November meant it was time for me and Dan to go on our annual overseas (Christmas) trip. I have always wanted to go to the Baltics after seeing a lot of photos from friends who had been, so cheap flight prices saw us heading to Riga. The cheap flight did mean we had to be up at sparrow’s fart to make the departure so we decided to stay at the Hampton by Hilton which is right next door to Stansted Airport. I booked an accessible room which was huge. It had a big double bed (it was quite high) and a pull out sofa – the mattress was
shit not the best. I shotgunned the bed as I was about to spend a week on a couch and Dan had to make do with the couch.
After checking in Dan’s bags and getting my visa checked (bloody Ryanair – the only airline that makes me print a boarding pass because I don’t have an EU passport) the special assistance team had us through security and to the gate in no time and we were able to board with the ambi-lift and be seated before everyone else. The flight went pretty quick, but that could have been because I slept through most of it. Riga airport special assistance was on it and we were out of there pretty quickly.
After collecting Dan’s bag we decided to try out the local public transport and caught the bus into the city. Good news, the bus was free! Now, I’m not sure if the airport – city bus is normally free or if it was another #wheelchairperk.
The first thing we noticed when we got of the bus was there seemed to be a lack of road crossings. We walked for a bit down the road one way, then back up to the main set of lights without finding a crossing.
We then found a subway crossing, and were initially a bit scared – all we could see were a set of stairs with two metal rails .. we thought it would be easy enough for Dan to get down – but how to get back up them on the other side?! Luckily a passerby saw us in contemplation and pointed out the lift! When not in use it is hiding down in the tunnel so we didn’t see it at first.
We made our way over the cobbled streets to our Airbnb in the old town. The apartment was in an excellent location on Kaleju Iela and a short walk to all the main attractions. We booked a one bed flat that had a massive couch, and was our version of accessible friendly and had a kitchen (meaning no steps and quite wide doorways and paths but Dan had ‘floor showers’).
After settling in and having a lay down, it was time to find somewhere to eat. I got on Yelp and the Google and found somewhere that was recommended by other gluten free eaters. Melna Bite on Audeju Iela was about a 5 minute walk from our Airbnb. There was a bit of a step or two through the door which Dan managed with his impressive wheelchair skills and then there were about 3 more steps to get up once in the restaurant. The serving staff were really helpful and lifted Dan up. Lucky they had a couple of strong guys on that night because the toilets were downstairs too.
The food did not disappoint! I wanted to try something authentic – which is normally quite hard in countries that are heavy on the gluten – and had the beef tongue and vegetable ragout and Dan had the potatoes and duck confit. My dessert of creme brulee was amazing.
In Dan’s Own Words:
Service on the whole was good. This was one restaurant we encountered with toilets downstairs, so highly advisable to ask upon arrival. I actually got carried down said stairs while still on my chair a few times, like some African King. They all seem totally fine with this method even if you’re not. Most actually offered me this service without me asking, but myself being a 8.5 stone guy it makes it easier.
After dinner we decided to wander around the Old Town and take in some of the sites and get the lay of the land.
The next day we went and checked out the House of the Blackheads. The facade of the building is incredible, highlights of gold and intricate detail.
The Brotherhood of Blackheads was formed in the early 1300s and was a guild for unmarried merchants, ship owners and foreigners. Unfortunately the original, centuries old building was destroyed by the Nazis in 1941, however it was rebuilt in the 1990s and is one of the top tourist attractions in Riga.
We really wanted to visit the Museum of Occupation of Latvia, however it had been moved to a temporary location while work was being done on the building and was no way accessible at all – stairs to get up in to the building, staircases to get up to the exhibit. Dan and I decided it wasn’t worth it so we went hunting for a gluten free cafe I had heard about. Skudru Puznis was about a 20 minute walk away from Old Town on Ernesta Birznieka Iela. It’s not outrageously signposted so we did walk past it the first time.
This was a fantastic find for me and Dan loved it too, however there was one issue:
In Dan’s Own Words:
This lovely little place was my favourite, unfortunately it had a step in and then 5 or so steps down! Ever the problem solver I got lifted up the first two steps through the door and the inside five steps had a wooden banister each side – nicely smooth and polished. The slightly perplexed waiter stared at us as we came in – and offered absolutely no help. Fired my determination even more. So I lifted myself, leaning over the banister on my stomach head and torso over one side legs the other, finding the perfect balance point while my partner in crime Rachael took my chair to the bottom of the stairs. I slid down the polished wooden banister smoothly and at a steady pace until I dropped gently and comfortably into my chair – mission accomplished! “let’s eat” I said proudly – still no reaction or response from the waiter still standing no more than 10 feet away from the stairs. Russian occupation has had a lasting hardening effect on some people.
We actually visited Skudro Puznis twice and the photos above are from both trips (although I probably did eat that much on our second visit – the dumplings were amazing and we tried a few different flavours!)
The next day we did a bit more exploring throughout the Old Town and found a nice little garden that had some great scenic views and then found the Central Market.
In Dan’s Own Words:
So we stayed in the old town in Riga. Which you probably guessed wasn’t going to have the best of accessibility for wheelchairs. Like most Eastern block countries I’ve visited it had uneven paths with harsh cobbled streets. The FreeWheel came in handy ALL of the time and when I forgot it or couldn’t be bothered attaching it, it was back wheel balance central.
Central Market was quite cool, there were outdoor stalls that ranged from a bit of fruit and veg to Nazi memorabilia which I didn’t think you were able to sell but oh well.
The Market consists of four undercover hangers (pictured further down in the view from St Peters and each one holds something different. One was under construction so was empty but the others held meat and veg, cheese and seafood.
In the afternoon we went to the https://www.iluzijumuzejs.lv/en/home/ Unfortunately Dan couldn’t get us in for free so we both had to pay – from memory I don’t think it was a lot though, maybe around 6 quid. Although the museum was small it had lots of interactive things to do and we had a lot of fun in there.
The next day we decided to venture out across the river as we had seen a modern building on one of our river path walks.
Turns out the building is the National Library of Latvia, so we had to visit. To me it felt more like my university library than a public library and we explored every bit we could. The children’s section had a section for Australian literature!
Our last full day involved another exploration of the Old Town and a walk up St Peter’s Church tower. My church back home is also named after St Peter and is a Lutheran church too so I had to check it out. St Peter’s dates back to 1209 but the tower was destroyed in 1941 by warfare. You have to pay to go up the tower but we were told it wasn’t accessible so we just walked in to the church. I did go check out the tower – two flights of stairs and then a lift to the top – it COULD be made into a ramp if they wanted to be inclusive!
As Dan couldn’t get up to see the views I video called him when I was up there so he could live it vicariously. It was bloody cold and windy up there though! I was glad to get back down into the church.
It turned out my Kiwi friend Georgia was in Riga visiting friends at the same time we were there so we met up with her for a late lunch at our favourite Latvian restaurant Melna Bites. It was great to catch up with her as she is making the most of her visa and touring the country through her job commitments and had moved away from Glasgow.
The service was fantastic – the waiters were straight over to lift “King Dan’ up the inside steps and the food was amazing!
I had the veal and crayfish meatball soup from the Kurzeme region, Dan went for the beef cheeks and Georgia tried the beef tongue that I had days earlier. The dessert pictured is the honey cake – unfortunately not gluten free but I have it on good authority that it is delicious – Dan may have had it twice.
Although Riga isn’t the most accessible place in the world it had a small town, old world charm to it.
Dan and I are already planning our next November adventure – hopefully we will be able to get somewhere abroad but Covid may have other ideas – keep your fingers crossed for us!