Latvian Loma (holiday)

Latvia’s capital Riga was founded in 1201 and sits about 360km south of Helsinki (the same distance as Auckland to Ohakune in New Zealand). The flight takes just under an hour, making it a perfect destination for a short Easter break.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 1.45.47 pm

As we headed out on Good Friday, I was looking forward to seeing the Old Town and the examples of Art Nouveau architecture, which are considered to be some of the best in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is estimated that around 40 per cent of Riga’s central buildings are in the Art Nouveau style, with many examples evident along Alberta Iela.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The street is also home to the Art Nouveau museum and a store selling beautiful Art Nouveau jewellery, lamps and art.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have a soft spot for Latvia because two of my close friends in Australia have family from there. I would be lying however if I said the legacy of its occupation is not still visible in the city. To me it was apparent as soon as we left the airport.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Latvia was occupied by both the Soviets and Nazi Germany, before gaining back its independence in 1991.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are a lot of parks in the city, which we walked through on our way to the Old Town.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I think they will become quite beautiful in summer, once all the trees are full once more of green foliage and the birds have returned from their southern migration.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We had such a great holiday – most countries outside of Finland are so much cheaper by comparison and with Latvia’s reputation as a spa destination we treated ourselves to massages and a nice hotel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There were lots of locals around, including lots of women in maybe their sixties or seventies, many of them dressed alike. There is also a really good hipster scene, which I say with no judgement because where there’s hipsters – there’s good coffee!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m going to write more about all the yummy food we ate and the great markets we visited but for now, it’s time for lunch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The island you never leave

There’s a joke in Helsinki that the residents of Katajanokka are so content with life they never leave the island. Which is particularly funny because this island is connected to the city by a short bridge and is two minutes walk from bustling Market Square.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a great place to walk around because you really do feel as though you are away from the city, despite the proximity. Your tour begins once you find yourself looking up at the Orthodox church of Uspenski Cathedral.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s some beautiful housing to see on your walk. Katajanokka is described as one of the ‘most distinguished’ suburbs of Helsinki and used to be home to Finland’s former president.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s also home to wonderful examples of Art Noveau architecture, or Jugendstil as it is known here. (Kataja means juniper).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The details on the window frames and arches are incredible. (I had a bizarre experience this day, in that every time I photographed a door to a building, it would open and someone would walk out).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not being too tall can be an asset on this island. I had to crouch quite low to get into this store, where entry is only available through the window.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Any hobbits visiting from New Zealand would feel quite at home, I’m sure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As well as being home to a major port for cruise ships, Katajanokka is also home to the huge ice breaker ships that churn up the Baltic Sea during the colder months.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The red-brick style of architecture is more evident on this side of the island too and some official maritime offices are housed here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Katajanokka is also home to one of Helsinki’s best cafes: Johan & Nyström. It was in their Stockholm branch that current Finnish Barista Champion Kalle Freese honed his craft, after discovering coffee culture while living in New Zealand. You can read my interview for Creating Helsinki with him here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just outside you can often watch hardy Finns walking from the sauna to the frozen water for avanto (ice swimming). From the cafe it’s just a short walk back to the base of Uspenski Cathedral and over the bridge to the city.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unless of course, like the residents, you also decide that you never want to leave. In that case, the island’s former prison has been converted into a hotel where you can sleep in a renovated cell.

Which brings to mind the Eagles song Hotel California every time I think of it. ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave….”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Katajanokka

Uspenski Cathedral

Johan & Nystrom Cafe

Creating Helsinki: Kalle Freese Interview