Tag Archives: Riga

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.

On This Day – Paris Of The East

On February 16th 2015 I was on the final day of a short break to Warsaw in Poland…

I woke early the next morning so made good use of the time before breakfast by reading the complimentary guide books supplied by the Tourist Information Office.

I shouldn’t really have been surprised by this because I have seen it so many times but there on the first page of the ‘Warsaw Top Ten’ guide was the description, Warsaw – Paris of the East.

After Venice it seems that it is the city that more than most other cities want to associate themselves. I have yet to come across a New York of the East, a Moscow of the West or a Melbourne of the North but, when it comes to Paris, even without leaving Europe we have:

Baku, Azerbaijan; Bucharest, Romania; Budapest, Hungary; Leipzig, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Riga, Latvia; Saint Petersburg, Russia.  As if to make doubly sure, in a belt and braces sort of way, Saint Petersburg doubles up in this respect by also calling itself the ‘Venice of the North’ even though it has competition for this particular title from Amsterdam, Bruges, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, Edinburgh (which good measure also calls itself the Athens of the North) and even Birmingham amongst others.

I am unable to find anywhere that calls itself the London of the East, or North, South or West for that matter but by way of compensation there are twenty-eight villages in England called Little London including one only two miles or so from where I live which is a hamlet with just a handful of farm cottages, a pub, a railway crossing, a caravan site and a farm shop but no Little London road sign.

Exciting isn’t it?  It suddenly reminded me of the small village of Twenty in South Lincolnshire.  Twenty has a road sign to identify it and a local wag had added the tag line “Twenty – Twinned with the Moon – No Atmosphere”.

By coincidence Twenty is just about five miles from the town of Spalding where I used to work and an area of the town called … wait for it… Little London.

Including Warsaw I have had the good fortune to visit five of these alternative Paris cities, Budapest, Saint Petersburg, Riga and Prague and I have to say that I can find very little similarity in any of these places with the real thing. Prague would have to come closest I would have to say but only on the basis that they have a sort of Eiffel Tower.

Beyond Europe there are a few more but the most bizarre of all surely has to be Beirut!  Paris itself if often called the City of Lovers or the City of Light but I have never heard of it calling itself the Beirut of the West and I am fairly certain that it is most unlikely ever to do so.

In addition to the French capital there are of course a number of places that are officially called Paris including nine in the United States – in Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Kentucky, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and one that was even the title of a film – Paris, Texas. There is one missing from this list however and the one that is most Paris like of all, the one at EPCOT World Showcase in Disney World Florida.  Three other U.S. cities have at some time been called the Paris of the West – Denver, Detroit and San Francisco but these all seem just as unlikely to me as Shanghai in China!

There is also a Paris in Ontario in Canada and the city of Montreal in French speaking Québec has unsurprisingly also been dubbed the Paris of the West.

Paris at Disneyworld in Florida…

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.

Read The Full Story Here…

On This Day – Tallinn Christmas Market

Continuing with my early December theme of Christmas Markets on 7th December 2009 I was in the Estonian capital of Tallinn..

It is claimed (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) that the picturesque Town Hall Square in Tallinn is the site of the world’s first Christmas tree. It was part of a ritual begun in 1441 when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the girls of the town around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down.

Read The Full Story Here…

Entrance Tickets – The Palace of Culture in Warsaw

Warsaw Palace of Culture

How would you like a high-rise building, just like one of ours, in Warsaw?” – Viacheslav Molotov (1952)

An appropriately functional entrance ticket.

At two hundred and thirty-one metres high the Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science is one of the most notorious examples of Soviet Realist architecture of the 1950s and you can’t miss it because it is the tallest building in Poland and the eighth highest in the European Union.  It was commissioned by Josef Stalin as a gift from the people of the Soviet Union.

What a great gift!

Actually, not only Warsaw but similar gifts were given to Prague, Bucharest, Kiev and Riga.  How lucky were Berlin and Budapest to miss out.

Read the Full Story…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Thursday Doors – Blue Doors of Greece

Man Painting Blue Door Mykonos Greece

My favourite doors are in the Cyclades where, next to the white that we all associate with the islands, the prevailing colour is blue and this colour combination has become a trademark of the islands.

It turns out that this isn’t just because it is a favourite of the people who live there or that the local hardware store simply overstocked and sold it off cheap in a clearance sale, the widespread use emanates from an ancient belief that the sky-blue shade of turquoise has the power to keep evil away.  It is believed that the radiation of the colour composes a sort of invisible shield, which prevents the approach of bad spirits.

Read the full story…

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Berlin, Alexanderplatz and East German Style

Alexanderplatz postcard

I had considered visiting Berlin several times over the last ten years, there are nearly always cheap flights available but for some reason I have never made it there.  I had often come very close to booking flights but then somewhere more appealing has nicked in ahead of the German capital at the last minute and I have made alternative plans.  Berlin would always have to wait.

This time I had no excuse not to go because I was invited to a gentlemen’s weekend away (ok, a stag party) so together with my brother Richard a party of boys several years younger than me, I left East Midlands Airport early one morning and two hours later was drinking beer at Schoenefeld Flughafen.

My travelling companions…

Berlin Beer

The remainder of the first day was mostly spent drinking beer the details of which I won’t bore you with but on the second day while the boys went off to do boy’s stuff Richard and I planned a walking tour of the city.  The third most visited city in Europe (31m) after London (80m) and then Paris (48m).

We were staying at a hotel in Alexanderplatz so our tour began right there.  Not the most thrilling place in the World I have to say, a large concrete public square and transport hub that was once a main square of the ex German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

The place is vast and soulless, a sprawling mass of functional concrete, glass and steel.  It is completely without charm or anything remotely pleasing to the eye.  I have to take into consideration of course that only seventy-five years ago Berlin was practically a wasteland courtesy of the Soviet Red Army but there seems to have been a collective agreement in Germany not to build anything that could ever be accused of being attractive.

A block of abandoned flats awaiting demolition makes my point for me…

Alexanderplatz derelict flats

I contrast this with the reconstruction work in other European countries.  In Poland for example it seems to me have made a much better job of putting things back together in the major cities of Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw.  But for me France stands out in the matter of restoration as they took time and imagination to rebuild their ruined infrastructure.  Even earlier, after the siege of Paris in 1871 they built a grand city to replace the ruins of the Prussian bombardment and post 1945 they rebuilt towns and cities with style.  St Malo in Brittany stands out for me as a perfect example.

Trains, trams and cars all busily converge at Alexanderplatz and people hurry through past the homeless people in their temporary cardboard homes underneath a concrete railway bridge decorated with graffiti, there are no pavement bars and cafés because it simply isn’t an pleasing place to stop or linger.  It is stripped bare of vivacity, a cheerless place that lacks any sparkle, a rather dreary place to live I imagine.

Alexanderplatz World Clock

For anyone that does want to loiter there is the World Clock that tells the current time in nearly one hundred and fifty major cities from around the world and which in 2015 the German government declared to be a historical and culturally significant monument.  Really?  It isn’t the Eiffel Tower or the London Eye that’s for sure and Alexanderplatz is neither an elegant Spanish plaza or a cultured Italian piazza.

In the centre of Alexanderplatz I concede there is one very impressive structure, the Fernsehturm, a television tower, which at three hundred and seventy metres high is the tallest structure in Germany, and the third-tallest in the European Union two metres shorter than the Torreta de Guardamar in Spain and half a metre shorter than the Riga Radio and TV Tower in Latvia.  Once a symbol of Communist power it has now been adopted as a trademark of the unified city and enjoys National Monument status.

Alexanderplatz Tower

We found a busy restaurant and had an excellent breakfast even though we had to pay for the tea and coffee on top of the food bill and then without regret we slipped out of Alexanderplatz heading south.

Soon after we came across the Red Town Hall, a brutal building built in a style representing Teutonic muscle, German authority and Prussian power.  It was badly damaged during the Second World War but was quickly restored to original plans soon after by the East German regime.  I didn’t care for it I have to say.

At this point we were still in what was East Berlin and our plan, such as we had one was to make our way to what was once Check Point Charlie, where east met west and then cross to what was West Berlin and make our way steadily west towards the Reichstag building and the Tiergarten.

I hoped that Berlin might improve as we went along, after all it has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, just one less than London, one more than Rome (surprising) and two more than Paris which has only one.

Welcome to Berlin