Memories in the Making

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
Trip End Aug 19, 2011

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Where I stayed
Centurion XXL

Flag of Latvia  ,
Wednesday, August 17, 2011

So this morning when I woke up, I was not feeling very well. I didn't sleep much and when I did, I had bad dreams that left me feeling a bit strange inside. In addition, due to my complete disregard for my dietary restrictions, I have begun having some very uncomfortable pains in my abdomen.  So, I made a decision to begin my day with some healthy air and exercise by taking a casual walk through the lovely park near my hotel before coming back and preparing for my day.  I have always found this to be an easy and effective way to calm both my body and my nerves and the parks here are completely soothing.  So at about 9:00 I started my walk by heading to the far end of the park with the idea of working my way back toward my hotel (slowly) and then showering and stuff.  Knowing how lovely it is here and not wanting to push myself too hard, I decided to take my camera with me so I could stop and take pictures along my morning walk, because on the far side of the park is a lovely "Art Nouveau" area with some really special buildings that I thought I may want to photograph while I was already in that area.  As an interesting note, the tourist map I have, is divided by building type rather than neighborhood due to the amazing mix of styles displayed. For example; the numbered dots, indicating a "sight" are color coded by building type.

In addition to the "Art Nouveau" buildings in this area, are some of the old fashioned wood buildings of which I am so fond and even a few of the restoration examples and some “Soviet” styles as well.  So during my pre-tourism walk, I was already taking photos of some of the interesting things I passed along the way, which included: “Lido” restaurant, which is a popular local chain diner, serving Latvian cuisine, which I have been recommended to try, A renovated building with the dates of the original design added to the dates of the renovation, which is a great example of using the old facades to house a more updated structure, A famous “Art Nouveau” style hotel, an eclectic apartment building and one of the many embassies, located in this wonderfully green area.

Once I finished my morning walk and got myself freshened up in my room, I began my tourist adventure at the building housing the national conference center.  It is located very near my hotel and on the way through the park to the center “Old Town” area.  This building is a curious mix of a very “cold” impersonal looking building surrounded by fountains and a wonderfully relaxing park.  Oddly, there are a series of glass pyramids, reminiscent of the one in front of the famous Louvre in Paris but these structures are simply to protect people from the harsh winter weather while exiting the parking structure below.

After passing this location, I made a stop in front of the “Freedom Monument” which is a very high obelisk, topped by an angel holding three stars, which represent the 3 regions of Latvia, while at the bottom are figures of men and women in chains, looking quite sad and oppressed.  The monument is guarded, night and day, by live guards, holding automatic weapons.  They are actually harmless but are living pieces of the monument and in fact, change shifts every half hour.  I might add, that this is very hard to photograph effectively because of the massive height.

The monument is located in a circle at the end of a long street that separates the two halves of the park that surrounds the historic center, so after paying my respect to the hard won freedoms of the Latvian people, I finally made my way down the very center, to the main historic center, which I had saved this whole day for exploring, street by street.

The city center itself, is a half moon shape, with streets winding within, while on one side, lined by the Daugava River.  I made a choice to circle around the main center and head directly toward the coastline and then to cross one of the many bridges to the halfway point, thus getting a skyline view I had remembered from my tour on the previous day.  The walk was longer than I had expected but well worth it, as the views along the river were very nice and the panorama from the bridge was better than I had hoped for and the exercise was doing me good.

After taking the time to make my half circle, getting my intake of the view from this perspective, I then crossed the street into the main square of this lovely town.  In the center of the main plaza is a wonderfully ornate building which is known as the “Blackhead's House.” It is a charming, brick building with fabulous gilded statues all around it and on top. It has been used historically,  for a host of purposes but most notably, the home of the “Blackheads of Germany” thus taking its name as such.  The structure was completely demolished during World War 2 but has been painstakingly restored at great time and expense by the Latvian people in time for the 800th birthday some 11 years ago.

The people of Latvia have taken great pride in the preservation of their culture and have maintained the largest archives of art, literature and documents of any other nation, thus making it easier to restore damaged and or destroyed structures accurately.

Well, I decided to go in and look at what was on display here and it was astounding.  Artifacts from the Blackhead family, coins, army tools, paintings and other treasures and historical pieces, all perfectly preserved, while in the upper floor, was an ongoing exhibition of the Latvian tradition of intricate fabric and lace weaving. In the main ballroom, a banquet was being prepared for some foreign dignitaries from the country of India.

Once out of the “Blackhead’s house museum,” I began to wander the tangled streets one by one until I realized that it seemed as though I was seeing the same streets and shops over and over again as they are so tangled that, I was indeed crossing the same path repeatedly, so I made the timely choice of boarding a small “train-like" tour tram that was a 1/2 hour tour through the inner sections of Riga, pointing out the main buildings, such as the oldest structures and historically important buildings, including the “Riga Castle” which is now the home of the president of Latvia. The tour was inexpensive, informative and interesting but the English spoken on the pre-recorded tape was almost incomprehensible even if it was incredibly funny to listen to.

Since it was still early, on this lovely day, I grabbed a salad lunch and continued to wander aimlessly, enjoying the amazing detail on the old style buildings and also enjoying the people passing by, in groups and couples, as they also enjoyed the architectural wonders.

As the day began to wind down, and my feet began to ache from walking over the stone streets, I just ducked into a few shops, here and there, until I discovered a sign, advertising a tour called “I’m Local” which is a more personal tour, designed to show tourists the “real” Riga from the point of view of the locals. So, I kind of passed it by for a minute, then went back and wrote down the information on the sign, then I thought another minute and decided to go ahead to the address listed and talk to the director in person.  It only took a few minute conversation before there was a comfortable rapport between us and I knew the tour would be great!! I booked it for the following afternoon and was completely stoked!!

Since I had such a bad sleep last night, I decided to turn in early tonight and just rest after this beautiful and relaxing day.
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