Friday, June 15, 2012

Riga Latvia

Because of a visa snafu, Dave and I were required to leave the country on the 14th and come back on the 15th. So, it looks like we are going to enjoy a day in Riga Latvia after all! (I was in error when I said the passport dates were wrong. It is the visa that is issued by Russia that was wrong).

After much work on the part of our office elders, tickets for the flights and reservations for the hotel were made, and our driver to and from the airport lined up.

Our driver Vasily dropped us off at the airport (again) and we took the hour and a half flight back to Riga (again). We arrived in Riga in the early afternoon.  After lunching at TGI Fridays (again) at the airport and changing rubles to lats (Latvian money), we took a taxi to the Raddison Blu Hotel. Our driver was very amiable.  One lat is the equivalent of $1.80 American money. Exchange rate varies.

Our waitress, Toosha, (nick name for Natalie in Latvian) was dressed in Latvian dress (she reminded us of Shirley Temple when she played Heidi), was so helpful and provided us a map and book of things to see in Riga.

There is a different "feel" in Latvia from Russia. People are generally friendlier and many speak English which is a big plus! Riga Airport is on the small side and is very nice and easy to get around.

The hotel we stayed at is LOVELY. After unpacking (that took a couple of minutes) and a short rest we took off on foot for Old Town which is across the river from the hotel. Old Town is where Medieval Riga was located. WOW.

It was about a 15 minute walk over a bridge into Old Town. The weather couldn't have been more beautiful! It was 70 degrees, dry and there was a light breeze. This is the Misisipi Paddleboat we saw from the bridge.

Riga Latvia is steeped in medieval history. We walked our feet off! and we enjoyed every minute of it. :o).  There is definitely a European flavor to this lovely country. There was a man in the Square playing beautiful saxophone music. Tourist groups and individuals from all over the world walked around enjoying the architecture and the narrow cobblestone streets.
                                  This was taken inside one of the old churches in Old Town

Latvian vendors were selling their beautiful wares and it was fun poking around and enjoying what these talented people had made. There were lovely mittens and socks handmade from lambs wool. Amber is a stone that is used often in making jewelry and knick knacks. I picked up a cute turtle w/ an amber shell. I love turtles and have a small collection back in the States. This little guy will make a great addition! The mittens I got are also very unique and beautiful in a flower pattern. They are almost too pretty to wear! I also added on to my stamp collection with a Latvian stamp.

Old Town is probably around a square mile. But there is so much to see, one can spend hours there as we did, immersing ourselves in the history and beautiful cathedrals to be found there.

St. Peter's Church is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the Baltics. It was built before 1209. Just imagine! Walking around and seeing buildings that were around since the 11th century. The church tower, which has an observation platform where one can enjoy an eagle's eye view of Riga, was burned and rebuilt many times. It was meant to be the main church in town. It is the oldest stone building in Riga.

This is the Cat House. Note the cat on the roof from whence the name comes from.

This is Dome Cathedral. It is the largest cathedral in the Baltics and was founded by Latvia's Teutonic conquerors in the beginning of the 13th century under bishop Albert. The famous organ of Dome Cathedral was made in 1884. It is one of the biggest organs in the world comprised of 6718 pipes.

Riga Castle was built around 1209 by the Order of the Sword Brothers. It was destroyed in the civil war and rebuilt for the Livonian Order. It is now used as a hotel.

The Swedish Gate was added to the city's old fortification wall in 1698 to celebrate Scandinavian occupation of Riga. At the time, the city's executioner resided in the apartment above the gate. He was an exeedingly romantic and considerate fellow, he placed a red rose in his window the night before a good execution, duly notifying the sick and curious public of the pending sordid act. Very thoughtful, eh?

The most stunning of the architectures (at least to Dave and I) is this building called the House of Blackheads. Blackheads was an organization of unmarried foreign merchants existing in several Baltic towns. It was first mentioned in 1334. Sadly, it was destroyed in 1941 during World War 11  and rebuilt in 2001 for Riga's 800th anniversary.

This statue greets you when coming into Old Town. We like to think that this represents The Three Brothers. The Three Brothers are the best examples of residential buildings in medieval Riga. The "eldest brother" was built in the 15th century and is the oldest stone dwelling in Riga. The other two were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Sadly, we were not able to get a good photo of these three  houses that were "attatched" to each other, but shows the different architecture.

This building is called Stone Head, for the many stone head faces on the front of the building.

We enjoyed walking along the narrow cobblestone streets. There are businesses and restaurants on the street level and apartments up above. It is quaint and beautiful.

We enjoyed  a delicious Latvian meal in an outdoor cafe in Old Town. Dave had a salmon dish with potatoes and a special Latvian sauce  and Barb had a white fish with potatoes and a special spicy sauce. They were both delicious and we are sure the first time we have had fish from the Baltic Sea!
We capped off the day with a little Latvian pastry. There were many to choose from.  We each chose one to bring back to the hotel and enjoy (which we did!)

This morning we enjoyed the nicest breakfast buffet that we have ever had (REALLY). It was huge and had an international flavor. There was something there for everyone! Sausage, scrambeled eggs, all kinds of fruits, museli, nuts, potatoes, sushi, vegetables, (cukes, olives, etc.) fish, all kinds of homemade pastries and delicious breads and the most wonderful homemade jams. DELIGHTFUL.

We arrived at the airport without incident (even though our taxi driver was about as personable as an old shoe and smelled just as bad). We returned to Moscow a
n hour late due to inclement weather. There were severe storms that delayed our landing by close to an hour. We experienced severe air turbulence. :o(    .

THIS TIME, however, we are happy to report that we proceeded through passport control in Moscow without incident. (However the woman who was behind the counter was on the cranky side). Once again, we met with heavy Moscow traffic and arrived back at our apartment after an hours' drive which would normally have taken half that. Thank heavens for Alexander! We so appreciate him!

WE HAD A WONDERFUL TIME IN RIGA, LATVIA. Until we meet again, dos vidonya.

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