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Expat Vagabonds "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness." Mark Twain


LATVIA | Monday, 1 October 2012 | Views [864]

St. Peters, visible from almost everywhere

St. Peters, visible from almost everywhere

You say you're not quite sure where Riga is?  Or Latvia, for that matter?  You can be forgiven; the Baltic countries are even farther from the average tourist's radar than are the Balkans.  All they share is having been occupied by both Nazis and the Soviets and their nascent democracies.  The four hour bus trip from Tallin took us through a part of Estonia that reminded me of photographs of Depression Era, Mid-Western farmhouses with peeling paint (if ever there was any.)  As we approached Riga the open fields and pine forests were replaced by Soviet-style apartment blocks, emphasis on "blocks."

    Old Town

Riga, the largest Baltic city, was, in turn, the 3rd largest city in Russia and the largest in Sweden.  Today it is a bustling city of 700,000 and its Old Town is a mecca for photographers.  

        Three Brothers                          

      Dating from 1221

Riga, too, was part of the Hanseatic League in the 13th Century and nearly half of the population remained German through the 1800s.  Surprisingly Latvian is nothing like German.  Or Estonian or Lithuanian, we have been told.  Signs are written using the Latin, not Cyrillic alphabet, but with many accent marks.  Few are in English but most people in the hospitality and tourism businesses are fluent.  The Latvian "lati" costs nearly two US dollars but costs are generally much lower than in Scandinavia.  Our hotel, St. Peters Boutique, is quite upscale and costs only $65 a night, a much better deal than the $150 hostel in Lillehammer, Norway.

Riga is a town of cobbled streets, interesting buildings, tall spires, leggy women, street sculpture and and many pocket-sized, immaculate parks, glowing in their autumn colors.  We took a lot of photos despite the dreary, cold day - more different buildings and architectural styles, we were told, than in Prague.  


      The Musicians of Bremem

Old Town is supposedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but I haven't seen any of the WHS emblems or the multi-language information signs.  Evidently one is supposed to use a cell phone to dial up information on the various buildings, for a charge, of course.  Wandering aimlessly, our preferred method, worked pretty well. And we are still learning.  When we visited the Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral, we knew enough to cover Connie's head - wearing my rain jacket "hoody-style."  But she was reprimanded by an old woman for having her hands behind her back while looking at the icons.  Live and learn! 




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