Besides being the capital of Latvia, Riga is famous for three things: Black Balsam, Laima & the Cat House. Allow me to explain...
By now we all know that Eastern European cities have some of the best preserved and most beautiful old towns on the continent and Riga is no exception. Riga’s center is full of hidden places, small alleyways and stories that you can really only discover when you’re joining one of the free walking tours.
But let’s talk about alcohol, chocolate and cats for a minute!
Black Balsam is a traditional Latvian liqueur. I haven’t tried it myself but you get it in shops and bars all over Riga and even in my hostel they offered me a welcome drink of Balsam! Definitely a Latvian institution!
And then there’s chocolate: Laima is a Latvian candy company and they sure do know how to make yummy chocolate! I tried some of their dairy-free dark chocolate bars and they were super tasty! On one of the squares there’s a big clock, the iconic Laima Clock, which is a popular meeting point for people.
Let’s not forget about the Cat House! If you know me or have read my blog then you know that I’m a bit of a cat lady, so this is one of my favorite cat stories I’ve learnt while traveling:
The Cat House was finished in the early 20th century and according to legend the wealthy tradesman & owner of the building had a dispute with the Riga Tradesmen’s Guild which was located nearby in the House of the Great Guild. To (more or less) subtly show his disagreement he had iron statues of angry-looking cats placed on the roof of his house – with their tails facing the building of the Great Guild. The cats were later turned to face the Guild House – if the dispute was ever resolved, however, I don’t know. The original Cat House was destroyed during WWII but it was later rebuilt - complete with cats on top!
Speaking of houses ... When wandering around Riga you may find some small residential buildings with beautifully painted windows. These houses are from a time when there was a “window tax” in Riga and families who couldn't afford to pay that tax used bricks to close some of the gaps where the windows were. Sometimes they were only left with one or two real windows depending on how many they could pay for. They then often painted a window or two on the outside of the wall. The result looked like this:
Hope you enjoy the pictures!
And keep an eye out for the last Baltic Diaries post about Estonia! :)