Travel to Riga, Latvia – Episode 415

categories: europe travel

Hear about travel to Riga, Latvia as the Amateur Traveler talks again to Spud Hilton, the travel editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, about his recent trip there.


Latvia is one of those Baltic nations that, because they were part of the Soviet Union for so long, Americans tend not to consider them. They assume that because they were behind the iron curtain that it must be filled with grey nondescript buildings and grey non-descript people. “As it turns out, you could pretty much not be further from the truth. What people tend to forget is that yes they were behind Soviet oppression for a while, but they were also medieval cities that have cobblestones streets, cathedrals, and incredible architecture just like any major city in France, England, or somewhere else” in Europe. Riga is the European Capital of Culture for 2014.

“Riga is a very affordable European destination that gives you a completely different view from western Europe. Technically it is western Europe but the Balkan states all three of those countries have been run by a laundry list of other countries. At one point the Latvians have been “overseen” by the Swedes, by the Poles, by the Germans, by the Russians. That’s good and that’s bad. Each one of them put their own imprint on each of these cities. Riga was a walled city in the 1200s. No street that goes at a right angle to another street. At one point the Swedes who were running the city built a moat which is now a canal. The canal is wonderful. It goes through these beautiful parks, it actually goes under a shopping mall, but it goes back out to the river. For only $10 you can take this great boat tour in these small boats that only take about 10 people.”

“The history is phenomenal. They have some great museums that not only track Latvian culture but they have also got the Museum of the Occupation” which took an old Soviet government building and talks about both the Germans and the Russian occupation. “In 2014, they are finally turning the secret police building (the ghost building) into a museum that talks about the secret police. They are also using certain floors of it into an art gallery.”

“Overall the reason to go is that it’s going to defy your expectations of a former Soviet Socialist Republic. You’re going to find a tremendous European city with a lot of history, a lot of great architecture, and great music.”

“It would be worth spending about 4 days to get the flavor of the old town area. Soak up the architecture, take some of the tours, check out some of the museums. Spend a day to go outside the old town neighborhood because there is an entire neighborhood that is one of the best spots for Art Nouveau in all of Europe. You could spend half a day just at the central market. It’s one giant sprawling place where you can get anything fresh. And in general, you can pretty much communicate almost anywhere. Even a little bit farther out you can find a lot of the buildings that were reused from the Soviet area.” For instance, you have the Orthodox Cathedral that was reused as a planetarium under the Soviets.

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Show Notes

Spud Hilton
Riga Travel Guide
Visit Riga
Canal & Riverboat Cruises
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
The KGB Building
Mikhail Eisenstein
Riga Central Market
Nativity Cathedral, Riga
Town Hall Square
Radisson Blu Hotel, Riga
Freedom Monument
Riga Black Balsam
The Big Christopher
St. James’s Cathedral
Air Baltic
Riga 2014
Bad Latitude Travel Blog
Travel – SFGate


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@DawnChiasson tweeted about the recent Nova Scotia episode:

@chris2x Nailed it! She’s right..explore by car off beaten path. We are proud to show off NS! Also, we consider Toronto “Central Canada” 🙂


When I run at home I usually listen to sports or travel podcasts. My favorite travel podcast is The Amateur Traveler with Chris Christensen Today my loyalty to the program proved invaluable. Months ago I listened to a segment in which the guest discussed Ho Chi Minh City and they stressed the procedures for pedestrians to cross the street among the myriad of scooters, motorcycles and cars. She said to step into the street bravely and continue without changing speed and the variety of motorized vehicles will make their way around you. As you can see it was great advice….

Skip writes:

I’m a long time listener to your Amateur Traveler podcast.

I am going on a cruise south, fly north trip to Antarctica starting in Ushuaia, Argentina in January 2015. As I’ve planned my trip, I thought about stopping in several South American countries along the way. However, I’ve discovered each country has expensive visas required for American citizens. $160 here, $160 there can really add up!

Perhaps you could occasionally ask your guest about entry visa and exit fees that travelers can expect to pay.

Keep up the good work!


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The Amateur Traveler: 5 Reasons to Visit Riga This Summer from Springpad


Chris: Amateur Traveler, Episode 415, today the Amateur Traveler talks about great history, great architecture, and great music as we go to Riga, the capital of Latvia.

Chris: Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen.

see NEWS below


Chris: I’d like to welcome back to the show, Spud Hilton, the travel editor for the San Francisco Chronicle who has come to talk to us about Riga, Spud, welcome back to the show.

Spud: Thanks for having me here. It’s always an honor.

Chris: And I say Riga, but I haven’t actually put it on the map yet. Where are we talking about, Spud?

Spud: Well, we’re talking about the capital of Latvia. Latvia is one of those Baltic nations along with Estonia and Lithuania that because they were part of the Soviet Union for so long, Americans tend to not consider them. Americans say, oh, well that was behind the iron curtain. It must just be full of…

Chris: Grayed, nondescript buildings, and very non-descript people.

Spud: Exactly, that’s pretty much it, and as it turns out you could pretty much not be further from the truth. What people tend to forget is that yes, they were behind Soviet oppression for a while, but they were also medieval cities. Tallinn, and Vilnius, and in this case, Riga were all medieval cities that have cobblestone streets, and cathedrals, and incredible architecture, and things like that. Just like any major city in France, or England, or somewhere else, but they’re just not on the US radar, so that’s what made me want to go.

Chris: Well, and this is the Capital of Culture for 2014 for Europe as I understand.

Spud: Yes it is. I would love to say that I was being really smart and on the ball by deciding to go there because if that, but I didn’t find that out until I actually got there.

Chris: Why should someone go to Riga, and what should they do?

Spud: Well, it’s a very affordable European destination that gives you completely different view than Western Europe. Technically it is sort of western Europe, but the Baltic States because of all of the different influences; basically all three of those countries have been run by a laundry list of other countries. At one point, the Latvians have been basically overseen, so to speak, by Sweedes, by the Poles, by the Germans, by the Russians.

You name it and somebody in this area has sort of had to oversee Latvia and specifically base in Riga. Well that’s good and that’s bad. The good news is that each one of them put their own imprint on these cities, so they’re not only really European, but they’re actually sort of more expansively Europe than a French city might be or a than a British city might be. Riga, itself, the town, the old part of town used to be a walled city in the 1200’s.

Chris: A Hanseatic League city, I understand.

Spud: Exactly, cobblestones, the whole nine yards, no street that actually goes at a right angle or anything.

Chris: Right, right.

Spud: That’s how you always tell medieval cities is because there’s no grid whatsoever. It’s all horse cart paths and stuff. Anyway, at some point, the Sweedes were running the joint, and they decided instead of having a big wall at this spot, they were going to build a moat. Well, as it turns out, that moat today is the canal around Riga that leaves. Both ends of it touch the River Delgada and the canal is wonderful. It goes through these beautiful parks. It actually goes underneath a shopping mall, but it goes back out to the river and for the equivalent or about ten bucks you can take this great boat tour in these small boats that only carry about ten people out around the canal, and out into the river, and then back in again on the other side of the canal. So you get, really, sort of a bigger impression of the place.

The history is phenomenal. Just try to keep track of the history. They’ve got some great museums that not only track Latvian culture, but of course they’ve also got the Museum of the Occupation which was taking basically an old Soviet government building. I mean a really ugly block Soviet government building and turning it into the Museum of Occupation, basically talking about both the Germans and the Russians having run the joint for a while, and the atrocities involved, and the ups and downs.

The interesting thing to me is in 2014, along with the Capital of Culture thing is they’re finally, after several decades of being free of the Soviet oppression. They’re finally turning the secret police building that’s on the same square as the Museum of Occupation. It’s this, pretty much an abandoned building; no one will go near it. They call it the ghost building.

But they’re finally turning that into a museum that talks about the secret police presence that was there, and how many Latvians basically went into that place and never came out. And how many people were tortured.

They’re also using certain floors of it as art galleries, to sort of reflect some of the history and things like that.

It’s… overall I think the reason to go, is because it’s going to defy your expectations of a former Soviet socialist republic. You’re going to go and you’re going to expect one thing and you’re going to find a tremendous European city with a lot of history, a lot of great architecture, and great music. If you can find the right place, which it took me four days to do. You find the right place, there’s great music there.

Chris: So what kind of itinerary would you recommend for Riga?

Spud: It’s pretty easy to get to from Frankfurt, which is central to most flights in Europe. And I think itinerary wise it would be worth spending about four days to get the flavor of the old town area. Soak up the architecture, things like that. Do some of the tours, check out some of the museum, things like that.

Spend a day going out beyond the old town area, because there’s an entire neighbor hood that’s one of the best known spots for art and nouveau in all of Europe. They had a crazy guy, I mean he was absolutely certifiable, name Mikael Eizenstien, and he basically offered to design peoples buildings for free as a hobby, and was going with what he sort of learned about art nouveau. These things are off the chart wild buildings.

I mean it’s a stately building from a distance. If you look close and it has all these incredible faces and eagles, and Egyptian symbols and all sorts of bizarre things. You start going out from the old town area, and you can spend half a day just looking at the art nouveau buildings, and going to the museum there for that. You can spend a half a day at the central market.

The central market, essentially one of those holdovers from the Soviet era where everybody went to the same place to get their meat for the day, their fish for the day, everything like that, and hit all of the farmers market like stalls. Well it’s all still there, it’s one giant sprawling place where you can get anything fresh. And in general you can pretty much communicate all most anywhere.

I’m saying pretty much, because, while there is a certain amount of English spoken. Over the years they’ve adopted a lot of English. They worked with England in the early part of the 1900’s a lot as a trade partner. So most places you can get by without having to know any Latvia, which I tried to learn on the plane. It’s not an easy language, let me just say that. But, it’s actually a lot of fun to go through the market stalls at central market and you can spend half a day doing that.

Even a little bit farther out, if you work your way out in concentric circles, you can find a lot of the buildings that were reused. There’s a lot of stuff that was reused for the Soviet era, and then reused again from the Soviet era back to Latvian era.

So, for instance you’ve got the orthodox cathedral that, because you couldn’t have an orthodox cathedral under Soviet rule, got basically got turned into a planetarium. I’m sure it was great as a planetarium, but, it’s now been turned back to the orthodox cathedral, and it’s just beautiful. They’ve restored all the frescos and things like that.

I think a good solid three or four days would give you time to get a solid flavor for the town. I would try to get another place in the Baltic’s along with it. So say you’re going to spend a week to ten days in the Baltic’s, I would actually try to hit Vilnius, or Tallinn, and Riga. For what it’s worth, the bus system is actually pretty good.

There’s not much in the way of trains in Latvia, because they dismantled most of the train system, but the bus system is great. Runs on time, gets you there efficiently, and it’s cheap, it’s just cheap. So if you were going to go to Tallinn, or Vilnius from Riga, it’s less than a $20 bus ride. I would try to pair those up.

Chris: What surprised you with Riga?

Spud: I think the same thing that I was encouraging other people to find out, which is it defied my expectations. What surprised me was I too had gone into this thinking, okay, former Soviet buildings, grey square block buildings, and everyone depressed and blah-blah-blah.

As it turns out, not only is there all this beautiful architecture and great history, but Riga, for a while, in part because of the Brits, in part because of the Germans. Got turned into an inexpensive, stag party area. Basically, a lot of different cultures go to Riga to have their big bachelors parties. I don’t know if that’s because there’s a lot more clubs than there are in most places, or if there’s a few strip clubs. I didn’t really count that many.

But, whatever it is, there seems to be a demand for that type of thing in both Lithuania and Latvia. And so there are clubs, night clubs and a few of them are sort of authentically Latvian clubs. I mean they’re hard to find. But, you go in there and everybody knows each other, and the band is Latvian music. And it’s all terrific.

Chris: These are the ones you said it took you a few days to find?

Spud: It took me a few days to find, it’s sort of one of these catacomb like underground clubs that just seems like a place where you’re going to go to hear Latvian folk music. And amazingly enough and, he actually denies this based on the photo I took, but the lead singer for the band that was there for that night, looks an awful lot like the writer, David Farley. So I had a double fun evening of making sure to go up afterwards and pose with this band guy and make sure to send the picture to David Farley, the writer.

Chris: It sounded like it wasn’t Latvian folk music.

Spud: It was Latvian.

Chris: It was Latvian folk music, okay.

Spud: Yeah, but Latvian folk music modernized to some extent. So in other words you’ve got sort of a full rocking band, but they also have an accordion. Or they also have a violin. It was just a violin. It was just a really nice evening down there.

Chris: Well, let’s get back to, what are the expected places that I should see. If I look at the guides books, they’re going to tell me to go to these places, and you completely agree with them. You’ve got to do …

Spud: You have to do the old town.

Chris: Okay. I assumed that. Right. But where in the old town?

Spud: Well, the former Walled City is going to have a massive main square that the cathedral is on. And the cathedral’s right next to their best museum, which you wouldn’t think is that huge, but goes on and on and on. It is absolutely a phenomenal museum.

Once you’re in that main square, because it’s a medieval city, the roads lead off of that square in about nine different directions. So it’s impossible to give directions in general, but you head down any one of those toward the river and the river-front is wonderful just for hanging out on and watching the boats.

And it’s an industrial port on one end and they actually do get cruise ships now that more cruise ships are starting to do Baltic cruises. But once you’ve seen the larger old buildings, you just want to wander the alleys in that medieval city, because you’re going to keep running into things that you’re just amazed are there.

Although, at the same time, when somebody was giving me a tour about all the art nouveau, one of the first buildings they took me to was, they took me to this building and pointed up at the art nouveau above it, and I looked at the first floor and it was a TGI Fridays. So they do have commercial chains. They do have touristy facilities.

And yes, they get a certain crush of tourists, but it’s not that hard to get out of that same way by just wandering the small streets, the medieval streets and alleys. You definitely want to take one of those boat tours around the canal. That was, without a doubt, wonderful. You definitely want to go out to the central market. Those are all things that you’re going to see, for the most part, in the guide books, and I absolutely agree.

Chris: And then flipping that on its head, the ones that you see in the guide books that you would say, just pass?

Spud: I think a lot of the party aspect.

Chris: Wasn’t your scene?

Spud: Wasn’t really my scene.

Chris: Didn’t have a lot of Dixieland band?

Spud: Yeah, not too many New Orleans traditional jazz bands in Latvia apparently.

Chris: Which, Spud plays in a Dixieland band. I’m not just pulling that out of the air here for those of you that are wondering where that is coming from.

It’s not as much of a non-sequitor as you might think.

Spud: Yeah, exactly. Oddly enough, they do have early New Orleans traditional jazz bands there. I just wasn’t there on the right nights that I didn’t take my coronet.

Figured I’d try to sit in somewhere but that didn’t work out. I think the overall party scene, the club scene, is not only a little too brassy, a little too young, a little too whatever, but it’s also run almost entirely by Russians.

During certain parts of the last century, Russians were the dominant population in Latvia and Riga specifically. And that sort of turned around over the last 20, 30 years. But they still own a lot of the businesses, and most of the entertainment businesses are Russian-owned. And that’s fine, but there’s a certain edgy tourist-beware type of situation where you might find yourself buying a drink for somebody, and that drink is $150.

Chris: Oh, that old scam, okay.

Spud: Yes, there seems to be a lot of that so you need to be aware that the brassier, younger end of the night life in Riga, has it’s pitfalls and to be careful about that. That said, I actually spent one evening doing almost nothing but watching, what is probably the most popular rockabilly band in Latvia. There’s a sentence you don’t hear very often.

Chris: I was surprised that it isn’t by default the most popular. There are more than one?

Spud: It’s entirely possible that there’s more than one. I asked about if there were any others, but I don’t think they understood what I was asking, so we didn’t really go there. But they love music. Just love music, and you’re going to find it almost every direction you turn.

The food sort of runs the range, because they’re getting a new infusion of great restaurant chefs from elsewhere, or Latvians who are coming back, who have been elsewhere, and are bringing new ways to prepare stuff. But honestly, almost every Latvian I asked said, our food has never been good. We were farmers. We basically ate meat and potatoes. And there are a few places that really hold that up.

Although it was only when I went to, there’s a chain of restaurants called Lido. Big Lido. Little Lido. L-I-D-O. And they’re basically, it’s kind of like a Sam’s Hof Brau. You go in and you line up with your tray. You say I want some of that, and I want some of that.

And I didn’t actually know about half the things I was asking for, but they looked good, or they smelled good, and it was all traditional Latvian food. It was just wonderful. I had a ball eating there and it was cheap, because it was intended for locals.

Chris: Right. The signs, the don’t buy the pretty girl who’s coming on to you in the bar a $100 drink, any other warnings you would give about Riga?

Spud: I think there’s an easy tendency to worry about safety, because the old portion of the town is a medieval city and it’s dark alleyways and things like that, and of course, you’re always going to want to make sure that you’re not in a situation, any traveler, doesn’t want to be in a situation where you’re helpless.

That said, I think you could probably go a lot more places and still be safe in Riga, than some of the books would lead on. I think there’s a tendency that Latvia actually likes having tourists who aren’t the rowdy, drunky types, and so when I presented myself as the non-rowdy, drunken type, whether accurately or not, I made friends fast and was able to find out about other things I haven’t seen or that I should see, things like that.

Chris: You can’t just leave that lying there, that brings up two questions: One is, who did you mean, who would you love for people to meet, who you you ran into. And two, is what kind of secrets did you learn?

Spud: There was a guide, who I talked to at length, while she was showing me around. She was actually working for somebody who used to be with Hewlett Packard, who now lives fulltime in Latvia, because he married his wife, and went there. And he suggested this guide, who I spent the better part of an afternoon with. And her experiences, she could point to buildings, and she could tell me about neighborhoods. The things that were fascinating to me, were listening to her talk about being a child, and growing up under Soviet rule.

Chris: Uh-hum.

Spud: And then having Latvia for Latvians. Having a clean slate to start with, and say, “Okay. What is it we want to do? What is our country now? Who are we?”

Chris: Uh-hum.

Spud: And that was an enlightening conversation. I really got a lot out of that.

Chris: And then you mentioned secrets.

Spud: I don’t know if I would exactly call it a “secret,” but one of my favorite things, is that the Radisson Blu Hotel in Riga, used to be one of the only hotels that foreign visitors could stay in.

Chris: Right.

Spud: Especially Western visitors.

Chris: So it was the one, with the walls all wired all up for sound? [laughs]

Spud: That’s exactly what I’m thinking.

Chris: [laughs]

Spud: Is that, the whole place had to be bugged ten ways from Sunday.

Chris: Probably. [laughs]

Spud: But it’s actually one of the nicer hotels in town, now. And on the top floor, 26th floor, there’s a bar called “The Skyline Bar.” And it’s, by far, the best view.

Chris: Hmm.

Spud: So if you’re going to do sunset or just go up during the day, and get a view, during hours that it’s open, that’s the best place to see the lay of the land. It might be one of those things that you do, the first day or so that you’re in town, just to get an idea of where all things are, and how far they are.

Chris: And I’m going to picture, that’s just outside of the medieval town area?

Spud: Yes.

Chris: Okay.

Spud: Yeah, it’s a few blocks. It’s probably about five blocks outside the medieval town. It’s across the canal, and past the Monument of Freedom, the great Monument of Freedom, that was put up in the early part of the 1900s. But despite the fact that they were, pretty much, run by the soviets, the soviets were smart enough, not to take down the Monument of Freedom.

Chris: Ah.

Spud: Because I think, they would’ve run into some problems, if they had tried that.

Chris: Hmm.

Spud: Black Balsam is, essentially, the Riga-made liquor.

Chris: Okay.

Spud: It’s basically their version of a Jagermeister. And honestly it’s not all that different from a Jagermeister, only it’s more bitter. So in general, if you’re going to drink the local drink, that’s the stuff. But they’ll ask you if you want to mix it with currant, black currant. And you should. Also, it works pretty well with Red Bull. But then again . . .

Chris: [laughs]

Spud: . . . I think everything works well with Red Bull.

Chris: Yeah, well . . .

Spud: So . . .

Chris: We won’t get into that. That’s more something for your therapist.

Spud: Exactly.

Chris: You’re standing in the prettiest spot, in all of Riga. Where are you standing, and what are you looking at?

Spud: I think you’re standing on the main square.

Chris: Okay.

Spud: Because again, you look in every direction, and you’re going to see down some street, that isn’t straight. It’s going to be some crooked street. And you look down that way, and you think, “Well, I can’t see what’s down there. I need to go down there.” But it’s cobblestone streets, in every direction. And it’s the Cathedral, right there. And it’s what used to be some of the old 18th century banking buildings, and things like that. There is almost always musicians, and performance tents, and things like that, going on, in that main square.

And while it gets a certain amount of tourists, that’s probably one of my favorite spots, that I spent a little time, just looking around. There’s an interesting piece of history, one of those secrets that you learn, is Riga, in history, had three things that you needed to be able to tell somebody you’d seen, in order to prove you had been to Riga. So . . .

Chris: [laughs] All right.

Spud: A long time ago, people would say, “Oh, I’ve been to such and such.” And people would say, “Well, prove it. What are the three things?” And apparently, the three things in Riga are: a floating bridge, which isn’t there any longer, the big Christopher statue, it’s not Saint Christopher, it’s this odd, legendary giant, named Christopher, who is credited in the founding of the town, somehow. They have a statue of him.

Chris: Okay.

Spud: But the one I love best, is the Bell Roof. There’s a church steeple, that has a bell on the side of the steeple, not at the top. And it has its own little roof. And it’s an architectural quirk, that nobody knows exactly why it was there. But it’s one of the things you’d have to be able to say you’ve seen. Well, the interesting thing about that bell is, at some point in Riga’s history, the legend was that anytime a sinful woman walked past the church . . .

Chris: [laughs]

Spud: . . . that bell would ring. So at some point in Riga’s history, all the women of the town got their money together, and paid to have the bell taken down.

Chris: Yeah. [laughs]

Spud: I think there’s a metaphor there, somewhere, but I’m just not going to go there. So I thought that was pretty interesting.

Chris: Fine. I’ve got just three more questions for you. But before I get to those, what else should we know, before we get on Baltic Air, and go to Riga?

Spud: You should know, that they’re now on the euro. While I was there, I was actually spending in LETS, which the exchange rate was actually pretty good. But they are now on the euro. And makes it a little bit easier to not have to exchange money, when you’re going in and out. Because my trip was into Latvia, and then over to Lithuania, and then back out, to Germany. And I had to change money three times. They’re now on the euro. And they are part of working that into full . . .

Chris: Partnership in the EU?

Spud: Full partnership in the EU. So there’s going to be a little more standardization, than there was, even a couple years ago. They really are planning for that capital of culture thing, for 2014. They’re putting out entire websites, that are “Here’s all the things that we’re going to be doing, in the coming year, that will really prove we have a culture worth checking out.”

So that’s something, for sure, that I think people ought to know. I think people ought to know, that it is worth talking to people if you can, just on the street, because everybody is a little bit guarded. But if you’re not showing yourself to be one of those sort of drunk and rowdy types just there to do stag parties, they are interested in telling you about their town. They are interested in telling you a little bit about their history.

It just takes a little bit of getting through because again, we’re talking about entire generations who didn’t talk to strangers, and for good reason.

So it’s worth meeting people and trying to sort of casually strike up a conversation if possible because once they do sort of get past that initial trepidation, they’re wonderful people and they really do love their country.

Chris: Excellent, last of three questions, one thing that makes you laugh and say “only in Riga.”

Spud: I think probably for me, I think that bell.

Chris: Yeah, I was thinking that was probably your answer, but.

Spud: That bell has to be it. I mean it’s basically the idea of a separate bell on the outside of a steeple that has its own little sort of rain catch roof to it and that nobody can sort of explain why it’s there. That seemed to be one of my favorite “only in Riga” type of situations.

Chris: And finish this sentence, you really know you’re in Riga when, what?

Spud: You really know you’re in Riga when you walk down the main street that has eight or nine Eisenstein architecture buildings, because you cannot be anywhere else in the world and see these sort of, they call him a wedding cake designer. I’m sure there are architects that believe he was just absolutely out of his mind, but the bizarre nature of these things, the over the top nature of these things was just gorgeous. But this is the only place that you can find that kind of concentration of this kind of Art Nouveau.

Chris: I’m getting the sense that as Gaudi is to Barcelona, Eisenstein is to Riga.

Spud: Yes, that would be the accurate depiction.

Chris: Okay, excellent, and if you had to summarize Riga in just three words, what three words would you use?

Spud: Medieval, European, and unexpected.

Chris: Excellent, Spud, where can people read more about your travels?

Spud: Well, if you’re in the Bay Area, you can usually read about my travels either in the San Francisco Chronicle travel section which comes out on Sundays, or on the Bad Latitude travel blog that’s at SFGate, or at the travel pages at

Chris: And we should say that you don’t have to be in the Bay Area to read the online.

Spud: Right, exactly, hopefully you can read those just about anywhere you have a connection. The online is just or and those are usually the best places to find me these days.

Chris: Excellent, and I didn’t mention that Spud has been on the show once before and that was talking about Gibraltar. So if you enjoyed listening to Spud, you can go back and check out that episode as well. Spud, thanks so much for coming back on the show and telling us about your travels to Riga.

Spud: Thanks for having me, and I always appreciate it.


Before we get into this week’s interview, I do have three news stories for you. The first one is an interesting and innovate idea from Alaska Airlines. They’re taking that whole; print your boarding pass, one step further. You can print your own luggage tag for your luggage, insert it in the tag holder when you get to the airline and save yourself some time. This is also, of course, going to save the airline some time and save them some money. They’ll be interested to see how this one works out.

We had a scary news story come out this week, at least for those of us who live near San Francisco. A picture of San Francisco airport appeared on an Al Qaeda magazine along with a caption reading “assemble your bomb.” This has set off alarms, as you may expect, in Washington DC, and I suspect, in San Francisco.

In other news, coming out of Washington, Brand USA is going to spend 10 million dollars on IMAX movies of US national parks. Now I’m not always a big fan of how Brand USA has spent some of the money they’ve got, but I do have to say, if you haven’t been to the US, the beauty of the US national parks is a pretty darn good reason for coming.

For links to all three of those stories, check out the show notes at In the sponsor slot again today, if you’re looking for a new travel credit card, check out You’ll find card without foreign transaction fees and as we mentioned last week, some of them also have bonuses such as free travel insurance,


Chris: In news of the community, I got a tweet last week from Dawn Chassen who had this comment on Nova Scotia episode, “Nailed it. She’s right, explore by car, off the beaten path. We are proud to show off Nova Scotia, also we consider Toronto, Central Canada”.

I also saw this comment on “When I run at home, I usually listen to sports or travel podcasts. My favorite travel podcast is The Amateur Traveler with Chris Christensen. Today my loyalty to the program proved invaluable. Months ago I was listening to a segment in which the guest discussed Ho Chi Minh City, and they stressed the procedures for pedestrians to cross the street among the myriad of scooters, motorcycles, and cars. She said to step into the street bravely and continue without changing speed, and the variety of motor vehicles will make their way around you. As you can see, it was great advice.” In the show notes, I’ll put a link to that blog post. Our guest on that episode was Jodi Ettenburg of

I also heard this from Skip who said “I’m a longtime listener to your Amateur Traveler podcast. I’m going on cruise south, fly north to Antarctica starting in Ushuaia, Argentina in January 2015. As I plan my trip, I’ve thought about stopping in several South American countries along the way. However I’ve discovered each country has expensive visas required for American citizens, $160 here, $160 there, can really add up. Perhaps you could occasionally ask your guests about entry visas and exit fees that travelers can expect to pay. Keep up the good work.”

We try to cover those when appropriate, like Sudan, I remember mentioning that. But that is a good reminder. Many, many, countries if not all the countries in South America have had a $160 visa processing fee put on their citizens by the United States and they have retaliated by doing the same. One interesting thing, as I told Skip is that if you’re going to the World Cup in Brazil and you have tickets to the game or are going to compete in the game, that visa fee is waived, so, something to keep in mind.

If you’re someone who uses the Springpad app, and that may be something that you might want to consider using, we’re doing a co-promotion this week. They’re doing an article also on some of the advantages of going to Riga and about this Amateur Traveler episode. One of the reasons they’re doing that is for people who subscribe to that application, there’s an Amateur Traveler notebook that you can use to keep track of some of your travel idea. Perhaps as we inspire you to travel with various episodes, that might be a place to put them, so

To check that out, I’m going to put a link to the specific article again in the show notes With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. Remember credit cards, You could join the Facebook community; follow me on Twitter @chris2x. Show your love for the Amateur Traveler by going to which will prepopulate a tweet for you. If you have any questions, drop me an email to host at or leave a comment on this episode, again, at, and as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

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