Day Trip to Open Air Museum and More Riga

21 06 2011

Well…my pants didn’t bust but nor did I cycle today as rain fell steadily all morning. Instead we decided to take a bus to the Rundale Palace (about 1.5 hrs. by bus from Riga) but when we finally found the bus station, we learned it was too late to head out and catch the necessary transfers. So we chose to head to the Open Air Enthographic Museum. The friendly agent at the bus station pointed and marked on the map how to walk to the bus stop. After allowing Rock to take lead in navigating, we actually arrived at the stop for bus 1 and waited for about 15 or 20 minutes. Our destination was the last stop and the ride took about 30 minutes.

Since we actually had seats, the bus ride was fairly enjoyable and provide a wonderful peek into Latvian culture. The presence of flowers and bouquet stalls and shops surprised me. Apparently, fresh flowers show respect, love, and gratitude–old men, mothers, lovers, and college students all shuffled along carrying, giving, or receiving colorful bouquets. Couples and groups of friends filled the streets or hovered in corners by faded peeling painted plaster. Old Soviet era buildings spoke of the terrors and bleakness that used to occupy the lives of the once pagan region. After passing blocks of massive brick or old wooden buildings, cathedrals and spires would occasionally pop up reminding us of the 16th century influence of Catholicism and the Polish conquest in the 1500s. I think I believe more in the flowers than the churches–however the architecture of the latter is certainly stunning–why can beauty be used to hide such deceit and human horrors?

I wonder what Latvia would be today had it been able to thrive without the influence and conquest by Christianity. Since it’s almost the summer solstice, Riga is preparing to celebrate their Jani Festival. The pagan festival celebrates nature with music, campfires, dancing, and other festivities held in squares or in the woods. We’re hoping to attend one of the bashes in the next couple nights.

Anyway we arrived at the open air museum and meandered through slender pines, oaks, and maples that hid 17th and 18th century buildings from various regions in Latvia. Most of the buildings had thatched roofs and were constructed out of various logs and were transported from elsewhere. The trails, fresh air, and gorgeous lake were some of my highlights. I also enjoyed the basket weaver, who wore traditional Latvian dress and from whom I couldn’t resist buying a woven bracelet. The metalsmiths working with copper were also pretty cool and I bought a simple pagan copper pendant. We also snacked on some potatoes and curd with herring–suprise! Cold fish! Rock wound up eating most of the fish and curd and I, the old fashioned familiar (and warm) potatoes!

After catching the bus back and trusting Rock’s internal GPS system, we arrived back at the hostel where we took a short nap. We then ventured to have dinner out at a Lida, which is a local chain of restaurants offering cheap regional food buffet style. Before finding Lida we stopped at a bar and shared a glass of Black Balsam, a very strong regional mulled alcoholic drink. With a little buzz, we finally found Lida near one of the squares. The ambiance, price, and location was excellent (as was the vegetable rice pilaf and baked cod with almond cream sauce…and “mystery” cherry dessert).

After dinner, we explored side streets, beer gardens, live music and discovered a very happening Kalku Iela. This main street included a lively Livu Laukums square with more beer gardens, buskers, clubs, cafes, parks, and canals. Past the canals, stood a large obelisk like Freedom Monument, which honors the soldiers killed during the Latvian War for Independence. After snapping many pictures and listening to quite a few unique buskers including a jazz group dressed in funky gender disorienting ragamuffin street clothes, we headed back to the hostel. But we had to make one last stop at a pastry shop, where I chose a couple sugary doughy delights:)…It’s still light and it’s already 10pm! I can’t wait to see what adventures lie ahead for tomorrow!…Maybe I’ll have some time/energy to post some photos then.