Tag Archives: baltic

6 Cool Places in Riga, Latvia

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Heading to the Baltics for a cruise or a drive? Riga’s cosmopolitan cool will excite any traveler. Here’s our quick guide to places to explore in the Latvian capital.

1. Check out the Old Town

Eastern Europe capitals are known for their charming old town centers, and Riga’s is certainly a memorable one. But few cities have the towering, gingerbread-esque buildings that dot the Old Town Square. Spend a picturesque afternoon wandering the alleyways of Old Riga (Vecriga) any day of the year. The architecture is particularly pretty in winter, when Christmas markets and huge evergreens light up the warm Dutch colors and art nouveau rooftops.


2. Try Balsam

No, it’s not a vinegar! Riga black balsam is an herbal liquor made from vodka. Though somewhat morphing into a drink for the locals, it’s still to be found in many homes as an old-fashioned cocktail or a general remedy for the common cold. Traditional recipes are made of 24 different herbs, berries, roots and oils, and is somewhat bitter to the taste. The golden-brown color can be poured over ice or mixed with juices or spices, served hot or cold. Balsam dates back all the way to the 18th century, a pharmacist concocted the beverage to cure Empress Catherine the Great of Russia of an ailment. In the winter, it’s sometimes mixed with black currant and heated, much like mulled wine. Though the drink is not to everyone’s taste, I say, “when in Rome!”


3. Freedom Monument

In the middle of Bastion Hill Park towers a huge memorial honoring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence, 1918-1920. The landmark is an important symbol of freedom and the sovereignty of Latvia. At the top of a white monolith stands a woman, her arms outstretched and holding three stars, that represent the three historic districts of Latvia. Locals call her Milda. Built in 1935, the 138-ft monument was designed by notable sculptor Kārlis Zāle, who won an award for his design “Shine like a star!” Guards regularly patrol the area, with a changing of the guard every hour from 9am to 6pm. Guards are required to be at least 6 feet tall and to stand without moving for half an hour!

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4. Gauja National Park and Gutmanis Cave

Though technically outside of Riga, the achingly beautiful Gauja National Park is reachable by a 1-hour drive. As the oldest and largest such park in Latvia, Gauja makes a refreshing day trip into the countryside. Established in 1973, it’s 90,000 hectares of sandstone cliffs, natural springs and thick foliage. Discover one of the more notable attractions, Gutmanis Cave, an old site of pilgrimage. The sandstone cavern walls are smothered in graffiti that dates all the way back to the 16th century, depicting coats-of-arms and the names of various barons. Legend has it that the waters of the nearby spring will heal any ache, injury or hangover. Once upon a time, the Liv chief Rindaugs buried his unfaithful wife alive on the banks of the Gauja river. The woman cried so hard in her grave, and her tears flowed out of the cave, creating the curative stream that flows there today.


5. Art Nouveau

Though Art Nouveau peppers the streets of Riga, the best specimens can be found along Elizabetes Street, in the so-called “Quiet Center,” a 10-minute walk from Old Town. Some 800 facades in the area flaunt decorative motifs, floral patterns, peacocks, detailed female figurines and masks. At the turn of the 19th century, architectural themes remodeled from abstract romantic to more figurative and imaginative design characteristic of the Art Nouveau style.

For the true art-inclined, the Museum of Riga Art Nouveau (Alberta ielā 12) is the perfect place to start your tour of the city’s architecture, with its stained glass windows, elegant twisting staircase and sharp corner tower.


6. Bergs Bazaar

The intimate and arched promenades of the Bergs Bazaar is nothing short of charming. The atmosphere is more garden than mall, and along its 130-year-old cobblestones you’ll find around 140 cafes, restaurants and boutiques. It’s a great place to come in the evenings for a languid stroll, and watch the locals chat and go about their daily business!

Willamette Intl Travel loves to talk Baltic cruises! Heading to this quirky region of Europe? Give us a call! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 


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Filed under Art & Architecture, Baltic, Europe

Where in the World is the WIT Client? : Copenhagen and Around

This week we feature Denmark, and its spectacular capital of Copenhagen. Denmark is an archipelago consisting of a large peninsula, Jutland, and a series of large and tiny islands—most noteworthy Zealand, Funen, Bornholm—in the Baltic Sea. Denmark is world-renowned for its strong civil liberties, progressive social policies, and stable currency. Famous for its rich cultural heritage and innovative practices in design and architecture, Denmark is a modern, vibrant country definitely worth exploring.

But what’s there to do or see? Let’s check it out:

Get on a Bike.

Denmark is very flat, with its highest point, the Søsterhøj Transmission Tower, 315m above sea level! So naturally it’s great for biking. With its wide cycle lanes and great inner-city bike system, Copenhagen looks like it was created for bicycles. Join the ranks of the city’s cyclists, tour the capital au velo, and catch a sight of one of the unique “pram bicycles”—a combo of bike and perambulator. Be advised that since bikes are prohibited from crossing expressways and major bridges, you and your bike should board the train if you do need to cross. The major selling point of rental bikes is that they only charge a returnable deposit of around 5 USD!

photo by Patrick Nouhailler

Cross the Baltic.

Take a half-day trip out to Sweden over the new Øresund Bridge that spans 17 km. For about 20 USD roundtrip, the electric train will take you over in about 45 minutes, rewarding you with a spectacular view of the glistening Baltic Sea.

photo by Thomas Munter

Visit a Park.

Denmark is known for its recreational areas, amusement parks, and zoos. Head over to the pleasure gardens of Tivoli with its rides and restaurants, or investigate the world’s oldest operating rollercoaster at Dyrehavsbakken Park. Copenhagen’s zoo is 142 years old and houses a variety of Victorian ornamental gardens, fierce cats and bears and strange spiders. For a real treat, don’t miss Legoland in Billund.

Educate yourself on the Heritage.

Denmark is known for their long and sometimes bloody history, and for their love of storytelling, art, and design. Check out the national galleries at the architecturally stunning Statens Museum for Kunst, or the classical collections at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Don’t miss the royal palace of Amallenborg Slot—Queen Margrethe II is reputedly available by appointment to meet any of her subjects.

Head over to Christiania.

One of the main attractions in Copenhagen is Christiania, a former Victorian military barracks that has since been overcome with hippies, bohemians and artists. This funky, alternative village is home to some of the best cafes, clubs and bike shops in town, and the sight of old gravel tracks and rickety push bikes is not uncommon. As a free station, Christiania officially has no laws and pays no taxes. The economy is sustained mainly by tourists who come to check out the Bohemian atmosphere, the hemp beer, and the openly smoked and sold Cannabis.

photo by rubyrose10

Try the Cuisine.

Danish cuisine is a unique variant of typical Scandinavian fare. On top a wonderful variety of meat and fish dishes, try the national specialty of smørrebrød, open-faced sandwiches on rye. Danish beer consists mostly of pilsners and other pale lagers, but for a twist try Aquavit (Scandinavian schnapps) or Gløgg (mulled wine, served mostly during the winter).

Some of the most innovative chefs base themselves in Copenhagen, and the city is home to quite a number of Michelin award winners.

photo by Stephan Mosel

On a budget?

If you’re a budget traveler, don’t be discouraged to visit Copenhagen—known for being one of the most expensive cities in Europe—the city does its best to offer a variety of hotel deals, holiday rates and youth discounts. For bargains, head over to the Latin Quarter for some great shops just north of the Strøget shopping street. For a low-priced drink, take the Carlsberg Brewery Tour, weekdays 11am – 2pm, where after a brief tour around the factory you can drink free for an hour.

If you have more time, also check out:

–          Neighboring Aarhus, with its picturesque Open Air Museum of what the city looked like in the 1800’s, or Odense, the main city on Funen, the hometown of HC Andersen and of one of the best preserved Renaissance castles, Egeskov Slot.

–          For the outdoorsy adventurer, there’s Læsø, a remote island where you can ride through sand dunes on horseback and visit farmhouses with seaweed roofs—or Kongernes Nordsjælland National Park, the old hunting grounds of ancient kings.

–          For a special treat, take a ferry over to Bornholm. This tiny island (227 sq miles) lies seven hours from Copenhagen. Here you’ll find caves, forests, rocky coastlines, medieval churches, sandy beaches, strawberry stalls, traditional herring smokehouses, red-tile roofs, and Viking burial mounds. You can also bring your bicycle for a cycling excursion around the island; or rent a bike for a minimum fee from one of the many shops. Be sure to stop in Svaneke, a town known for its cute craft shops. Take a night ferry from Copenhagen (94 USD roundtrip) and float by the old churches and docks in the Baltic moonlight. There are a variety of cozy accommodations around the island, suited to every type of traveler—beach camping, pensions, bed and breakfasts, youth hostels, holiday cottages or boutique hotels.

photo by Kerry Bellerose

Traveler’s Tips:

–          At the grocer plastic bags cost money—so bring a tote bag.

–          Cans and bottles have a 1-3 kroner refundable deposit—which you can exchange at the shop.

–          Many toilets have half and full flush buttons—you’ll soon figure out which is which.

–          There is a 100% tax on gasoline—this means you will pay about double the actual cost.

–         Denmark, though not part of the EU, is a member of the Schengen Agreement. This allows free movement from other countries within the treaty. Check if your country of departure is a member and whether or not a visa will be required.

Did You Know?

The famous mermaid statue in Copenhagen now has a companion. You can spy ‘Han,’ a stainless steel sculpture, in the harbor of Helsingoer. Due to an inbuilt hydraulic system, he blinks once every hour.

photo by Chris Brown

Interested in taking a trip to Denmark? Wittravel offers counseling with the best places and times to go. Call us for an appointment or just more information at 503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Denmark, Europe, News, Where in the World is the WIT Client?