01.09.2016 - 01.09.2016
The plan for today centered around visiting Rundale Palace, which was about an hour away from Riga.
I had found the local buses to take to get out to Rundale, as all of the guided tours were far too expensive (averaging around $120 USD, not including admission to the palace itself!). I arrived at the Riga bus station far too early; I thought that it would be quite busy early in the morning, so left the hotel with plenty of time to spare; turns out that I was wrong and the bus station wasn't busy at all. I spent the time wandering around the local market, which is across the street (this is the same market that I'd visited yesterday on the free walking tour).
The bus ride out to Rundale was rather uneventful. I had to change buses in the town of Bauska and I had about an hour wait time between buses in that city. Bauska is a fairly small town and I spent the hour walking around. I saw the small Russian Orthodox church and the Bauska castle.
The bus ride to Rundale Palace lasts only about 15 minutes, though when the bus dropped us off, it wasn't exactly clear where to go to reach the palace. We were on a small road, surrounded by farmland. There was a small cafe nearby and I decided to walk around to see if I could find the palace. Thankfully there was a path behind the cafe and I saw some other tourists walking along it, so I followed them to the palace itself.
The exterior of the palace was quite impressive, almost like a smaller version of Versailles. There were very few people there when I arrived and I was able to admire the main courtyard, which was quite grand. Rundale Palace was built for the Dukes of Courland in the mid-1700s.
Access to the interior of the palace was through the front doors, though there wasn't any signage to point the way; I just walked up the stairs and let myself in. I paid for the "long tour" of the palace rooms, as well as the small fee for taking photos inside the palace. The palace rooms were really well renovated, having been completed during the past 10 to 20 years. Everything was meticulously recreated; each room was breathtaking, especially the ballroom with the gold-trimmed walls and ceiling. I could go on and on describing the interior of the palace, but I will let the numerous photos do the work for me.
After exploring the interior of the palace, I headed out to the exquisite gardens. Thankfully the gardens were rather deserted when I got there, so I was able to explore in solitude and take some amazing pictures without people being crowded in them. The gardens had some absolutely beautiful rose bushes and other flowers scattered all around. The entire garden was incredibly tranquil and peaceful; I spent nearly an hour just wandering about.
I caught the bus back to Bauska around 14:30, which allowed me to catch the bus back to Riga at 15:00. It was quite difficult to stay awake during the ride back to town; I must have dozed off a few times, but I got a burst of energy once I was back in Riga. I made a brief stop back at my hotel before heading out to grab a bite to eat for dinner.
I decided to visit the Folkklubs Ala, which the tour guide Arthurs had recommended yesterday. It was a traditional Latvian restaurant that has nothing but local Latvian beers. Once you reach the restaurant, you have to descend into the basement of the building in the old town to reach the actual seating area. The walls are all lined with the old stones; the tables and chairs are all large and made of wood; there are two bar areas and a small stage for live bands. You could also order 3L pitchers of beer, which was served in an old stone pitcher!
I decided to sit at one of the bars and had the bartender pick one of his favorite local beers; he gave me a Valmiermuizas unfiltered light beer, which was quite good. I ordered dinner there as well, deciding to have the Latvian meatballs with sauerkraut; Philip ate the same dish yesterday and mentioned that it was very good, so I decided to try it myself. The food was outstanding - quite possible the best meal that I have had on the trip thus far. The food came with potato wedges as well.
I devoured my meal and ordered another beer as well, this time having an Aldaris (another bartender recommentation). This beer was like an IPA, which was more hoppy than the first beer, but still quite good.
I decided to have dessert as well, but I was undecided on which one to order. I asked one of the bartenders, who suggested the beer fritters, so I went with those. They were fried fritters with small slices of apples and an amazing whipped cream. I was in heaven as I ate them, but with each bite I became more and more full... but I had to finish them all! By this point I was onto my third beer, another bartender suggestion; this one was a Bauskas - a beer from the town of Bauska!
Finally, I decided to leave the bar and head back to my hotel. A band was starting to play and I wanted to stay for a little while longer, but my phone battery was running quite low. So I came back to my hotel to spend a few minutes charging my phone (and writing this blog entry). I was able to Skype with my nephew, sister, and mother... and most importantly, with the amazing Orange Kitty. Now my phone is somewhat charged up and I think it is time to head back out to the bar for one or two more drinks.
Why am I doing this when I have a bus to catch at 07:00? It's my last night in Riga and I want to make the most of it!