While Stockholm has been great, my feet have been getting itchy just sitting here, so I decided I needed to take a quick city break. Viking and Tallink are two ferry companies I have heard about that offer quick and cheap cruises to a few different cities around the Baltic Sea. With a bit of research I found that Riga, Latvia was the warmest this time of year and had the cheapest tickets. So, Riga it was.

We stepped off the boat around noon and only had about four hours to see what the “capital of the Baltics” was all about. On the walk from the boat to the center, the architecture seemed to change every few hundred meters starting with industrial dockland, followed by concrete Communist apartment blocks, and after that, brand new apartments and offices that looked more like modern art than anything else.

Once we crossed over Torņa iela, it was apparent we had reached the famous center as the building colors became brighter and architecture older. Riga has also been called the “Paris of the east”, but I didn’t get that vibe. Sure, it is the third largest Baltic city just after Stockholm and St. Petersburg, and the center is bursting with beautiful medieval and Art Nouveau architecture, but it reminded me of another place I’m very familiar with and it wasn’t Paris. Welcome to Riga, “Euro Disney of the east”.

Joining the European Union and having its historical center listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has done wonders for this Baltic big shot considering it spent over 40 years deteriorating under Communist rule. Restoration attempts are happening left and right. Crumbling facades nestled in between the newly restored and repainted ones tells the real story of Latvia’s capital.

For lunch we ducked into Alus Seta Lido near Dome square. This joint is not off the beaten path, but we wanted traditional Latvian and didn’t have time to seek out a local secret. Looking back, it would have been a serious mission anyway as every bar and restaurant in the Old Town seemed to be designed just for tourists with tacky themes and employees dressed in even tackier costumes.

Surprisingly, there were more locals eating next to us than tourists. That’s probably because it was 40° F and peak season was over. Lunch was delicious even though I had no idea what it was. Nothing was in English and the line was moving fast so no need to hold it up by asking 20 questions.

Two things I am certain I consumed were 1) Užavas alus, a traditional Latvian beer and 2) Riga Black Balsam, a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur.

The rest of the time was spent wandering around the Old Town’s narrow, cobbled streets, staring at a couple of Baroque churches and admiring some of the city’s 800+ Art Nouveau buildings.

I had always been curious about Riga so I’m glad I got the chance to visit even if it was for such a short amount of time. Four hours was enough to walk around the Old Town, but I would definitely like to go back so I can get out of the overly touristic, theme park-esque center and see the real Latvia.