Riga & Sicily: Opposites Attract

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In geometry, a point goes through many lines, but only one line connects two dots. In just such a way, I needed a second perspective, a second visit, to get an idea of this city, this land, and people. Riga, Latvia.

By an odd coincidence yet sweet destiny, I visited this former Soviet land in winter. While preparing for the trip, all manner of images passed through my mind. Myths and my crazy daydreams would soon disappear once I met the local people and got to know them. But then again, who are the local Riga people? 

At first appearance, they seem icy, like the weather at this latitude, and undoubtedly very introverted. It takes time to gain their trust. Some are difficult to even talk with; they umm and argh like it was difficult to let the words out. However, once the ice is broken, they are quite warm and want to feel European; it was a surprise to notice that most of them speak fluent English with no Russian accent. 

Yet, I notice the difference when I start talking, just like hearing my own voice echoing on a call. As I’m often a chatty type of person, I feel like I’m ‘’prevaricating’’ or interrupting their peace and quiet. Seconds of silence that in my mind would come across as boredom or having nothing to talk about might, instead, be perceived as precious moments for them.

And what about Latvian culture today? What remains of the Russian legacy in this city? I would need even more insight and further trips to this Baltic city. Nonetheless, during this second visit, I got the sense that the locals were not keen to continue speaking the Russian language, especially after Putin invaded Ukraine. You perceive a slight reluctance when talking about Russia with locals. That’s completely understandable, but being an outsider, and therefore more impartial, plus coming from a land like Sicily that has always been dominated, I don’t think we can blame the Russian people for what is happening now. I don’t think a growing aversion to Russian culture is the answer.

In December, I was so touched and grateful to be invited to watch a sublime performance of the Nutcracker ballet by the Russian composer Tchaikovsky at the Latvian National Opera in Riga. This masterpiece reminded me of the heights of Russian culture, and the lovely ambience, with children singing and watching closely, stirred many emotions inside me. I’m not sure how things will evolve, but the two cultures (West and Eastern Europe) will merge in this beautiful place in one way or another. 

My second visit confirmed the warmth of the people, after all. The weather was better; spring was balmy, and pleasant temperatures had melted the snow and helped produce lush blooming, especially of the tulips. I love to walk, and very often, I walk alone. There is no city where I can walk with such calm. Veremanses Garden or a closer stroll through Bastejkalna Park and along the Pilsetas canal is just what I need to get in touch with the local atmosphere and tranquillity. I don’t think Latvians give any such significance to the tulip blossom as the Japanese would do to the cherry blossom. Still, for a moment, I felt like I was in Tokyo during “Sakura” along the Meguro River.

The city itself is charming. There are many sights to see, starting with the Three Brother houses, which are mixed examples of Gothic-Renaissance, Dutch Mannerism, and the Baroque. If you want to feel a flavour of the past Soviet period, visit the corner house. This used to host the KGB during the occupation of Latvia. A lot of Art Nouveau can be admired all within walking distance. I’m sure there are many more dedicated websites on the internet. 

Excellent pubs and restaurants cater for locals and visitors. There are four places I suggest: a brewpub & kitchen, Colonel, where you can also enjoy Belgian beers, fries and mussels; a more authentic Belgian pub called Gastro Pub Duvel, with a lovely terrace, located on the ground floor of the Cat House. And there is the cosy bakery, Rigensis, from 1870, where you can taste delicious traditional pastry. That was my “headquarters” in Riga, where I drafted this post. Ultimately though, being a wine lover, my favourite place is Vina Studija, maybe the oldest wine pub in Riga.

Finally, and perhaps the most essential information in this article: it was with great surprise that I discovered a direct flight connects Sicily to Riga. We can bring the Latvians more sun and transfer some of their “quietude” to here in Sicily. We started with geometry and have finished with physics, confirming that opposites often attract. 

From Riga, you can now fly to Trapani Marsala Airport with Ryanair; the days depend on the time of the year. If you were to come to Sicily (besides visiting Riga), you could book this charming Targa Florio Apartment, owned by me, or through our Magazine, Times of Sicily, you could plan a five-star experience of places to visit, staying in one of the island’s magnificent Resorts.