During our first full day in the city, we walked out of our hotel and turned left into the Old Town. Rather than get out our map. we just followed our nose and ended up in the square next to St Peters Church. This was the first Lutheran Church we have come across in our travels and it was much more austere than th Orthodox and the other Catholic churches that exist in Riga.
The cobble-stone streets here are rather rough and Jill has taken an intense dislike to them. Actually, she has decided that she doesn’t like Riga much at all. I don’t think that she would change her mind if they fired sky rockets off the tower of the cathedral to spell out her name in the sky in multiple colours! I must admit that the rough paving does require a bit of concentration as you walk, but I find Riga to be very pleasant.
I took the lift up the tower of St Paul’s while Jill sat in the church and listened to the piano tuner dinging repetitively on the one note over and over again until he got it right. They do have some grand concerts in this church and this was the preparation for one of them. The spire provided a great view across the maze of narrow streets in the town.
We then walked on towards the town hall which is a large building that looks very nice. It is closed to the public, so you can’t go inside. It does look nice from the outside, though. In the middle of the square next to it is a modern office building. While the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the government has allowed a number of modern buildings to be built in the middle of the charming old streetscapes. Some of these, such as the one near the town hall, stand out like sore thumbs, but other buildings like the new shopping mall have, thankfully, retained their old facades.
Opposite the town hall is the House of the Blackheads. These were a union of young, unmarried merchants and ship captains in the Hansa cities (1600’s) They chose an imaginary African black moor, St. Maurice, to be their patron. From him comes the name of the brotherhood “the Blackheads” They played an important role in the society life and traditions of their day. The buildings were bombed to a ruin by the Germans in June 1941 and the remains demolished by the Soviets in 1948. These reconstructed buildings were erected from 1995 to 1999.
The rather ugly black building to the right was a Soviet built structure that now houses the Occupation Museum. We didn’t visit it as David and I had seen it on our previous trip and we knew that it covered the story of both the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Latvia. (The Russian occupation was far worse for the Latvians).
We continued on towards thew castle which is undergoing renovation. For some reason, the local authorities have scheduled almost all the major museums in the city to be renovated at the same time.
Back towards the city centre we found The Dome, which is the Latvian Catholic Archbishop’s Cathedral and a church of the Dome parish. Historically, the Riga Dome was the Livonian Order’s central cathedral until the disintegration of the Order in 1561. In the medieval period, the Riga Dome Cathedral was the largest, and one of the oldest church buildings, in Latvia and the entire Baltic Region. At present, it is the main place of ecumenical services in Latvia, as and it also serves as a concert centre that preserves Latvia’s historical, architectural, artistic and cultural values from different centuries.
Nearby, we found a set of houses called the Three Brothers. These are apparently the oldest houses in Riga. They are situated at numbers 17, 19 and 21 ‘Little Castle Street’ and each represents various periods of development of dwelling house construction. The building to the left is the oldest, dating from the late 15th century. A couple of local men were playing the swiss horn and a tuba outside. They were the only musicians in Europe who don’t have a CD but they were able to play a reasonable rendition of Waltzing Matilda in recognition of our international status.
There was a very nice gift shop just up the road that sold crafts and linen items. We found a small painting of a local street scene for our picture wall at home and then headed back towards The Dome to see what we could find for lunch.
We were captivated by the sound of three women playing Latvian Folk songs, as well as some modern songs, on instruments that looked like a Latvian version of a Zither. This was a bit hard to pass up, so we stopped at the restaurant at which they were playing and had lunch. Across the road there was a construction site at which work men were hammering and banging. I thought that they could at least do it in time to the beautiful music, but was a little to much to ask for! The restaurant had very creative names for its dishes that apparently came from a film that was once made in Riga. We had some salmon on potato rosti that was called something like ‘Flirting with the lady of the court”.
Late in the afternoon it began to rain – our first really wet day for the entire time that we have been away. We took shelter under some umbrellas of a pavement restaurant and ended up returning to the same place for dinner at night.
Today, we fly back to Helsinki and then on to Singapore. We organised a late check out from our hotel and used the morning to visit the local market. It is just across the canal from our hotel and situated in five old Zeppelin hangers from the 1930’s. They are enormous structures and each of them contains separate types of stores – meat, dairy, clothing, grocery etc. I guess that all markets are interesting to foreigners and this one was also worthy of some time. Not many people liked having their photo taken, but working surreptitiously, I was able to capture something of the character of the place. It must have been great in those old days of flying in airships to actually land in the centre of the city!
Also, across the square by the railway station was the Stockmann Store. This Finnish store is the equivalent in style to David Jones in Australia. We have visited their stores in different parts of the Baltinc area before and it was hard to resist another look today. They had a nice cafe for lunch.