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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Riding a tiger

T he actuarial profession is disproportionately male, and disproportionately young. It’s a fair bet that many of them will have gone on a stag weekend in the last year or two, or perhaps even suffered one in advance of their own nuptials. Some may have taken their colleagues with them, leading to the frightening image of packs of drunken actuaries wandering around.
I’m pleased that I’ve never been on a stag weekend, having avoided a colleague’s a few years back that involved revellers being beaten up in Margate. In respect of another bacchanal, a colleague suggested that the best thing to take was a spare liver. However, thinking about what such weekends are rumoured to involve, Riga ought to be a nearly ideal destination. Thus it was with a certain degree of trepidation that I found myself checking in for a flight to Latvia’s capital alongside a party of loud young men wearing silly hats.

Animal behaviour
Riga would seem to be good for a stag weekend because it has cheap beer, exciting things to do nearby (there’s a dry bobsleigh run about 50km outside the town, which must be an excellent hangover cure), and, it seems even from the most easily available tourist literature, it has lots of pole-dancing establishments. However, more parties seem to head to Tallinn, capital of neighbouring Estonia. This is worrying, as, compared to Riga, Tallinn is small. Three reasonable-sized groups of drunken English yuppies prowling around would turn Tallinn into a claustrophobic bear pit. Riga at least is big enough to absorb such crowds.

Out from the crowd
The old town of Riga is, to my mind, as beautiful and historic as Tallinn’s. But, whereas my memory of Tallinn is of the old town ending abruptly, and much less attractive 20th century developments starting, Riga’s old town is surrounded by very fine late 19th-century and art nouveau architecture. One of the most famous architects was Mikhail Eisenstein father of the film director Sergei and in one house designed by him the philosopher Isaiah Berlin was born. The style is found in many cities around the Baltic, and an excellent exhibition on the subject did the rounds of Helsinki, Stockholm, and St Petersburg last year.
Escaping raucous crowds in the old town, I spent one day on the massive beach at Jurmala, just 30km from the city centre and 40 minutes by train. Although the beach faces north, it was warm enough for a brief swim. Again the architecture little wooden cottages with carved gables and glazed conservatories is particularly interesting. I rushed back to go to the opera 15 lats (almost exactly £15) for a seat in the front row of the side of the gallery on the closing night of opera festival to see Pique Dame. The audience was mainly middle-aged Britons and Germans.
Suitable for both stag parties and a more mature crowd would be the motor museum in the outskirts of the city. Where else can you see Leonid Brezhnev’s crashed Rolls Royce with a wax model of the former dictator at the wheel? Or Maxim Gorky’s Studebaker, Stalin’s Zil, and Molotov’s Roller?

City breaks
Riga has more than enough for everyone for a long weekend. It has no need to ride the tiger of catering purely to the young and rowdy crowd. Three airlines fly direct from London (Air Baltic and British Airways from Heathrow, Ryanair from Stansted) and Air Baltic flies also from Manchester thrice weekly. Good hotels can be found at a range of price levels I stayed at Radi un Dragu, in the old town, where an en-suite single room is 37 lats a night including breakfast. Go to Tallinn for an exquisite fragile jewel, but go to Riga for a real city.