What a delightful surprise Riga proved to be. It's a capital city of 600,000 - that's almost a third of the total population of Latvia, a Baltic state which gained its independence (again) in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It has some startling Art Nouveau architecture in the new town -
Doesn't that guy in the Egyptian headgear look just a little like Tommy Cooper?
And walking the streets - although often windy and a little parky - is a constant surpise and delight.
But the old city on the banks of the Daugava is Riga's real gem.
Interspersed among towering Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox churches are some remnants of the Soviet era. On the riverbank there's a powerful monument erected in 1959 to the hundreds killed in Latvia's Bloody Sunday in 1905.
This came a few days after Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg, the massacre of demonstrators which sparked an attempt at revolution. In Riga, a huge anti-Tsar protest was also dispersed with violence - but most of the casualties came when the crowd tried to escape across the frozen river and many died of drowning and exposure when the ice cracked and the freezing water swallowed them.
Nearby on Town Hall Square is a solid red granite monument to the Latvian riflemen of the First World War era, who fought first for and then against the Tsar.
Alongside is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, telling the story of the three occupations the country suffered during the Second World War: by the Soviet Union; by Nazi Gemany; and then by Moscow again.
What was once Lenin Street is now Brivibas (Freedom) Boulevard
The commanding Freedom Monument was first unveiled in 1935, when Latvia was an independent nation. The statue on top is of Mother Latvia. Laying flowers here during the Soviet era could be punished by deportation to Siberia.
For a city which was nominally atheist for several decades, there are an awful lot of stylish churches (and a synagogue). The city skyline is marked by some spectacular church towers.
This gold cupola adorns the Orthodox cathedral of the Nativity of Christ. Lutheranism is the biggest denomination. But a quarter of Latvia's population are ethnic Russians, and Russian is widely spoken.
It's fun walking round the old city - eating cheap local cuisine at the Lidos - trying the excellent locally brewed beer - and above all, enjoying the cityscape and the architecture.
Latvia is now part of the European Union. One unintended consequence is a steady drift of the young to more prosperous parts of the EU. The country's population is declining.
And of course being a small Baltic nation bordering on Putin's Russia isn't always a comfortable existence.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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