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.

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Arrival in Riga, Latvia

21 06 2011

When we arrived in the Amsterdam airport, we luckily found a meditation/sleep area in which we partially passed out for several hours until our connecting flight to Riga, Latvia. (Hence no posting.) On the hour or so flight from Amsterdam to Riga, I met a wonderfully artistic and intuitive woman from Warsaw who was a graphic designer based in Amsterdam (speaking with her reminded me of my own creative pursuits).

When we landed in Riga we scouted out a currency exchange and received less than 50 Lats for $100. Big sigh. Before heading on the trip, I knew the general exchange rate for Lats/US but it’s always a bit of a downer when you realize the almighty dollar isn’t so almighty (even with a non-Euro currency). After picking up our bus tickets (.5 Lat each or ~$1) and some maps from the info. counter near the exit of the airport, we rain proofed our gear and set out into an almost finished drizzle and spotted the bus stop across from the airport parking lot. Luckily, Bus 22 was about to leave and we ran with several others to catch the quite packed bus. For about 30 minutes we stood like soggy tired strangers amidst mostly Latvian residents until we got off at the Novembra Krastmala 11 stop. The ride felt much like a eye spy or scavenger hunt game as we were constantly looking for bus stops signs with our stop info.

After a short walk we found our hostel, the Riga Hostel located just within Old Town. After checking in we learned our private room with shared bathroom awaited us on the 6th floor! We both embarrassingly huffed and puffed our way behind the hostel host and were greeted by funky but fairly clean room.

Since Rock was fasting, I immediately set our to find some dinner and walked several blocks through gorgeous gothic and baroque buildings. When I first left the hostel, I decided to follow a guy who exited from our hostel but he soon headed into a glass “Gucci” like mall building that I thought would not contain food and so I was on my own. After passing many quaint restaurants and cafes and too many bars to count I found a Turkish kabab place where I ordered (ie pointed and smiled) a slice of pizza (I decided to live up to my origins and chose the “American” slice), a piece of Baklavah, and (unexpected carbonated) water.

After my dinner, we both took a nap from which I did not want to rise from. With much prompting from Rock, we eventually set out to explore some of Riga’s Old Town in the chilly (~50F) evening air. It was near 9pm and lively bands were starting to jam in various beer gardens, cafes, and bars. Locals and tourists strolled leisurely on cobblestone streets by gothic spires and brick churches with beautiful rose windows. We with our low camera batteries and still tired bodies, retired “early” (ie 11pm) as the party goers and pub crawlers began to fill the streets. Their intoxicated yelps competed throughout the night with the calls of seagulls and cat screeches.

We awoke around 5am and still heard the cacophony of such creatures. Rock moseyed downstairs shortly afterwards but I slept for several more hours. A complimentary breakfast of cereal, toast, and juice temporarily filled me as I finished typing up this account. Now we’re planning on seeking adventure via bicycle in Old Town today…(I just hope my only pair of pants doesn’t bust as I’ve apparently gained some weight and the velcro at the top doesn’t close–TMI. I know. It’s always the case with me:))

Here are some photos!

And some more…:)