Category Archives: Latvia

A to Z of Balconies – Jurmala in Latvia

After breakfast we took a mini-bus taxi to the seaside town of Jurmala, which was another bargain at only 15 Lats.  It was a sunny morning and we walked through some houses in various states of disrepair and renovation towards the beach.  The houses were fascinating, mostly made of timber and in contrasting styles that suggested that the owners had had fun building them in a competitive way each determined to eclipse the efforts of their neighbours.

These were once grand seaside villas accommodating only the most wealthy Russians who used to like to come here for their summer holidays and we were relieved to see that thankfully many were being restored, rather than being demolished to make way for modern structures.  The town has an official list of four hundred and fourteen historical buildings under protection, as well as three thousand five hundred wooden structures.  Sadly, we were told that every so often there is an unexplained fire, the historic building disappears only to be removed by a modern building.

 

On This Day – The Pearl Of The Baltic

Still no prospect of travel unfortunately so I continue to look back. On 6th March 2006 I was in the city of Riga, the capital of Latvia…

In the 2000s I lived and worked, in south Lincolnshire where in recent years large numbers of migrant workers from Eastern Europe had moved into the area to work on the farms and in the food processing factories and I had been interested to understand what motivated them to do this. I concluded that this could only be satisfactorily achieved by visiting their country to appreciate what drove them to move away and travel to England to carry out backbreaking work picking cabbages in cold fenland fields.

We arrived mid morning and after checking in to the hotel went to the streets looking for lunch and we came across a pub/restaurant called The Lido.

I had expected the choice of food in Latvia to be somewhat limited so this place was a real eye-opener. The service areas were set out with a gut-busting selection of high quality food, every type of meat imaginable of course but also vegetables and salads, dips and sauces all presented in a mouth watering way and with eyes bigger than bellies there was, to be honest, far too much food choice for hungry people with empty stomachs. It was delicious food and excellent beer but we couldn’t linger too long because with short winter days we had lots to see.

First of all today we walked around the Art Nouveau district where previously grand buildings that had fallen into disrepair during the communist era were once more being restored to former glory. Art Nouveau was an international architectural style that flourished in Europe between 1880 and 1914 and was an elaborate statement of bourgeois wealth and influence and a rejection of aristocratic stoic classicism that had previously dominated.

This period happily coincided with a time of growth and prosperity in Riga and it has over eight hundred fine examples of Art Nouveau buildings across the city. They 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 along with Vienna and St Petersburg.

When I saw them I was completely astounded by the beauty of these very fine buildings. Their ornate facades and intricate decoration were perfectly framed against the blue sky and they looked spectacular. Between the two world wars Riga was a vibrant and grand city, before first the Germans and then the Russians did their worst, it was known as the ‘Pearl of the Baltic’ and visitors referred to it as ‘the Paris of the North’.

Next on the itinerary was the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, which had also been recently restored from a grimy communist grey to a resplendent sandstone yellow under black domes with gleaming crosses. The renovated brickwork was clean and sharp with red brick stripes and elaborate white columns soaring into the blue sky above. The communists had closed the cathedral as a place of worship and had converted the building into a planetarium but the place was surely more heavenly than ever now that it had been returned to its intended purpose.

The interior was bright and cheerful, was adorned with shining icons and smelled of incense and to one side there was a service of some kind attended by a standing congregation who were in a very solemn mood. We discovered that it was a funeral service because there was corpse laid out in a casket but I wasn’t tall enough to see over the shoulders of the congregation and I though it rude to intrude to close to the front because of a macabre interest. The service was attended by nuns in black robes and pointy hats who looked like extras from the Lord of the Rings and was led by a priest in a lavish scarlet and gold robe.

We resumed our walk through the city and made for the old Jewish Quarter called Little Russia, which took us through the market on the way. This area of the city was interesting for consisting of buildings constructed of timber that are fighting a losing rearguard action against decay and neglect and caught in a catch twenty-two situation, too expensive to repair and restore and too culturally important to be demolished.

Adjacent to this area was the Academy of Sciences building, a gift from Comrade Stalin, constructed by the communists in the style of the Empire State Building and although impressive in its appearance was seriously ill conceived in respect of location.

As the afternoon slipped away we made our way to the Skyline bar for the sunset, which the guidebooks described as not to be missed. We walked back through the market, this time through the old zeppelin hangers that had been converted into a huge indoor market with an impressive array of produce.

The Skyline Bar is a great place to relax in the early evening after a day sightseeing and a good spot for watching the sunset. At the bar we found a grandstand seat by the window and settled down for the sunset that we estimated to be due at quarter past four. We got that wrong and had to wait until five o’clock but there was a pleasing atmosphere in the bar and we watched the last puddles of sunshine laying on the rooftops of the city until the sun quickly dipped below the horizon and it went dark.

Winter Walk in Riga

 

Today I am still in Riga, fourteen years ago…

Click on an Image to scroll through the Gallery…

Riga in January – Statues in the Snow

In January 2007 I was in the city of Riga in Latvia…

On This Day – Jurmala in Latvia

In January 2007 we made our third visit to the Latvian capital of Riga and on 28th January we took a ride to the nearby seaside resort of Jurmala…

We walked along the frozen shore and enjoyed every minute of kicking through snow and picking our way along tracks made of ice. None of us had seen a beach frozen solid before and none of us had walked on water before either.

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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.

Read the full story…