The summer vacation may be over but the newest Berger adventure began a couple of days ago when we left Denver for the long haul flights to Riga, Latvia via Reykjavik and Oslo. Great to be on the road again even if it meant we were rather wiped when we checked into our hostel in Riga last night close to 7pm local time, i.e. 9 hours ahead of Denver time. Steven joked that he was glad he was able to eat some 'comfort food' on Saturday night for dinner and again for breakfast i.e. McDonald's, as the hostel is directly above that fine dining establishment!
|Our private room at Riga Hostel.|
Riga is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the Baltic states and has been designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its medieval churches, guild halls, lovely if a tad treacherous cobblestones streets and its ornately decorated Art Nouveau buildings. Now you know why we came here!
We wandered around most of the
Was dumbstuck when I noticed Christmas decorations going up on this tree in one of the city's many downtown parks. Here it is only August too!
We always enjoy taking part in a city's Free Walking Tour so we joined Riga's one at which began in front of St. Peter’s Church. The first church here was made of wood in 1209 by the town’s craftsmen. It was rebuilt in stone two centuries later but the tower was still made of wood when Peter the Great climbed to the top and helped put out a fire there in 1721 when it was struck by lightning.
Musical education is entirely free in Latvia so a huge amount of the citizens take advantage of enrolling in the free courses at every level. About 50% of all Latvian schoolchildren participate in school choirs and lots go on to become professional singers. The sculture above is dedicated to a famous Latvian who made it his life's goal to collect native folksongs. He was responsible for collecting 200,000 of them and they are now part of the country's cultural identity.
We were amazed to find out from our guide that 45% of Latvians speak Russian as their first language, the same percentage who speaks Latvian as their first language. The remaining ten percent of the people speak NO Latvian. Knowing the Russian language is the first requirement on all job applications in Riga, our guide said. Employability without it is nil. Russian sentiments still run so strongly among so many Latvians that fireworks are routinely set off at 11pm local time on New Year's Eve, as that is midnight in Moscow.
Our guide told us about the Baltic Way, something that was new to us. In 1989, there was a massive protest against Russia in which there was a 600 km long chain of people from Tallin, Estonia to Riga and onto Vilnius, Lithuania where we're going in a few days. Two million people formed a human chain which was an insane number of people when you consider the 6 million population of the Baltic states, the fact that 30-35% of the people were ethnic Russians AND about 2 million people were either too young or too old to participate.
The population of Latvia is now less than 2 million which is down one half million due to economic migration and low birthrate.
Ratslaukums Square with the House of Blackheads on the right.
Religion during the Soviet era was, to put it mildly, not a priority as it was banned. So how did all these magnificent churches survive during the 50 year Soviet rule until Latvia became an independent nation in January of 1991? The churches were all 'repurposed' and all religious paintings, etc were removed. Instead the churches became completely secular; some were concert halls, one became a planetarium, another a disco and one even a toilet! What a travesty.
More photos of the Riga Cathedral:
The Cathedral's Cloister Gardens has hundreds of pieces of local history including tombstones, the origianl Dome cockerel, above, and a large stone head, thought to be an ancient pagan idol.
Another day has dawned here in Riga so we are leaving to discover more of the city. Wishing each of you well from across the pond until the next post.