Tuesday 06 September 2016
Today we have a walking tour of Riga Old Town and we are impressed again at the grace and beauty of this city. It is a beautiful autumn day and the sunshine is sparkling through the trees and on the little river. We wander through the park and watch the river boats cruising down the river with the water fountain in full glory ahead of them. Like Tallinn, Riga is packed full of historic buildings with onion domes and spires appearing in almost every vista, but most of the buildings seem to be from more recent periods rather than medieval.
- The Gunpowder Tower is the only remaining part of the old city wall (although there is a modern reconstruction nearby to demonstrate what it would have been like).
- We pass by the long sinuous yellow Swedish barracks built to house Swedish soldiers outside the city walls in the 1600s, and then through the Swedish Gate into the Old Town that reportedly can be heard to whisper “I love you” if you pass through at midnight (in memory of an ill-fated romance between a local girl and Swedish soldier).
- Latvian Parliament buildings.
- St Jacobs Cathedral (Roman Catholic) – dedicated in 1225.
- Riga Castle – originally built in 1330 with later fortifications during the Crusades; now a museum under restoration following a fire in 2013.
- The Three Brothers – a complex of three houses that are the oldest complex of dwelling houses in Riga, each representing a different period: #17 dates from the late 15th century; #19 from 1646; and #21 from the late 17th century. They now form the Latvian Museum of Architecture. Outside the Three Brothers a couple of musicians were playing and, on asking where we were from, serenaded us with rousing performances of Pokarekareana and Rule Britannia.
- We stop to try some traditional Latvian Black Balsam – a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur based on a composition of 24 different plants, flowers, buds, juices, roots, oils and berries prepared in oak barrels. It is also considered to be a good cold remedy and is used to treat digestive problems.
- Cathedral Dom or Dome Cathedral is the Evangelical Lutheran cathedral, which has been built on regularly over the centuries.
- St Peter’s Church with its magnificent towers – it dates back to 1209 but the current tower was built in 1690 and was at the time the tallest wooden construction in Europe.
- The old Riga Stock Exchange that is now an art museum.
- The Cat-house and the Guild Hall: the story is that there was a dispute between a craftsman who was rejected by the Guild and bought the house across the street, putting the figure of an angry cat on the roof with its tail up and bottom facing the Guild Hall. Apparently there was a court case and the judge said that the craftsman’s skills were up to scratch and he should be made a member but that he should become a better citizen and turn the cat around.
- For those young craftsmen who were not yet eligible to join the Guilds, they formed their own Blackhead league (basically an early frat house?). This was different from the Brotherhood of Blackheads in Tallinn and the name is said to have come from a black soldier who was beheaded. The original House of the Blackheads was built in the early 14th century but destroyed during German and Soviet occupations. The building was renovated in the 1990s.
- Riga Town Hall – destroyed during WWII and rebuilt in 2003.
There was an organ recital on in the cathedral that several were going to but Gill and I went on a separate adventure with Ieva: Gill had slipped and caught her ribs on the edge of a table earlier in the week and it seemed to be getting worse rather than better so Ieva took us to the Medical Centre. It was a somewhat convoluted process involving getting a ticket number, waiting to see reception staff, paying money elsewhere, going downstairs to the trauma area, seeing a doctor, paying for x-rays, going for x-rays, back to the doctor, out to the pharmacy and paying again. We were so grateful that Ieva came with us to help us navigate: even simple things like the sign (not in English) that said ‘please knock’ – we would have just waited outside. The doctor spoke good English but was somewhat brusque in her manner. Verdict: 2 broken ribs. They had the painkillers in stock but said we had to go to another clinic across town to get a brace to go around the ribs. We took a taxi and got him to wait for us while we went in to the clinic: it was a specialist bracing clinic with braces for seemingly every part of your anatomy. With Gill suitably braced, we jumped back in the taxi and back to the centre of town for a quick lunch stop and then to the meeting point. We were very impressed and grateful for Ieva’s help and all of this was completed with 1 minute to spare as we joined those who were keen to take a trip out to an Ethnographic Museum.
The Ethnographic Museum is quite a distance out of town so we were going to catch a local bus but with most of us going it turned out to be simpler and cost effective to take taxis. It is an open air museum set on the shores of Juglas Lake. There are 87 hectares of lightly wooded land with 118 buildings. It was designed to capture the particularly 20th century agrarian history and culture of all four regions of Latvia, and is often the site of cultural events, such as folk concerts, traditional festivals and craft fairs. There weren’t any special events when we were there, but it was absolutely glorious walking through the trees on a perfect afternoon.
We see examples of an old tavern, a church, a homestead with barn, a sauna (usually the first building to be built), a granary and mill, cottage gardens, a fisherman’s cottage, a Catholic village and a Russian village with church, shrine, and house (joined to barn so they didn’t have to go outside in winter to tend to the animals), and even a local potter.
We head back to the hotel for a rest then meet the ‘girls’ to go for dinner. They hadn’t taken cameras yesterday when we did the Art Nouveau walk so we retraced our steps around the area and then stopped for dinner at The Flying Frog that Ieva had pointed out the previous day. It was very busy so unfortunately there wasn’t a table outside, but inside was like a cave and full of all sorts of interesting decorations. Anne and I tried a traditional Latvian pork ribs dish (spiced with cloves); Adelina had potato pancakes stuffed with meat (similar to a Polish dish from her childhood). They went perfectly with our bottle of wine.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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