Riga surprised me – much bigger and more crowded than I expected. But being bigger turned out to be a good thing, because Riga has enough space for its multiple personalties to flourish.
Cheap flights bring in the drinkers and partiers, who populate the old town’s cafes and pubs. I took a look around there, mostly to check out the buildings. Oddly, it was busiest on Monday afternoon, and things quieted down considerably as the week progressed. I don’t know whether Monday was the end of some long weekends, or whether the wetter weather kept people indoors. Aside from one expensive drink at an outdoor cafe on one of the main squares, and a good meal at the Hotel Neiburg (so-so mushroom soup but delicious salmon salad with avocado and fennel) I visited the old town only to take pictures and pick up some information at the T.I.
I had come to visit a newer part of Riga, home to the largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings anywhere. Where the old town walls once stood, a river and a necklace of pretty parks now keep the two sides of Riga apart. I had chosen a hotel in the newer section, the Hotel Edvards, which sounded small and comfortable in the In Your Pocket write up, and which I loved. I gave it the highest rating on tripadvisor, not something I often do.
My first afternoon I took advantage of the sunshine to visit the Art Nouveau buildings scattered around the old town. The next morning I had arranged with a woman I had “met” on the fodors.com discussion board to get together for coffee, and on the way I took a look at the Art Nouveau museum at Alberta 12 (http://www.jugendstils.riga.lv/eng/muzejs ) and picked up some brochures. I enjoyed both our talk, and the lovely Art Cafe Sienna my new friend had chosen.
Reading the brochures I made a discovery. Turns out there are three kinds of Art Nouveau, at least in this part of the world: Eclectic, Perpendicular (or Vertical) and Romantic/Nationalist, which explains the confusion I had felt in Helsinki, where there was very little Eclectic Art Nouveau. Unfortunately, I very much prefer Eclectic, which is the style I really think of as Art Nouveau. While I saw plenty of Eclectic in Riga, many of the buildings in the brochures belonged to the other styles.