Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Riga, Latvia - Day 8

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Blogging on a cruise is more difficult that any other trip for two reasons - you often can't get service to post and cruises are just too much fun and there is no time to post. So expect delays!
We did not arrive in Riga until noon and started our tour right away. So much to pack in and so little time. We were really taken aback by the beauty of this city of 700,000 people. No wonder it is called "the Pearl of the Baltic." We have a friend who was the ambassador to Latvia 10 years ago and we now realize she had a plum assignment.
Riga was founded more than 800 years ago and now is the biggest city in the Baltic States. It shares a similar history with them - ruled by the Swedes, then Russia in 1710 with Peter the Great's victory in the Great Northern War. Then independence after WW I, then German occupation. The Russians ran out the Germans and forgot to leave. Latvia became independent in 1991 and has since thrived.
Although we were docked right in the city, we boarded a bus to get a bigger picture. We drove passed some of the old wooden houses that the town is known for and have survived amid floods, fires and modern high rises. People love these old houses and many have been turned into restaurants.
We saw hangers built during the German  occupation. This area is now home to a huge outdoor market that I would have loved to have visited. Then Stalin era buildings known as Stalin's wedding cakes because of their layers and ornamentation.
But once we deboarded the bus and started walking, we couldn't believe the landscape.  There were parks everywhere especially along a canal that forms a semi-circle around part of the city. There were people in small boats enjoying the water. The other side of the city is bordered by the Daugava River and the two connect.
We saw the beautiful 1863 Opera House and learned the city is famous for its arts, especially ballet. German composer Richard Wagner invented and introduced the orchestra pit here. The "Nymph Fountain" is in front.
We hobbled over cobblestone streets and everywhere we turned we came upon interesting medieval structures next to art nouveau buildings framing beautiful squares with outdoor cafes. 
Above is Meistaru Square with houses to the right built between the 13th and 18th centuries along the city wall.
We learned that Riga is the "art nouveau," or as they call it "jugendstil," capital of the world with more than 700 buildings. The famous Russian architect Eisenstein is responsible for much of it. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, Riga was one of the richest and most industrialized cities in Czarist Russia and people could afford these structures.  I couldn't help just snapping photos of the ornamental exteriors.

Riga still has parts of its medieval wall, but it is hidden. Why? People got smart and used the wall as one wall of a house, so you find houses built on either side of the wall.
The city is famous for its old churches, too numerous to mention, and their steeples. Two are noteworthy - St. Peter's
and the Dome Cathedral, (with its steeple under reconstruction), both built during the 13th century.
In the Old Town we saw a very inviting square
and nearby we saw the "Three Brothers," the oldest dwelling complex. Right to left, was the 15th century crow stepped gables representing Gothic decor and early Renaissance; the middle is Dutch Mannerism from the mid 1600's and the latter (far left) is Baroque, late 1600's.
Another beautiful square featured the very ornate Blackheads Building from 1334 (on right). It was a special brotherhood or meeting place for unmarried merchants. 
It survived until WW II when it was destroyed and was rebuilt in 2000.
Then  Ed went back to the bus and I stayed and walked around. I found a specialty shop where I bought some Latvian striped wool fabric
and saw some traditional costumes.
Then a nearby outdoor market had some lovely young ladies selling their handmade crafts.
Love the capped head popping out from her piles of hats.
On the way walking back to the boat, caught this photo of the 14th century Riga Castle which is the official office and residence of the President of Latvia
and a shot of the modern bridge.
Since this was an afternoon visit, the boat left soon after I returned.  Ed and I had dinner in the Compass Room and then took in the show, which was a great song and dance production "On Broadway." Since we get to sleep in again tomorrow, we went to a lounge where we heard a delightful 4-piece combo.

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