Riga Trip Part 3

On our final day in Riga, My husband and I went on a private tour to Kemeri National Park and Jūrmala. It was a sunrise tour, and tour guide picked us up at our hotel bright and early at 5:30AM. After a stop for coffee and pastries, we were on our way.

Kemeri National Park at sunrise was absolutely breathtaking. We entered the park through a forest, and shortly thereafter saw a clearing, and an extensive boardwalk. Our timing was perfect- we were able to see the moon go down on one side and the sun rise on the other side of the boardwalk.

Sunrise in Kemeri National Park

About two-thirds of the way through the boardwalk was a three story lookout. There were just two other people in the park besides ourselves, so we enjoyed the relative silence and peace (relative because the two other people decided to launch the drone at the lookout, which was quite noisy).

The boardwalk extended through the forest on the other side of the park

After our trek through Kemeri National Park, we drove to a rural beach in Jūrmala.

Jūrmala had varied architecture- from Victorian-to modern. It was interesting to drive through the town and listen to the history from someone who grew up close to there. According to our guide, Jūrmala is beginning to undergo renovations of many of its historical buildings. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph some of the houses, but they were very cool to see.

After our excursion, our guide drove us directly to the airport, where we caught our flight. It ended up being a great holiday, and I highly recommend visiting Riga, Kemeri National Park, and Jūrmala if one has the opportunity to!

Riga Trip Part 2

Our second day in Riga was spent walking and exploring the beautiful city!! My first impression of Riga was that everything is efficient, clean, and orderly. The architecture was so stunning and varied, from the Art Deco district to the old town.

On our walking tour of the city, we saw all the noteworthy buildings: the Three Brothers, the Cat House, the House of the Black Heads. Afterwards we wound up in the Central Market, which is amazing!! Definitely worth visiting- 5 buildings full of fresh produce, meat, and seafood!! Locals were there along with tourists. There was a food hall located in the Central Market serving meals with local and fresh ingredients for dine in or takeaway.

After many hours walking outdoors we treated ourselves to a sauna session at our hotel and ate some yummy food at Gastro Pub Duvels.

Day three of our trip was a spa day. I booked a three hour spa session for my husband and myself and it was worth every penny!! That day also happened to be International Women’s Day. It was so nice to see people give the women in their lives tulips and other flowers, take them out to restaurants, and pamper them. At dinner we saw four young women in their twenties giving each other small gifts and honoring each other as women. International Women’s Day is celebrated similarly to Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day in the U.S.

We did not stay up late that night as we had a very early morning excursion the next day, which I will elaborate about in Part 3!!

Freedom Monument
One of Riga’s many beautiful Art Deco buildings
The Cat House
House of the Three Brothers
Old Town Riga
House of the Black Heads

Riga Trip Part 1

Riga, Latvia has been on my radar as a possible holiday destination for a little over a year now. It was a quick, direct flight from Kyiv, a quaint old town with tons to do and see, and also a very clean and safe city. Thus, I decided that my husband and I would spend my birthday weekend there. I insisted that I wanted to go in early March since there would be no crowds, and flight and hotel would be at a lower price than in summer.

At first, my husband resisted, as Riga was colder in temperature than Kyiv, he did not know that much about Riga, and he did not have the time or inclination to plan a vacation. Since I love planning trips, this was a fun task for me- I told him I would arrange everything. I was on a mission to make this the best holiday ever, so I pulled out all the stops.

The first day we arrived, I scheduled a car to pick us up from the airport. The Riga airport was clean and easy to get out of. Our driver drove us about twenty minutes from the airport to the hotel, which was located in the Art Deco district of Riga. If I were to plan another trip to Riga, I would have us stay in old town, because that is where most of the restaurants, shops, and museums are. Our hotel was great and had excellent amenities, however, so no regrets. We checked in, dropped off our bags, and set off in search for some dinner. We ended up at the Flying Frog, which had great food and ambiance.

After dinner we explored old town, which was so beautiful and quaint!!

We made an obligatory stop at Black Magic for some black balsam, a Latvian liquor. The bar was very neat, with servers in traditional Latvian clothing. I paired my black currant flavored black balsam with a yummy pistachio truffle. I was glad I ordered the truffle, as the liquor tasted almost exactly like cough syrup and I needed a palate cleanser. It is definitely an acquired taste. Latvians claim Black Balsam can cure any illness, and a bonus is it warms you up on a cold night.

We ended up at a Rockabilly club after Black Magic, and listened to live music.

All in all, a perfect start to our trip! We had a big day of touring the following day, which I will write about in Part 2!!

Working Out in Kyiv

A person can easily exercise in Kyiv. There are many gyms (cross fit, yoga, boxing, all sorts of sports clubs). Kyiv has tons of parks for walking and running. Bicycling is also common, as I know some people at the Embassy who bike year round and see couriers bike around the city all the time. In addition, there is always the option of streaming workouts for days when a person does not feel like leaving the house (during winter, for example).

Prior to moving to Kyiv, I worked out almost every day for three and a half years. I varied my workouts- from online workouts to running to yoga. Since moving to Kyiv I have worked out nearly every day by streaming workouts at home. Although I love my at home workouts, I really missed practicing yoga. I was hesitant to join a yoga studio here due to the fact that I am not fluent in Ukrainian or Russian. So, I did workouts at home instead.

A couple of weekends ago, after being fed up with the crowdedness of his gym, my husband asked me to come with him to check out another gym in our neighborhood. It was very nice, and reminded me of a posh boutique gym in the United States. The facilities were top notch and they had an impressive selection of group classes, including yoga. It was also as expensive as a nice gym back home; however there was an 8% discount that weekend for paying a year membership in advance. On top of this discount, the front desk manager threw in eight free personal training lessons and eight massages if we paid a year in advance. My husband and I are both suckers for a good deal, so we joined the gym.

The language barrier was still a concern for me. My first test of the language barrier was the treadmill. Our first day, on a high of joining a new gym, My husband and I worked out. Since there were no group exercise classes at the time we arrived for our workout, I chose to run on the treadmill. For some reason it did not occur to me that the words on the buttons and instructions on the treadmill would be in a language other than English. Which, in retrospect it makes sense for the words to be in the local language, but I was not mentally prepared for that. The distance was calculated in kilometers instead of miles, which also made it a challenge for me to figure out the appropriate speed to set the treadmill.

I had no choice but to roll with it, and estimated the speed as best as I could. I had a great time working out- mostly due to the fact that I jammed out to some groovy tunes during my 25 minute treadmill session. I took it nice and easy with a 5 minute warmup, 15 minute run, and 5 minute cool down. I proceeded to do some stretching for another 5-10 minutes after that. Not bad, considering I had not run prior to this in close to 4 years!

The next day was another language test: a Pilates mat class. The class was not in English (although she did say “tabletop” at one point). On top of the language challenge was the fact that I had not taken a Pilates class prior to that class. Surprisingly I did just as well as the other students in the class! The instructor corrected my form a couple of times, but I felt comfortable doing all the Pilates moves. I attribute this to the fact that I am a visual learner and have a background in yoga.

Three days after I joined the gym I went to my long-awaited yoga class. It was all in Russian, which made it difficult to know what the instructor was saying, but I did my best to mimic her movements. The majority of the moves were different from yoga classes I had taken in the United States, but it was a good class nonetheless. After the class, the instructor asked me if I spoke English, and I said yes. She said she wished she would have known- she would have taught the class partially in English!!

My advice to those who are hesitant to join a gym in a country where they don’t know the language- do it!! Yes, there are challenges, but exercise is important to one’s physical, emotional, and mental health. If joining a gym means that you will be motivated to move your body, don’t let the language barrier stop you.