cost from €20-35
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣🛣🛣
All roads in Spain are smooth and well maintained
Scenery – 🌲⛰🌲🏞️🌲
Spanish cities have a lot of green spaces and the countryside is full of rolling green hills.
Prices – 💰💰💰
Most things seem to be reasonably priced in Spain, but transport, although comfortable, is a bit overpriced
Border efficiency – 🛂🛂🛂🛂
Entering and exiting Spain was quick and easy
Overall – 👍👍👍👍

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