Running to Find the Real Riga
The weirdest thing about exercise is how you can feel really terrible and really awesome at the same time.
As far as sports go too, it’s not like there’s a whole lot to running long distances. It’s more of just a mindless action, devoid of any fancy bells or whistles. If you really want to, some basic athletic tennis shoes are all you need. There aren’t any special maneuvers or skills or talents involved, or some specific motion you have to learn and refine.
You just run.
Maybe it’s the mindless nature of the sport, or maybe it’s the weirdly good feeling that comes in tandem with the cardiovascular pain I feel right from the beginning, but running in foreign locations always helps me appreciate them more. Driving around is too impersonal. You don’t see the people, smell the smells, hear the sounds, or feel the change in neighborhoods being locked in a motorized vault. Walking works to get the feel for sure, but I’m rather partial to running because it gets you out further and brings all these sensory stimuli to you quicker. It’s almost like a catalyst of cultural experience when compared to driving or riding transport, simply because in comparison, you experience this new city and new culture at a faster and more expansive rate, but on a much more personal level. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve always come to know a foreign country this way. No music or fancy gear, just a shirt, shorts and some running shoes.
And surprisingly (notice the sarcasm), this “discovery” type of running is WAY better than hitting the running grind wheel every day. Who would have thought…
So for any runners (or walkers too!) out there, or to anybody who is looking to maybe start running (I’d recommend it), know that there are tons of beautiful places to discover here. For one, if Eastern Europe has mastered one thing, it’s building beautiful parks, and Riga is no exception. This past weekend I ran a 10 mile stretch, with the famous “Mežapark” in the northern district of the city as the “halfway point” Considering the park is a forest garden, and a local hub of activity for the area, I was not surprised when this “park of trees” was AMAZING. Long winding walkways, not too many people around, various areas of activity or quiet, playground equipment, and paths along the river “Kīšezers” all contributed to making this park (so far, mind you) one of my favorite in the city. Features of the park also include the Riga Zoopark, and a memorial to the victims of the Kaiserwald concentration camp formerly located here during WWII.
For the purposes of my run though, it was a welcome change of scenery. Breathing fresh forest air vs. breathing city polluted fumes aside, I got to travel down more paths and experience the forest in so many more ways than just seeing it. If I wanted to do that I could have just looked it up on Google Maps… Too, the beauty of the forest almost relieved some physical strain, and made it easier to drink in the views, sounds, smells of the area. Some might contest that running can never be “fun”, persay, but I’d argue this was at the very least more pleasant(:
And this is only one documented experience. Look out for more destination advice of other locales to be run in future blog posts! But for other runners out there coming to study Russian, or walkers who like the outdoors, or for any of you outdoor adventurers, know that in Riga, there are paths to be walked and trails to be blazed! Places like this are where you come to experience the real Riga.
Mark Kennedy, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Riga
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