August 17

Arriving so late on the 16th I didn't get out until late lunch time today.

Internet aerial picture of Riga.

St Petersburg, Russia
Tallinn, Estonia
Riga, Latvia
Vilnius, Lithuania
Minsk, Belarus
Kiruna, Sweden..Lapland, above the Arctic Circle
Umea, Sweden..and travels along the High Coast
Eslov/Malmo, Sweden
Copenhagen, Denmark for my flight home
What a coincidence, I woke up to discover this weekend was Riga's birthday celebration, 818 years, and festivities were happening on most corners.

Across from my hotel these kids were having a high ol' time playing, with great enthusiasm..
..The Eye of the Tiger!
On the way to the Opera House to pick up a tour I ran into these guys, they were taking pictures.

The fellow on the left told me he was from Turkey, but he wasn't Turkish, he was Kurdish, and now he's living in Latvia working for a tech firm.
In the park where the tour was to meet.
Here's our sweet guide for the tour of Art Nouveau architecture, a big part of Riga's fame. Tim, from yesterday's trip, came too.

The era of Art Nouveau designs was approximately 1899 to 1915, a very short time during which 40% of the buildings in central Riga were constructed.
The guide told us about three varieties of the Art Nouveau style. Wikipedia has a different view, but I'm going to use the guide's designations.

Copied from

"Regular rhythms with a saturated surface décor define Eclectic Art Nouveau. Tensely articulated lines, geometric figures or stylized ornaments depicting plants, and masks, and extended proportions appeared in the early stages of Art Nouveau development.

"Perpendicular Art Nouveau spread after 1906 when romantic stylized motifs slowly disappeared from building facades. Vertical elements were emphasized in the facade. Bay windows and reliefs were strongly articulated and outwardly projecting strips extend upward for several floors. Ornamental decorations are introduced in the spaces between floors and are completely integrated into the basic architectural forms of the facade.

"National Romanticism reflects an attempt by Rîga architects to develop a distinctive Latvian style. This trend prospered between 1905 and 1911. Traditional wooden buildings and the decorative arts served as the main source of inspiration. Latvian architects embraced natural and local building materials."
Creation of the civil engineer and architect Mikhail Osipovich Eisenstein (father of the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein).

Eisenstein designed 20+ of the most well-regarded buildings in Riga.
This is the top of the building above.
These buildings are so elaborate.. can't stop looking at them, and there are many more to see in the coming days.
Just there.
The guide said the reason I couldn't find a street art tour was because there wasn't much street art tradition in Riga, except this piece that was commissioned by the owners.
A reflection.
Too bad I can't remember the guide's name, but here she is with Tim.
We had a coffee break, visited the interior of an Art Nouveau building, and then let Yandex take us to the Central Market where..
..they were having a food fair as part of the city's birthday party with 15 of the best restaurants participating, and..
..where we shared four different dishes and where it was both delicious And fun.
August 18

More of the Art Nouveau in Old Town..
..and more.

It's so interesting how different the Old Town in Riga is from Tallinn's Old Town, not surprisingly though due to the difference in architecture, and the Art Nouveau wave of the early 1900s in Riga.
Although there were colors on the walls of Tallinn's Old Town, these seem brighter and more prevalent.
On our tour from Tallinn to Riga we had two ladies from the Czech Republic who recommended we find this place in the Central Market where they sold a particular specialty of Riga.

So we went to the Central Market, very near the place where they were holding the food festival the night before..
..and it was very nice inside. We bought bread and cheese and salmon for a really splendid lunch and also we found IT..
..from the card's description: "RIZHSKIY SAMOGON is high quality 43" white honey brandy produced from Latvian honey in the greenest neighborhood in Riga - Mezaparks.

"After fermentation and double distillation in copper pots it is filtrated through forest moss and activated carbon. Honey brandy is filled in 2 liter bottles and has a pleasant taste and aroma of the spirit drink."
We loved it!
Tim found an organ concert in the Lutheran Riga Cathedral and we met there after taking a post-lunch break.

Speaking of the Cathedral, in Latvia 40% of the population identify as Lutheran and 25% as Catholic. In Lithuania 77% of the population identify as Catholic. And in Estonia? 54% declare themselves non-religious and only 14% say religion is part of their daily life.
A view standing in front and looking back at the organ.
A close-up of the organ.
The speaker's podium..
..and some stained glass windows.
After the concert we went in search of dinner.
Probably because of the birthday festival many of the restaurants were fully booked but..
..the place we ended up at was perfect.

We had sorrel soup, a fantastic herring dish, a local beef dish we loved, and potato pancakes with apple sauce and lingonberries. Tim is a good sharer!

I asked the server what was the national drink of Latvia and she said Riga Black Balsam, so I had it. Here are only some of the ingredients of Riga Black Balsam:

"The traditional recipe was created by Abraham Kunze, a pharmacist living in Riga. ((A pharmacist!)) It is made from 24 all natural ingredients, including 17 botanicals. The ingredients that contribute to the complex and versatile flavor of Riga Black Balsam include common roots and herbs such as Valerian, Wormwood, Black Pepper, and Ginger, as well as rare ingredients such as Gentian, Linden flower, and Peruvian Balsamic Oil."

It did taste a little medicinal, designed as it was by a pharmacist.
Tim is leaving tomorrow morning. Bon Voyage sweetie, it's been great!
August 19

I didn't even go out until lunch today and now as soon as I write this I'll be caught up with my story.

Those are the doors leading to the underground restaurant where I enjoyed grandma-made local cuisine.
More of The Buildings of Riga.
On the left is Powder Tower, originally part of the city wall and they call it Powder Tower because it is where they stored gun powder.

On the right is "The Three Brothers, a building complex consisting of three houses that together form the oldest complex of dwelling houses in Riga. Each house represents various periods of development.

"The building on the right is dating from the late 15th century. The exterior is characterized by crow-stepped gables, Gothic decorations and a few early Renaissance details.

"The neighboring house has an exterior dating from 1646, with a stone portal added in 1746. The style of the building shows influences from Dutch Mannerism.

"The last house of the three is a narrow Baroque building which gained its present look probably during the late 17th century.

"The Three Brothers complex today houses the State Inspection for Heritage Protection and the Latvian Museum of Architecture."
Just walking down the street. I missed it the first time, when I took this picture, but this is the same building with the cats on the towers.
The Freedom Monument honoring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918–1920).

The three stars represented the three parts of Latvia but there are four parts now, one having been a combination of two at the time.

The Soviets destroyed whatever symbols of Baltic independence it found but this monument survived because a well-known Russian woman convinced Stalin that it was meant to express the gratitude of the three Baltic countries to the Soviet Union. The guide who told this story followed it with a big "HA!".
House of the Blackheads "was built in 1334 as a venue for meetings and banquets held by Riga’s various public organizations. The building was destroyed by bombs in the Second World War but was fully rebuilt in 1999."
A big-bubble guy was performing in front and the kids were really enjoying it.
This is a little fuzzy clip from a bigger picture because I could not resist that little kid reaching for the bubbles. Check out his glasses and the glasses on the dino. Wonder-FULL.
The Birds.
August 20

Today was walking tour day, the guide on the right and the two other participants on the left. Yes! We were a group of three which was awesome.

They are touching noses of three of the four "Town Musicians of Bremen in Riga" based on a Grimm fairy tale.

Bremen is Riga's sister city and they gifted this sculpture which is a replica of one in Bremen but these animals here are symbolically breaking through an iron curtain. Riga received the gift in 1990, just one year before the break-up of the Soviet Union and the liberation of the Baltic states.
Another good story - the key to the city.

There was a golden key to the city that fell into the possession of the Russians. They took it to Moscow and wouldn't give it back so, in 2010-11, the city of Riga collected keys from its citizens.

The people donated more than 50,000 keys with which the city forged this new key which sits in Town Hall for all to appreciate.
We visited many spots I'd already seen and I'm putting the new stories in with the old pictures.
Philippe Halsman, a proud Latvian who made his reputation after coming to America.
Things have calmed down around here since the birthday festival is over, and that, I realize, is why so many of the best price/performance hotels were already sold out when I was looking four months in advance.

My hotel, the Wellton Centrum Riga, is very nice, no problem there, and the complimentary upgrade got me a huge bathtub that I enjoyed totally.
This Medieval/Art Nouveau building called Cat House, from 1908, known for the cats on the two turrets.

"The legend known by most Rigans, which is also told to tourists, is as follows. The wealthy tradesman who commissioned the building was refused membership of the Riga Tradesmen's Guild and seeking retribution the tradesman had two copper statues of angry-looking cats with arched backs and raised tails placed on the turret rooftops with their tails turned towards the house of the Great Guild, situated across the street."
August 21

Off to Vilnius by bus, relaxing in the rain!
HomeBaltic and N&E Europe • Riga • '19 Aug: Riga, Latvia

© 2014 •