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Riga, Latvia 
      

June 4

We were in awe of Rigaís beauty before we even reached our accommodations, the Hotel ElizaBetes Nams (which has "Viesnica Hotel signed across the front of the building).

The hotel is housed in an 18th century wood frame building in the exclusive embassy district ... a lovely Kronvalda Park walk from Old Town.

Inside the Hotel ElizaBetes Nams our room was tastefully modern with a bedroom/livingroom combination. Our room, #4 provided an extra bonus of washer and dryer (the only room which does) which we sorely needed at this point in our trip.

We put on the first load and then walked the neighbourhood.

We didnít have to go to Old Town to have shutter clicking photo opportunities; the neighbourhood around ElizaBetes Nams is teeming with extraordinary examples of extravagant Art Nouveau architecture.

For photographers, both evening walks and morning walks will be rewarding.

Terry had picked up a booklet from the bus station tourist information office when we first arrived.

It had a map suggesting a walking tour and descriptions on each of the featured buildings. We did the portion of the tour around our roomís neighbourhood. The buildings were jaw-dropping in their decoration ... from robot-looking heads (remembering these were done in the latter part of the 1800s), female forms, heads, dogs, lions, sleek and curvy designs and "screamers" looking, surprisingly, like Sherrie reacting to her fear of heights.

 
 
 

Dinner was at a cafeteria style restaurant. Terry asked about the Riga traditional dish of "pig knuckles". The young girl pointed to ribs. We looked around for something which looked like a joint (appreciating pigs do not have "knuckles") and, not seeing anything, settled for the ribs and made up plates of salad and vegetables. It was good and would certainly fit most travellerís budgets.

    

June 5

Riga has celebrated its 800th birthday; having been deemed as formed in 1201. Back then it was a medieval city enclosed by defence walls and ramparts. In the 18th century the fortification ramparts were levelled. At the turn of the 20th century Riga developed a "Boulevard Circle" with grand eclectic and art nouveau buildings (some we saw last night), colourful gardens and lots of park greenery. In 1918, Latviaís national independence was declared in Riga, the new capital city. Growth continued through the 20s and 30s and Rigaís pride and joy, the Monument to Freedom was erected. This statue kept its place during the years of Latviaís Soviet rule but during that time people were not allowed to congregate and the laying of flowers at its base could be the purchase price for a one way ticket to Siberia.

 
 

On August 21, 1991, after 50 years "of occupation", the Latvian State was renewed and new opportunities opened. It is now working towards full membership in the E.U..

 

We were excited when we woke, anticipating the sights we would see. The pleasures started with breakfast. Staff had requested a specific time when we would arrive in the morning and now we understood why. The leisurely meal started with orange juice, a basket of breads and a plate of meats, cheeses, tomatoes and olives. We expected that was it, when they brought out two plates of bacon, eggs, cauliflower and salad. To finish they served a light dessert and coffee or tea. It was all beautifully presented, flavourful and filling. We were pleased we were going to be walking today.

We picked up the tour where we left off last night, moving through the long park which divides Old Town from the embassy district. Running the length of the park is a canal filled with coffee brown water. People sat on benches or stretched out on the grassy slopes under wide old shade trees. Paddle boats meandered as operators pumped their legs as on a bicycle under the many foot bridges and a few traffic bridges which cross the canal. The footbridges are decorated with padlocks. Newlyweds as a symbol of their love loop a padlock on the railing of these bridges and then throw the key into the murky water.

There is not a drastic visual difference once we entered Old Town. The city had grown gently and, as far as our eyes could discern, with a great deal of dignity. Pictures tell of what we saw much better than words.

 

Add the music of street musicians and you will have some idea of Rigaís pleasing ambience.

Walking for hours seemed effortless as the mind took in more at each turn and the camera clicked.

In the centre of Town Hall Square stands a statue of Roland ... a name which has meaning to our family. Heís a likeable looking fellow, as sturdy as a rock, with shoulder length hair flipped up at the ends, a chiselled face, wearing tights, with rollerblade knee and elbow pads, and a long cape which puddles at the back and over the edge of his pedestal.

His left hand holds a shield whose pointed tip rests upon the pedestal and stands waist high. In his right hand he holds a black sword the end of which marks Rigaís geometric centre. It is thought he was designed after Roland (King Charles of Franceís cousin) who died a heroís death in Spain. This fellow is a year 2000 replacement of the 1896 original which we found tucked away without pomp or ceremony in St. Peterís Church.

 
 

Other than dirt, probably the oldest thing we saw in Riga was the Oak trunk displayed inside the Town Hall. It was found during excavation work for Rigaís new Town Hall. They say it is 3500 years old.

So many streets in Riga seemed to hold unusual buildings, often with a character perched upon itís facade or eave or rooftop (not all special enough to be mentioned in our guidebook, but enough to capture our attention). Other old buildings had ground floors where once families lived, worked and traded while basements, upper floors and attics were used to store raw materials or finished goods.

 

We stopped for a cool drink at a sidewalk cafť right across the street from a elderly lady dancing, well ... really it was just moving ... to music from her radio/tape player. She was dressed in a white pleated skirt, a red cowboy shirt, a white cowgirl hat and white gloves. It was sad really. She made three moves with her arms and feet and then would circle ... three more of the same moves and circle ... the same speed, no matter what kind of music (from classic to western to rap) was playing.

Lots of people giggled as they passed, or turned their heads away and laughed. A couple of younger people put money in her bowl ... which only encouraged her. Two of these young people came back with a film crew. It was painful to watch as she enjoyed the attention but we thought they were taking advantage of her naivety (or senility). Maybe we are wrong. Maybe such coverage will make her a pop cult figure and perhaps such activity makes her happy .... like the saying "dance like no one is watching".

 

The highest structure in Old Town Riga is also the largest Gothic church in Latvia Ė St. Peterís Evangelical Lutheran Church. The tall spire, originally made of wood, has burnt down a number of times; the last was June 1941 when World War II reached Riga. In 1973 todayís 123 metre tower was built of metal. We went up and viewed this beautiful city, interwoven with parks, from our lofty perch.

 

After dinner (Terry finally got his "pig knuckle" - about the size of a Smart car) we made our way through the streets now busy with diners at tables on squares and side streets.

We stopped to try a local drink "Black Balsam" ... we canít say it is a favourite, for it is a vile tasting concoction (with questionable medicinal qualities ... "for medicinal purposes only?") which the locals hide (only in part) with the likes of hot blackcurrant juice. Terry like it ... until it got cold and sticky.

It was close to 10:30pm when we started back through the park to our room. The sun was still above the horizon and the air warm.

June 6

A travel day by bus from Riga, Latvia to Tallinn, Estonia.

 
 

click here to continue June 6  and trip to Tallinn, Estonia ...


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