Tell me that it’s not a place for tourists and I’ll move it to the top of my list. Tell me it might be dangerous, and I’ll be sure to bring someone with me. Tell me that I shouldn’t go, and I’m already on my way. I’m a child at heart. And just about the only person who still gets to tell me what to do, with any hope of me doing it, is my mother.
Once I heard that the flea market – Tirgus Latgale – in Riga was not a savoury place, I had the map out. Luckily for me, my partner in crime last weekend is not one to be told either, so we ventured forth to this den of iniquity having been told repeatedly that photographs were not allowed and that could it be dangerous. Apart from one crotchety old cow, everyone seemed happy and friendly, although the stalls ranged from madly disorganised to compulsively neat.
Prices ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime and just about everything imaginable that you might want to use over the course of an entire lifetime could be found there. I bought a blue bottle (my current obsession is with blue glass) from a lovely woman for 1 LAT (about €1.50) and she wanted to give me a set of six teacups and saucers as a present (thank God for the luggage allowance excuse!)
Were the spy business still in vogue and were it still necessary to build a new life on a regular basis, it would be quite easy to purchase the trappings from places like Latgale. I’ve quite fancied the idea of creating an entirely new past for myself, using photos purchased at markets around Europe of people who bear even the slightest resemblance to me. How cool would that be?
Riga is also home to the largest market in Europe – Rīgas Centrāltirgus – situated in old German Zeppelin hangers close to the train station. About 72,300 square metres (778,000 sq ft) wide, they house more than 3000 stands and sell just about everything you might imagine eating.
I was impressed – how could I not be – but Budapest has many like it, if on a smaller scale. I was up for something more local. As we traipsed the streets, armed with the new-found knowledge that Tirgus is Latvian for market, we found all sorts. And no doubt, were we living in Latvia, in Riga in particular, there is a chance that we would grow immune to the sameness of the crafts on display, but this time, they were really something. Latvia is famous for its wool and its linen and the two are put to such varied use that the ensuing crafts, although a tad expensive, make for very pleasant viewing. It’s also famous for its amber, but not as famous as Lithuania – and yet I still didn’t find that big green amber ring I’ve been hankering after for years.
All over the city there are fresh veg markets with great local food. The shapes, the smells, the people – all just that little bit different to what we have here in Budapest. Not necessarily better or worse, I might add, just different. I saw lots of things I hadn’t seen before but then I said the same when I first came to Hungary. It was a nice wake-up call not to take things for granted.
Mind you, when you venture inside to the shops, it’s a different story entirely. I can’t think of anywhere I’ve been recently (as in the last ten years) where I have been less tempted by what was on offer. The colours – so 1980s – but perhaps it’s just me behind the times.
But these colours seem to pervade the city – bright greens, blues, oranges… most peculiar. And yet no one was wearing them… yet another conspiracy methinks!