Category Archives: Latvia

European Capital of Culture 2014, Riga

Riga

First of all today we reacquainted ourselves with the fabulous Art Nouveau buildings that were all quite close to our hotel.  There had been a lot of restoration activity since we were last here and the pace of regeneration to repair years of neglect was very impressive.

The buildings looked different this time bathed in soft winter sunshine with snow on the roofs and when we had done enough neck craning to peer upwards towards the statues and friezes we left this part of the city and walked once again through the spacious parks towards the city centre.

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Festival Days – 8th March, International Women’s Day

On a visit to Riga and the Hotel Latvia in March in addition to enjoying the Skyline cocktail bar we decided to eat there as well.

The food was excellent and there was a reasonably priced self-service buffet but what was especially good about his meal was that it happened to coincide with‘International Woman’s Day’ and there were free cocktails for all of us and flowers for the girls.

To be honest I had never heard of ‘International Woman’s Day’ before, it certainly isn’t that big in the United Kingdom, and to be honest I have to say that I thought it was a bit odd to have it on a Saturday, which is a day really reserved for sport, but it turns out that this was just an unhappy coincidence because IWD is held every year on March 8th and is a day of day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world.

It all started in New York when in 1908 fifteen thousand women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

Morocco Volubilis Photography

Then, in 1917, with two million soldiers dead in the war, Russian women chose the last Sunday in February to strike for ‘bread and peace’. This turned out to be hugely significant and a contribution to the overthrow of the Romanovs and four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.

That historic Sunday fell on 23rd February on the Julian calendar, then in use in Russia, but on 8th March on the Gregorian calendar that was in use elsewhere.

It has since become very important in Eastern Europe after a 1965 decree of the USSR Presidium that International Women’s Day was declared as a non working day in the USSR “in commemoration of outstanding merits of the Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defence of their Motherland during the Great Patriotic War, their heroism and selflessness at the front and in rear, and also marking the big contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples and struggle for the peace.”

International Women's day

Another interesting thing is that although Latvia doesn’t care to remember or celebrate much about the Russian occupation they seem happy enough to continue with this day off from work arrangement.

In these days of equality it is important to be fair of course and I am pleased to say that ‘International Men’s Day’ is an international holiday, celebrated on the first Saturday of November.  It was first suggested by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1999 and was supported fully by the United Nations.

Prisoner Dwarf Wroclaw Poland

 

Wales, Rainy Days and Mondays

To be fair to Wales and to set the record straight, it isn’t the only place that we have visited where it has rained a lot…

Sigulda LatviaIceland Traditional HouseHaugesund Sailors NorwayFolegandros RainStreet Cleaners Alghero Sardinia

COMPETITION!

Ten points for each country that you can identify in the pictures!

1  S*******

2  L*****

3  I****

4  S****

5  I******

6  S****

7  M******

8  N*****

9  G*****

10 S*******

 

Cities of Eastern Europe – Riga

Walking Tour of Riga

We drove back to the city to rendezvous with our Latvian guide for the afternoon who was going to take us on a walking tour of the city.  We had no idea when we started the tour that this experience was designed as a severe endurance test based on the welcome to the Soviet Army initiation week for new recruits.

She was a lovely woman, and rightfully very proud of her city but she hadn’t fully made the transition out of the ‘do as you are told’ communist era and she pushed us through the city at a punishing pace, even at one time refusing a perfectly reasonable request to stop for a just a brief moment to purchase cold drinks and telling us off for buying postcards from a street trader.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art

Riga Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau was an international architectural style that flourished for only  a relatively brief period in Europe between 1880 and 1914.  It was an elaborate statement of increasing bourgeois wealth and influence and a rejection of the aristocratic stoic classicism that had previously dominated.

This period happily coincided with a time of growth and prosperity in Riga, which by 1900 had become the third largest city in the Russian Empire after Moscow and St. Petersburg and it has over eight hundred fine examples of Art Nouveau buildings across the city.  These are the legacy of Latvian Romanticism, which was the classical era of Latvian culture that made Riga one of the European centres of Art Nouveau.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

Getting off of the train was another interesting experience because there was no platform in any sort of fashion that we would recognise and it was necessary to leave the train down steep steps that stopped about fifty centimetres from the tarmac and involved a final jump that only the most able bodied would ever be able to manage.

There were no signs of measures to address disability discrimination here I can tell you.

In fact, on account of the lack of engineering refinements on board, the whole railway journey experience seemed fraught with danger and this was well illustrated by a sign on the heavy metal doors that seemed to indicate that male passengers in particular should be careful not to trap delicate bits of their anatomy in between the closing doors as this could be very, very painful indeed. And to emphasise this the letters can be rearranged into that well-known warning ‘tite bals nastie’.

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Entrance Tickets – Riga Church Tower

Riga Tower Ticket

Next stop was a trip to the top of a church tower to see the city from an elevated perspective and from here we could better appreciate the patchwork quilt of coloured roofs and pastel facades looking even more attractive under the snowy mantle that decorated them.  Luckily we didn’t have to climb to the top and there was an attended lift that raised us to the summit.

We had ten minutes at the viewing platform which was about nine more than we really needed considering how cold it was with a bitter wind that felt like icy needles being driven into our faces; so we were careful therefore that we didn’t miss the descent when the lift came back to collect us and return us to the ground floor and back to the street.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Summer Lovin’

Sigulda Latvia

Today we were going to Sigulda, a tourist must see town, about an hours mini-bus ride away from the city.  It was still raining when we woke up, which was a disappointment but after breakfast we all set off nicely refreshed after a good nights sleep.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrasts

Cocktail Fancies - Shadow and Light

Cocktail Fancies – Light and Shadow

There are many suggestions for the origin of the word cocktail, almost as many as the choice of drinks available at the Skyline Bar in Riga.

Some say that it was customary to put a feather, presumably from a cock’s tail, in the drink to serve both as decoration and to signal to teetotalers that the drink contained alcohol but my favourite is that after a cock fight it was customary to mix a drink with a different shot of alcohol for each remaining feather in the winning bird’s tail.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie

Skyline Bar

The Skyline Bar, Hotel Latvia, Riga

The Hotel Latvia is a modern high quality tourist hotel but has a sinister and secretive past.  It was built by the previous communist regime and was one of the few State approved tourist hotels run by the Russian travel Agency, Intourist.

Intourist was founded in 1929 by the dictator Joseph Stalin and was staffed almost exclusively by the KGB secret police. It was responsible for managing the great majority of travellers access to, and travel within, the Soviet Union and it grew into one of the largest tourism organisations in the world, with a network embracing banks, hotels, and bureaux de change.

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