Blog Entry by Chan Ngoc Phan 12/3.
Is Latvia worth the experience?
A travel diary about how my study trip went
Imagine being in grade 11 and getting the offer to make a study trip to Riga the capital of Latvia. A place you never really heard of because it isn’t a place were many people are going to for their holidays because its so old and not really what the youngsters imagine to be holiday worth. Now a year later the time has come and you’re in grade 12. The flights are booked, the hotel rooms are reserved and everything is ready for your class trip to start. If that’s hard to imagine, let me tell you something about my study trip, i’ll help you imagine what it was like and if I would recommend it to any of you.
I will tell you something about 2 out of 5 days we were there; Monday and Thursday.
My last ever class trip was about to start. It was around 7:30am when we all met at the airport, to check in for our flight, which was taking off at 8:50am. The whole process of checking in and the security check went by very fast. It only took us 30 minutes for everything. I think the flight to Riga was a really nice one. We didn’t have any turbulences or other problems. It took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to Riga airport and for me as an well trained flight passenger it felt like a 5 minute nap.
We were picked up at the Riga airport by someone, who would transfer us to our hotel. It was called Hanza Hotel and had 3 stars, which was pretty accurate and I think luxurious for a normal class trip. We had some time to get in our rooms and maybe take a rest from the flight.
But then at 1:30pm we all met in front of the reception to go to our first place and sight we would see in Riga. It was the Academy of Science, which is also an observation tower. Before we got up there, we also had our first student presentation. He told us something about this academy and many interesting facts about the architecture of the building. The building wasn’t really far away from our hotel. It was a good 5 minute walk from there, which was beneficial because, when we went to the city the other days, you could take the tower as an orientation to find your way back “home”. The 368.5 meters high building reminded me of a miniature form of the Empire State Building. It has a similar form but is also totally different. We went up there after getting our tickets, which were 5€. Arriving at the Panorama Observation Deck was a really magical moment for me because the sky was so beautiful. It was blue with some clouds. The sun was shining really hard and the whole Riga skyline was illuminated by the sunlight. You could see everything of Riga, it was the perfect beginning for our trip. It felt like looking into the future and seeing what is waiting for us in the next few days. We spent there some time and took some nice photos, enjoyed the sunlight and the fresh air.
After that, our next stop was the Riga Central Market. The biggest marketplace of Riga. You could literally find everything there. From meat to vegetables, they had EVERYTHING. Our next student had a informative presentation there and she told us that the halls, where the markets were in, are old reused German Zeppelin hangars. That explained why it was so big. It was really impressive how they redesigned and reused it so perfectly for a food market. As we went in, you totally forgot about that fact. Well, one of the buildings was closed or not in usage, there you could get the feeling of an old hangar, but the other halls were so filled up with people and food it was another experience and not comparable to a Zeppelin hangar
rest of the day was planned for ourselves. We had so much free time,
well to be honest just till 10pm, but I think, that was enough time
to have a superficial overview of the streets of Riga. We went
grocery shopping, buying some snacks and maybe something to eat for
the next days (which we really didn’t need) because we only had
breakfast booked in our hotel. Paying our groceries was a real shock!
For the food we would’ve payed 30€ in Germany, they were only
taking 15€! That was the moment where I realized; It’s really as
cheap as my teacher told us.
The next few hours we spent walking around the town a little bit. We searched for a nice place to sit and talk, but with my fear of pigeons, there weren’t many possibilities. Riga really has a lot of pigeons. An argument for me not to go there again. But that shouldn’t bother you. After walking around for a long time, we decided to go back to our rooms and relax there a little bit. While other groups were out shopping or taking a nap, we started playing cards and having fun till the late evening, when the four of us began to get hungry. We went out again, didn’t know where we should go to eat, because we literally just arrived, but a friend remembered where the McDonalds was. There it hit me again, everything is SO MUCH cheaper!! It amazes me; plus point for Riga. It was already dark, but we didn’t want to go back to the hotel and we still had some time till 10pm. We decided to go by the river, the Daugava, which was flowing through the entire city and also right next to our hotel. The big bridges there were illuminated and it created the perfect atmosphere for us to relax, eat, laugh and talk. A really good first evening, which I won’t forget.
Jumping to Thursday, where we went to a really beautiful beach, which is directly connected to the town. Like nearly the rest of the week we had really good weather. We took the 50 minute ride train. It was a really interesting train ride, and i’m honest with you, compared to Germany the train ride felt like being in the 90s. A really nostalgic old designed train, which was surprisingly huge and in really good condition. It was really loud at some time, but it was really worth it. I enjoyed it pretty much, the windows were huge and the view was beautiful. As we drove out of Riga and closer to Jurmala, you could really see what Latvia is like. Except for Riga, the rest of the country is filled with small towns and villages. Old and not much developed on the first sight.
After arriving at the train station in Jurmala we walked through the “shopping street”. It was early, around 11am, and the shops looked like they were still closed. Walking through the small city felt like walking through a town in Germany, Bad Saarow. The vibes where similar but the architecture reminded me of somewhere in Denmark. Really interesting experience for me.
The way to the beach was a longer one, it took us approx. 10-15 minutes and I have to be honest, I didn’t really like it a lot. Or well how can I explain it better, the effort wasn’t worth the experience. I’m not saying that Jurmala isn’t worth travelling but if I’d go back to Latvia, Jurmala wouldn’t be on my To-Visit-List. The beach was like the Baltic Sea in Germany, because it was the Baltic Sea just in Latvia. It wasn’t as crowded as in Germany which can be a good reason to go there, if you like to have your silence, but everything I had there, I could’ve have in Germany too. Except for the ice cream I got there. Delicious and cheap, that’s all I have to say.
Our group split up into many small groups. We did what we always do when we arrive at a new place: Taking pictures, eating and shopping. My friend bought some souvenirs and I was accompanying.
The train ride back was really sleepy. Nearly everyone was falling asleep and my train nap was 5/10 because the train stopped really often and harsh, so that I woke up but that doesn’t change my opinion about the trains in Latvia, 11/10!
Coming back to Riga already felt like home to me. But I was too sleepy to recognize that, my only plan was to go back to the hotel and continue my nap. Gladly I wasn’t the only one who thought like that, so that’s what we did then.
Later then, full of energy, a friend and me decided to have a look at the Old Town of Riga again, just like everyday, but now we had very much time. Only the two of us were heading out for that long walk and we really enjoyed everything there. It felt different to the other times we walked through the streets and I think if you really concentrate on your surroundings and everything you can take from it, it’s a different experience compared to anything else. The Old Town was more beautiful than before and I loved everything about it. The sun was slowly setting and you could see the sky slightly turning into a light pink. The perfect evening for the two of us.
We got ourselves a little snack and sat down by the river. There was a beautiful place to sit down and talk, watch the sunset and let everything overcome your body and your sins. On this Thursday I had the prettiest moment on this entire trip.
After getting back in our rooms, the friend and I split up. She headed to her room while I was going back to the other girls. The rest of the evening we spent talking, laughing and playing games into the night, because it was our last one in Latvia, Riga. After that I went out to the boys room, where we also had really interesting conversations. It was a really nice ending of the trip for me, because I got to spend time with everyone.
But to sum up my opinions and my experiences about my class trip and if I would recommend it to you;
If you like big cities that appear small and look really old but are well developed, then I would recommend Riga to you. It’s a really nice place to visit, for it’s price and the things you can see there. If you’re interested in architecture there is for sure something you can find there to get happy, like I did, but a tip would be to bring the right person with you! The language block was a real disaster for me, because I don’t speak Russian or Latvian. I also didn’t try to speak English at some points because I really had the sad feeling that the people there hate tourists. They were really mean and not open up for foreigners.
The conditions there were okay. As I already said, it looks old but is very well developed. The only things I sadly have to find fault with are the HUGE amount of pigeons everywhere!! They were really getting on my nerves. But besides that, Latvia is sadly a poor country and you could see that by the many homeless people that were either asking us for money or cigarettes or were sitting at the edge of the street, drinking their alcohol and talking stuff you couldn’t understand because it was Latvian or Russian.
Besides that and all in all, a good place to visit if you’re a person like me. Loving nature, architecture and the little touch of old fashioned. Also not having much money to travel and needing a cheap place to enjoy the time at.
I hope I could give you a little touch of Latvia and it was interesting to read.
Thanks for your attention. – Chan
Blog Entry by Paula Jabs 12/2.
Our classtrip to Riga and my personal experiences
A few weeks ago we went to Latvia, more precisely to the capital city Riga. When I heard in the 11th grade that my study trip destination is Latvia, I to be honest was very unhappily and depressed because there a other destinations I personally like more and I never really have heard something about Riga. I accepted the decision but was still curious about the country, the people, the atmosphere and the food.
I will share my experiences and write about the days Tuesday and Wednesday.
At 8am on Tuesday our first real day startet. Despite a few hours sleep, I was fast awake and full of energy to explore the city and the country. After breakfast, which was pretty good for a 3 star hotel, we left at 9.45am. A 3 hour city tour with a German speaking guide through the old and new city expected us. Normally, I am not a fan of city walks but Riga aroused my interest, so I was looking forward to it.
The tour began at the National Opera. It was built between 1860 and 1863, but burned down in 1882 and was finally rebuilt. The city tour led us through a small park, where you had the possibility to relax, go to a nearby cafe or to take a short boat trip. After that, our next stop was the 42 meter high freedom monument. Unbelievable, two men in uniform are standing in front of the monument all day long. They’re just standing, not allowed to move or laugh. Only sometimes they march a few meters and then go back to their place. The monument is a symbol of Latvia’s national sovereignty. It was built between 1910 and 1915 and is located on the freedom boulevard.
The tour led us through the old and new city of Riga. Through small alleys we always came to places that had a meaning for the city. We saw the oldest house in Riga, it was small, narrow and I thought it could collapse at any moment.
Besides, we saw the three brothers. Those are three houses right next to each other. However, these have no connection or common history. They are called like this, because in Estonia there are the three sisters, also three adjacent houses, although there is a deep friendship between the two countries, this was out of rivalry that there is such a thing also in Latvia. Our next station was an approximately 3 meter high stone gate. Our guide told us that a young girl was petrified alive because she loved a boy and met him secretly.
Then we went to a market place. People sold homemade things, others laughed and talked. The atmosphere at the market was very pleasant and the square looked like a meeting place. After the short break and a few meters we reached a place where a bear stood that clearly resembled the Berlin bear. The city tour was finished and the woman said goodbye at a train station very close to our hostel. Now we had 2 hours free time to visit the city, to go to the hostel or to eat something.
At 2.30pm we met again to go to a cosmetic workshop. There we could see the production of different products and at the end we could develop our own skin cream. Unfortunately the workshop was quite short and our guide seemed a bit stressed. Nevertheless it was interesting to see and I enjoyed it. When we arrived at our accommodation again, we had freetime until 22 o’clock. Some of us had burgers together and then walked through the city. At 0 o’clock I was finally in bed.
The next day startet at 7.15am, to be honest I was a extremley tired. After breakfast we took the train to the chocolate factory. A woman guided us through the museum for an hour, it was quite exciting and we were allowed to eat chocolate. At the end of the tour we could take pictures with huge plastic chocolate bars or put our face on a picture in a chocolate figure. It was all pretty funny, and none of us were bored. Finally the highlight of the whole tour came, we were allowed to choose between different kinds of chocolate and then refine the chocolate with everything possible: strawberries, nuts, coconut, different sprinkles and some other things. Afterwards, we were allowed to take them home and the tour in the chocolate museum was over. We took the train back and had freetime until evening.
I was eating burgers with some from my group again, they were a thousand times better than in Germany and really cheap! Afterwards we were in the supermarket. Arriving at the hostel, we went to sleep, we were all tired and exhausted. After that we had to get ready for the boat trip, we met at the river and did the one hour tour. The sun went down and it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. However, it was very cold and the wind was very unpleasant. At 8pm the tour was over.
In the end I was very happy to have flown to Riga. My group consisted of only 13 people, we all got along well and the weather was a bit cold but generally very pleasant. I had a lot of fun during the week and learned a lot about Latvia. I haven’t regretted flying to Riga, on the contrary I am very satisfied.