2 weeks ago I had the privilege of being flown by Air Baltic to the Latvian capital of Riga (European Capital of Culture 2014), to bring you, the good folk of Berlin, news of a competition where you can win a trip to this great city and stay on a local celebrity’s couch. To see what the city had to offer I took an evening flight from Tegel and landed in Riga around 11pm at night. After a few cheeky drops of the good stuff on the plane over, it seemed rather apt that the taxi driver who picked me up had “Thin Lizzy – Whiskey in the Jar” blasting out of his speakers as we drove through a storm to get to the hotel. With a 9am start looming the next day, there wasn’t much time to do anything but check in and get a good night’s sleep. And sleep I did.
The following morning we were taken on a guided bike tour of the city by the Riga Explorers Club, bike rental company, where our guide Marcus gave us a fantastic history of the city as we discovered the different neighbourhoods and amazing architecture of Riga, including the iconic wooden houses you can see above, and the former sports centre with the slogan “Sport, Peace, Friendship” in the photo at the very top. This was followed in the afternoon by the press conference for the Celebrity Couch competition (which closes after today so don’t miss your last chance to win a great weekend break here!).
While the other guests were brought to a nearby concept store run by fashion students called ‘Paviljons‘, I was offered the chance to briefly split from the group and be guided around by Arturs Mednis, DJ, digital media guru, one of the celebrity hosts and all round nice guy. Arturs showed me the hip areas of Riga beginning with an amazing burger at ‘Fontaine Delisnack‘ that would make our Berlin Loves You burger specialists jealous. We washed this down with delicious local craft beer from the Valmiermuiža Beer store next door, and then made a quick visit to check out a cool club space round the corner called ‘Piens‘, which is Latvian for ‘Milk’.
Clearly a well connected and respected man in Riga, Arturs has been a popular DJ in Latvia for many years and seems to be a prolific entrepreneur with many interesting side projects in both his past and present. He even took the time show me his award-winning office for his company ‘Inspired‘ (see pic above), which reminded me more of an MTV Cribs style place than a stuffy traditional office space. After our tour of downtown Riga, Arturs had to go to an evening DJ gig, so I rejoined the group for our evening meal at Kaļķu Vārti which served us a stunning selection of food, including this amazing little 3 fish dish you can see below.
A night out on the town saw us quietly gatecrash a Sofar party headlined by local indie sensation Carnival Youth, which was being live-streamed from the living room of a large student WG, as you can see in the pic below. This was followed by more great beer at various watering holes, including a particularly cool late night spot named ‘KKC‘, as Arturs rejoined us to guide our way.
Of course all this getting to know my hosts in the most traditional ways meant that I missed the following morning’s trip to The Central Market, which was hosted by celebrity chef Martins Sirmais. Thankfully I did manage to rise from my grave just in time to make our very last date of a fantastic whirlwind 42 hours in Riga , another amazing meal at Sirmais’ restaurant ‘3 nazi‘ (3 knives, see below), before catching an afternoon flight home to Berlin, with Priekā! nicely ringing in my ears.