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Friday, August 19, 2016

8/16 Last day in Riga: Roses, Grimm Fairy Tale, a Frieze

Our bus to our next stop, Siauliai in Lithuania, didn’t leave until 3 so, after packing our bags, we meandered back to the Old Town to explore some of the sights we wanted to see either more fully or for the first time. 

To say that the Old City is an island is rather fanciful, but it is entirely surrounded by water. There is a small canal that runs through a series of attractive parks so that was our first destination. The canal is certainly not as magnificent as my hometown’s Rideau Canal is but the parks all had well attended flower beds throughout. 

In one of the parks near the Freedom Monument is Bastejkalns, the ‘high point’ of the city but not really more than a hiccup with little waterfalls and pleasant terraces by the canal. Five stones nearby commemorate the film cameramen and policemen killed there during the Soviet attack in January 1991.

The Swedish Gate, below, built in 1698, is the only gate left in the city walls and through it, the condemned were led to their fate. The executioner lived in the apartment next door; he would place a rose on his window ledge on any morning he had to perform. Not a very pleasant association with roses, huh!

The street on the other side of the gate is lined by the yellow James’ Barracks erected by the occupying Swedes. 
Just steps away were old houses built against the red-brick city wall that has been partially restored. At the end of the street is Pulvertonis, the Powder Tower, the last of the 18 city towers.
The country's Parliament was blockaded by Latvian citizens against Soviet attack in 1991. Images from the building:

The sculpture below by Parliament recalls the pivotal days of January 1991 when the people of Riga took to the streets following the threat of direct presidential rule from Moscow and the stationing of Soviet tanks.
We hadn’t had our daily dose of religion yet today so we strolled over to St. John’s Church that started life in 1234 as the chapel of a Dominican abbey. In 1330 it was enlarged and its buttresses became the dividing walls of the new side altars. It was taken from the Dominicans during the Reformation, and, in 1582 a divine service in Latvian was held there for the first time. 
The interior was particularly stunning we both thought. Hope you agree, too, after seeing the photos below.

I was especially awestruck by the intricacy of the church's vaulted nave.

This image was on the side of a pew in the church. Perhaps it heartened back to the House of Blackheads we had seen a couple of days ago?
Outside the church is the Statue of the Bremen Town Musicians from the Grimm fairy tale. It was a gift from the city of Bremen, Germany, the home of Bishop Albert, founder of Riga. We heard a tour guide tell his group that the most luck is granted to those able to touch the highest animal in the statue!
A short walk away was the Mentzendorff House, below, which was a prosperous German's home in the 17th-18th century although the building itself dates back to the 16th century. Among the former owners was the head of the city's Small Guild and the Master of the Order of the Blackheads who established a pharmacy on the property.

Next up on our list of final things to see was the House of John Reutern, a striking Baroque mansion where exhibitions are often held. The home was build by this rich German merchant in 1685 during the Swedish occupation. We had read about a frieze under the roof showing a Swedish lion devouring a Russian bear. Wish you could have seen us, looking and looking among a gazillion friezes for that particular one! Glad that Steven was able to find it before our necks gave out because there was NO way we were about to leave before we spotted that frieze!

A ten minute walk further on, on narrow Peitavas iela (street in Latvian), we took a few minutes to reflect on the splendor of a synagogue that had been beautifully restored. How sad to learn that it is the only Jewish place of worship in Riga that survived the Nazi occupation of Latvia. It was spared only for fear that a fire might spread to other nearby buildings.

This was the first synagogue I have ever entered that took us immediately to the second floor; in other words, to the women's and children's section, which meant it was an Orthodox synagogue. We later discovered the door on the right of the entrance which led us to the first floor.

Like so many other synagogues we've been in in many other countries, the interior was painted a very peaceful shade of pale blue. I have no idea if that holds any particular significance or not. Ivy, Elaine or Rose: Do you know by chance?

A very unusual building interspersed among the Baroque masterpieces still in the Old Town:
Loved these flower beds by St. John Church as we finally made our way back to the hostel:
Couldn't resist taking a picture of this sign in front of the kitchen sink at the hostel!
Great getting back to the hostel with enough time to relax for a couple of hours before we needed to leave for the bus station for the next stop in our adventure. We had checked out of our room this morning when we left for our own final discovery tour of Riga but the hostel staff had kindly agreed to store our luggage for us and said we could come back to eat lunch, watch the Olympics on TV, etc. The hostel had a fast internet connection so I spent most of the time loading pictures into a couple of blog posts so they at least would be ready for my descriptions, etc.

The moment we left the hostel, the heavens opened and we got drenched as we lugged our backpacks and duffle bags the ten or so minute walk to the bus station back over by the Central Market. Oh, what fun!

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