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