Open Air Museum, Latvia. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, Part 2

Our small group and guide traveled from Lithuania, north through Latvia, to the Baltic port and capital of Riga, where we stayed several days. Riga is almost completely surrounded by the Daugava River. The city center is Old Town, and they also have an Art Nouveau Quarter, in addition to the new city with its high rises and modern living.

An hour’s drive from Riga is the Latvian Open-Air Ethnographic Museum established in 1924. Built in an alpine forest on the shores of Jugla Lake, it is one of the oldest and largest open-air museums in Europe. The museum is beautiful, as you can see in my photo at the top of this blog. There are 118 old buildings from all the historic districts of Latvia. It’s fascinating to examine the farmsteads, craftsmen’s sheds, and fishermen’s shacks with their tools and antique interior furnishings. I spent part of a day walking around and studying early pioneer life.

Riga is an old city; in 2001, it celebrated its 800th anniversary. Many of the Hanseatic Guild Houses buildings have been restored. Old Town is small and easy to see on foot, as it’s separated from the rest of the city by canals. I walked across the boulevard from my hotel and though an existing ancient gate and I was in Old Town. Along the sidewalk, many florists had set up their business, and the displays of colorful arrangements were waiting for customers to take home. It was my favorite place to pass by.

There were many landmarks to explore: the Powder Tower, now the Latvian War Museum, and the Riga Castle, which was built in the 15th century, then destroyed and rebuilt. Along the Daugava River is the History Museum, as well as the President of Latvia’s residence, a large structure with beautiful grounds. The Freedom Monument (1935) is more recent, and in the next block, there used to be a statue of Lenin, but it has been torn down. In any of the three Baltic States, anything to do with Russia is taboo. They fear an invasion by Russians and are not happy to be neighbors and openly speak about this situation.

In Old Riga is the Navigation Museum. Latvia has a close association with the sea. I wished my husband, a classic car enthusiast, was with me when I went to the Riga Motor Museum, the largest antique car museum in the Baltic Countries. The Kremlin collection, which was Stalin’s personal collection, is kept here. Riga Cathedral is one of the largest churches in the Baltic States with an organ of 7,000 pipes. I sat and listened for a few minutes as it was played.

Back outside, the Swedish Gate, part of the Old Town wall, is very beautiful.  For the best view of the city go to the Television Tower: it is 1,211 feet tall, the highest building in the Baltic States. The Observation platform is 325 feet.

It was fun to see and experience the Baltic States. I enjoyed the clean restaurants and good food in the cafes. Fish, potato, and cabbage dishes are popular, and Karums are favorite cheese snacks. The three countries are prospering and are happy to be part of the European Union. Since the 1990s, they have rebuilt their countries from scratch, taking them from outdated to very modern. The people are happy, thankful to be free from Russia, and hardworking. It was a great experience to travel to these three beautiful and safe countries.

(posted January 12, 2017)