Monday, June 26th, we had plans to call on Riga, Latvia. Bill had been there a couple of times before, back when we were living in Germany the first time. That would have been in 2008, or thereabouts. Things have changed a bit since then. As for me, I had never been to Latvia, although I had been wanting to go. I was curious about Riga. Bill said it was a beautiful city. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see very much of it, because of the “free” excursion I chose that day.
Actually, I’m not sorry we went on that excursion, as it was very interesting and we saw some beautiful countryside in Latvia. But, we didn’t have much time to explore Riga, as the excursion took over five hours. It was the longest of all of the ones we experienced last week. Turaida and Sigulda are two castles that are located about an hour outside of Riga.
The plan was to drive to Sigulda Castle and visit the renovated ruins, visit Kropotkin Manor House, see Gutmana Cave, and visit the Turaida Castle and sculpture park. At the end of the tour, we’d have a brief stop at Riga’s Town Hall square for photos, then drive back to the port.
One critical mistake that Bill and I made was not having lunch before we left the ship. The tour began around lunchtime. We weren’t that hungry when we left, and figured there would be a stop for something, given how long the tour was. We were wrong. There was a cafe near the Sigulda Castle ruins, but we didn’t have a lot of time to visit it. One thing we learned on that trip is that Regent will put a plate and silverware icon on trips where there is food involved. That trip didn’t have that particular icon in its description. Actually, now that I’m looking at it, they didn’t use that icon on our Tallinn tour, either, even though that one did include lunch and beer.
Fortunately, at Sigulda Castle, there were also vending machines, so we were able to get some snacks before we went back to Riga. It really was a good thing, because I got very irritable at the end of our visit to Sigulda Castle. Bill… bless him… knows this is an issue of mine. I get “hangry”. I usually try to carry some candy or something with me for emergencies. It usually happens kind of suddenly, and I’m fine once I have something to bring up my blood sugar.
I enjoyed the Turaida and Sigulda trip, in spite of my “hangry-ness”, for a few reasons. Once again, our guide, named the Latvian version of Eva, talked a bit about the Soviet era and the Latvian attitudes about being in the Soviet Union. Here’s a hint. Most people didn’t like that time and wouldn’t go back to it! We also passed Riga’s KGB Museum (the Corner House), which Eva told us was a good thing that came out of a building where there was once a lot of tragedy and sadness. If we ever get back to Riga, I am going to try to go there.
But I also enjoyed our excursion because I liked visiting Latvia’s largest cave… which isn’t so very large. As you will see in my photos, Gutmana Cave is covered with carvings done hundreds of years ago. It’s also got a stream running through it that, legend has it, bestows eternal youth and good health on those who drink or bathe in its waters. I didn’t drink the water… I already had a cold, and have also known the hell of having a stomach bug on a cruise ship. But I did rinse my hands in the cold water.
Below are some photos of our trip through Riga, and Sigulda Castle… You can see some of the art deco buildings that managed to survive the Soviet era.
As for the castles, they were interesting to look at, but we didn’t have that much time for exploring. And, to be honest, by the time we got to the ruins, I was really tired. It’s tiring listening to someone talk and paying attention. We also did a fair amount of walking, and by the time the tour was ending, I was super hungry and cranky. However, I did enjoy hearing about the legend of Turaida Rose. Click here for more information on that.
Here are some more photos from our excursion, mainly of Gutmana Cave, and a very old country church…
We walked back to the entrance of the huge park and I dug into my purse for the many euro coins I was carrying for this occasion. I got a leaded Coke, some sparkling water, and a package of a Latvian snack product called Long Chips. This snack, which is kind of the Latvian version of Pringles, comes in several flavors. In the vending machine, they only had the cheese and mashed potato varieties. We got one package of each, and after I’d had a few chips, I felt a lot better.
Interestingly enough, I just read that Long Chips are actually a relic of Latvia’s Soviet era, having been first made in 1986. The company that made them, once owned by the Soviet government, was eventually purchased by a private company in 1992, and is now available in 25 countries. They sure were a lifesaver last week!
I enjoyed seeing what little I did of Riga’s town hall, especially since there was a man with a beautiful baritone voice singing there. He was singing arias very well, and when I dropped a couple of euros in his hat, he bowed graciously and thanked me in English. I took a lot of photos and recorded a little of his performance, but mostly I sat on a bench and enjoyed listening to him sing. I found it inspiring.
I also liked that excursion because it included some good shopping, especially at Sigulda. I bought some beautiful silver earrings from a designer there, as well as a wallet for me, and a new leather bound notebook for Bill, and a walking stick for Bill’s granddaughter. Prices were very reasonable. And, I also loved the Latvian folk music playing where I bought my earrings, so I downloaded that, too.
When we got back to the ship that afternoon, I realized that it was karaoke night in the Splendor lounge. I usually love karaoke, although I was a little skeptical of how good it would be on Regent Splendor. SeaDream had karaoke on one of our cruises and it was honestly the worst karaoke show I’d ever attended. But, in spite of that, I sang a few songs and met my friend Meryl and her parents, who have now sadly passed on to the great beyond. Meryl is in the music business. In fact, she and her husband work with a major rock star. She asked me if I was in the music business! So it wasn’t a total loss. Meryl and I are still friends today.
The other thing that gave me pause is that karaoke started very late at night and only ran for about 90 minutes, which didn’t seem long enough. And I was also dealing with the remnants of my cold, and my voice was, frankly, a bit fucked.
In any case, Bill and I got dressed up and went to dinner in the Compass Rose. Unfortunately, dinner was a bit of a disappointment. I decided to have scallops, which were billed as a main course. But my dish only had three scallops on the plate, and it wasn’t really enough to satisfy me, even with the roasted quail starter I had. Dessert, too, was a bit of a disappointment. I had rum cake that was much too sweet, and lacked a promised scoop of Tahitian vanilla ice cream.
Yes, I know I could have and should have complained, and/or ordered more food. But everyone seemed so harried, and I was still feeling kind of crabby after our excursion. So we just beat it out of the dining room and went back to the Splendor Lounge, where Aldo and Dimas were playing music. We were the only ones in there at first, but Ger and Gail soon joined us, having decided to abandon the show in the theater. Bill and I never did make it to a show, so I can’t comment on the quality of the productions on Regent Splendor. But Gail and Ger said they weren’t impressed. During that time, I also learned how to use the “jukebox” in the Splendor Lounge.
After a little while, some teenagers showed up in the bar, obviously wanting to do karaoke. It got very busy, and Gail and Ger very abruptly beat a retreat when the place filled up. We probably should have done the same thing! I did get to sing a song. I chose “When You Say Nothing At All”, by Alison Krauss. To be honest, I think the only reason I chose that song was because I usually do it in the piano bar on SeaDream and I know it pretty well. Unfortunately, due to my cold, my voice wasn’t quite 100 percent, and I botched the high notes.
There were some really good performers, though… people with genuine talent. One guy sang a dead on rendition of “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse. Another guy did a hilarious version of “America” by Neil Diamond. Bill and I stayed for most of it, but left about a half an hour before karaoke ended. It was way past our bedtimes! I don’t think the teens ever did get up to sing. They might have been overwhelmed by the size of the crowd. There were a lot of singers, which is why I think karaoke should have been longer. I also didn’t like that it was run by theater people. It needs a real host. But that’s just my cranky opinion as a karaoke snob. Actually, I think I might prefer a piano bar, which Regent doesn’t have.
I was troubled enough by my own performance that on Monday, I decided to record my version of “When You Say Nothing At All”. It turned out great, if I do say so myself. Or, at least I didn’t mess up the high notes. Being healthy again is a good thing!
I did also get some photos of the top decks on Regent. Below are some pictures I took. It was the one day we ventured up there… These photos are all from the top of the ship. You can play tennis, mini golf, bocci, or shuffleboard.
One last thing. When we got back to our stateroom on Tuesday night, we found the door standing wide open. No harm was done, but we don’t know how long the door was left open. It seemed like a pretty serious slip in service. We did speak to the steward about it, and it never happened again during our sailing.