Tuesday, 11 October 2016


6th - 7th Oct 2016

The Freedom Monument. 'Milda'.
The Freedom Monument, above, affectionally known as 'Milda', replaced a statue of Peter the Great in 1935. Along wth Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia has not had much freedom and independence. If it wasn't the Swedes, it was the Germans or Russians who ruled the roost here. They did gain independence between 1919 and 1940 and again in 1991. I expect they are hoping for a longer innings this time. They are now part of NATO and the EU so they should be safe...shouldn't they?

My wander starting at the Freedom Monument on the north-east side of the Old Town, took me south, then west towards the River Daugava, up the river side and to the north. The first thing I encountered on entering the Old Town at the bottom of Brivibas Bulvaris was, yes you've guessed it, that icon of Western (US) greed, gluttony and bad taste, a bleedin' Macdonald's. Not a good start.

Left: Looking south down the main drag, Brivibas Bulvaris, towards the Old Town, overlooking the Nativity of Christ Cathedral (gold domes) and the Freedom Monument at the far end of the row of trees. Photo taken from the bar on the top floor of the Radisson Hotel

As with Tallinn, I'm amazed to see so many churches of so many different denominations in these cities. Haven't a clue what they all worship, but it must keep a lot of clergymen employed. However, I have yet to see a Mosque. In fact, come to think of it, I have yet to see a Muslim.

Believe it or not the mayor of Riga, and the man who presided over it's 'Belle Epoche' between 1901-1912, was a Brit; a Yorkshireman called George Armitstead. By popular consent he was considered 't best bloody Mayor towns ever 'ad. He was responsible for 'joost abart all 't improvements, architecture and t'cosmopolitan elegance what's 'ere today. His statue, together with that of Mrs Armitstead and their dog, is outside the Opera House (right). Don't know how he got the job, but he obviously did the city 'reet proud'. The present Mayor of Riga is a Russian.

The Latvian National Opera Company is considered to be one of the finest in Europe, as is the Riga Ballet. Can't say I've seen either of them playing a match yet, but I'll take my informant's word for it.

Left: My meandering route took me past what I gathered are called the 'Three Brothers'. Three adjoining houses, architectural gems, in Maza Pils Iela that are from 16th, 17th and 18th centuries respectively.  They are still lived in. Small upper windows in the centre one due to property tax in the Middle Ages being based on window size.

For some unknown reason there was a group of Danish tourists standing here listening to a couple of chaps playing jolly tunes on horn and tuba. The Danes must have known the tunes because they started singing.
I'm sure I recognise the chap on the tuba. It's Bernie from Plaistow if I'm not mistaken.

Strolling on down an alleyway behind St. George's Church (13th century), I passed through the Konventa Seta (left), another courtyard containing what was a retirement home for widows of rich merchants..............

.......before turning into a little lane which led me to the Black Magic Bar (right); an 'Ye Olde Worlde' coffee shop cum bar which specialises in dispensing it's Black Magic drink...Riga Balsam.  Of course I had to try some. It is a highly alcoholic and 'warming' black liquid served in 'shot' glasses which, after swigging the first glass and having regained my sight, I seem to remember tasted rather nice. 

Left: Riga Castle on the eastern riverside. The official residence of the President. It didn't look much like a castle to me. Recently undergone renovations.

Right: The guards outside the front door on the east side of the building. They were ambling around in their hi-vis jackets and, frankly, looked rather scruffy. I think they could do with a bit of renovation.....and a good Drill Sergeant.

Along a street called Torna Ieta (Ieta being the Latvian for Street it seems) which was previously known as Jacob's Barracks (built on the orders of Peter the Great) but is now a long series of retaurants and bars. I stopped for lunch in a Latvian restaurant here and tried a local dish, grey peas and mush. It wasn't as bad as it sounds and the service, by waiters dressed as sailors, was both excellent and amusing. Then on to the Powder Tower (left).
This is (after a few rebuilds) a 14th century tower, the only one remaining of the original 18 around the city wall (which itself hardly exists now). It has served as a gunpwder store, a prison, a torture chamber, and a 'frat' house. It now houses a museum which details the military history of Latvia from medieval times to present day.

.....and what a confusing history it is. It certainly served to confuse me as to who ruled when and who was fighting who. I think the Swedes were the first to occupy the country, followed by the Russians up until the end of WW1, then a spot of independence before the Soviets took over, who were  kicked out by the Germans in WW2 when Latvians fought on both sides and after WW2 the Soviets were back again until independence in 1992. It mentioned things like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939. The same sort of story applies to Estonia and Lithuania. Anyway, this is not a history lesson. If you're that interested you can look it up. I later, the next day, went to the 'temporarily relocated' Museum of the Occupation of Latvia on Raina Bulvaris where, amongst several gruesome photos of dead guerilla freedom fighters in the Soviet days, it was all explained again. Baltic history would challenge a Mastermind Champion.

Nearby the 'Swedish Gate' (right), the only remaining gate from the 17th century when the Swedes were in power. It is set in the largest part of the original wall and not much of that left.

According to a model in the museum, this is what the original area looked like (left).

Then on up into what is known as the Quiet Centre through the neatly tended Kronvalda parks and past the City canal. Most of this area is very pleasant and would be marvellous in the summer I expect, assuming it's not too overcrowded with hung-over tourists. People were canoeing on the canal.

....over a Soviet style piazza dividing the parks....

.....and into Alberta Iela (right), named after that famous character who founded Riga in 1201, the German Bishop Albert von Buxhoeveden. Try saying that after a few Riga Balsams. This and the surrounding streets are notable for their interesting, indeed  intriguing, Art Nouveau architecture (right). So much extraordinary detail.

Left: It wasn't all charming Art Nouveau in this area. I passed through an adjoining street in which the houses looked decidedly 'Art Abandoneé'.

I was told that just nearby is the Albert Hotel with a 'Sky bar' from which one can get excellent views. I found the Albert, it did indeed have a roof-top bar, but it was closed for a private function.

This concluded my semi-planned route for the day. I will repair to Paddy Whelan's for a well deserved bit of Latvian refreshment. There are  a  few more places of local interest to visit tomorrow.

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