Swooning Over Spring in Riga

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Just like autumn before her, spring arrived in Riga seemingly overnight. The grass grew a vivid shade of green and flower beds erupted in colorful blooms – the speed of this change was almost dizzying! All it took was a few sunny days and a good soaking rain to wash away the last vestiges of winter. Azaleas, rhododendrons, tulips, lilacs, violets, and even cherry blossoms brightened the city’s parks one by one, a new dazzling display tempting me out each week with my camera in tow. As if Riga weren’t pretty enough already, spring comes along and gilds the lily!

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What better place to revel in spring’s bounty than the Riga Botanical Garden! Operated in conjunction with the University of Latvia, the 15 hectare park boasts over 6,000 plants, flowers and trees. A large greenhouse contains a rain forest habitat along with an impressive array of orchids and cacti. During the spring and summer months, the butterfly house is a fun diversion – though be warned there is a separate entrance fee (worth it) and the temperature inside exceeds 30C! In a bit of canny entrepreneurship, bottled water is for sale at the ticket booth.

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Not to be outshined by Mother Nature, Riga’s chefs got in on the action during Restaurant Week, serving up spring on a plate. Seasonal produce including artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb, and sea buckthorn livened up meats like duck and rabbit, while rye bread crumbs and fresh dairy added Latvian flair to the desserts. I partook of the specially-priced set menus at a few restaurants, with my favorites being Locale and Tinto.

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Artichoke risotto, roast duck, and vanilla semifreddo at Locale.

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Asparagus soup, fish salad, and chocolate cake at Tinto.

Always a bit of an adrenaline junkie, I jumped at the chance to enjoy views of Riga from 50 meters up with Dinner in the Sky. I went with the “Champagne in the Sky” option, which included a drink, light snack, and 20 minutes of air time. After being strapped securely to our chairs – which swiveled! – the large platform was hoisted by crane into the stratosphere and gently turned so that we could appreciate the city from a variety of angles. The fearless staff handed each guest a flute of G.H. MUMM champagne and a beautiful appetizer plate, though most of us were so busy gaping at the view and taking photos that we didn’t consume either until the way down. I’ll be eagerly awaiting this spectacle’s return to Riga next year!

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Latvians seem determined to enjoy every last second of the fleeting sunshine, and nowhere was this more apparent than gada tirgus, or the annual market. Each June, virtually every handicraft maker in the country converges on the grounds of the Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum, and eager shoppers turn out in droves. Pottery, rugs, iron works, wooden furniture, beeswax candles, sausages and cured meats, wicker baskets, mittens, fresh cheese, wool sweaters, children’s toys…the list goes on and on. If I hadn’t been worried about getting my purchases home on the bus, I would have been tempted to buy one of everything!

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The weekend before gada tirgus, Riga hosted the 5th annual Latvian Beer Fest in the centrally located Vermanes Park. With over two dozen breweries represented, it’s the largest festival of its kind in the Baltics.

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Please pardon the low resolution, these were taken with my phone. And the cup on the left is pear cider. Yum!

The unofficial start of the spring season coincided with the celebration of Latvia’s Restoration of Independence. On May 4, 1990, Latvia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union and reestablished itself as a free democratic republic. Because 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of this momentous occasion, Riga threw one heck of a party! Marching bands from cities around Latvia performed in front of the Freedom Monument before a formal ceremony featuring a steady stream of Latvian political leaders, members of the military, foreign dignitaries, and distinguished guests. Everyone laid flowers at the monument’s base and filled in a “flower map” of Latvia.

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Bottom left: Former President Andris Berzins; Bottom right: Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma.

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How have you enjoyed spring in your part of the world?

23 thoughts on “Swooning Over Spring in Riga

  1. Absolutely gorgeous photos, Heather! Glad you were able to check out the gada tirgus. And I love that last photo of the man at the foot of the Freedom Monument – classic.
    Daina recently posted…Music & Food in BostonMy Profile

  2. What a spectacular city with so much to see and do. I know you are enjoying every minute! Your pictures are great as usual. Hope we can stop by the Botanical Gardens on my next visit, it looks like such a beautiful place!

  3. Omg, I LOVE that champagne in the sky concept, that’s the coolest!!!! Would seriously visit just to experience that…although the gardens are really lovely too! Looks like you have made the most out of spring in Riga, can’t wait to see what your summer holds!
    Jess @UsedYorkCity recently posted…NYC, Get Your Free Picnic Basket Tomorrow!My Profile

    • Drinking champagne in the sky was super cool and I will definitely do it again next year in a hot second. 🙂 My summer is going to be packed with visitors and travel, but I’ll make the most of every second!

  4. Beautiful photos! I saw these when you first posted, but my comment didn’t go through. What I said was that I’m so glad I was able to do so many of these things with you! Spring here really was beautiful… and now, I’m excited for summer! 🙂

    • Thanks, Deena! I was so happy to share in these experiences with you and am looking forward to all the fun summer will hold!

    • Ooh, have fun in Barcelona and Vienna this summer! Barcelona is on my bucket list so I’ll be eager to read about your experiences!

  5. Heather, I haven’t been to Riga in nearly 10 years, but it looks as though the city’s downtown has gotten even more developed. We were there for a rather short visit, as we also drove into Lithuania for a few days. Still, I remember The Museum of Occupation of Latvia being quite well done.

    And this is the first time I’ve heard of the dinner in the sky concept. Would you do it again? 🙂
    Tricia recently posted…Conquering Montenegro’s Kotor FortressMy Profile

    • Tricia, I would definitely do champagne in the sky again! I’m not sure about the full dinner option, though, because I’m a slow eater and I’m not sure I’d finish in time to fully enjoy the view.

      I can only imagine how much Riga has changed and grown in the past 10 years. Now the focus seems to be on restoring the old architecture, which is really nice to see. The Latvians are understandably proud of their heritage! Any plans for a return visit?

  6. Your beautiful photos make Riga a town not to be missed …especially in Spring! It really is wonderful…so well looked after too! I love the idea of the Champagne in the sky though I’m not sure how my lack of love for heights would handle it!
    jenny@atasteoftravel recently posted…9 Things to do on the Island of VisMy Profile

    • I’m happy you noticed how clean the city is, Jenny! It is very well looked after – and loved!

      One of the girls sitting at the table for Champagne in the Sky was so terrified she trembled visibly the whole 20 minutes. But she still enjoyed the experience, or so she said 🙂

    • I’m so happy you enjoyed your time in Riga! The city (and country) was a pleasant surprise for me, too, and now I never want to leave!

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