Nauru Travel Diary

From Houston to Sydney 2013

From Houston

to Sydney



Today was a mixture of travelling and sightseeing.  In terms of the amount of time spent, the winner was travel.  On the other hand, in terms of excitement, the winner was undoubtedly sightseeing.

There is little to report on the Stockholm component of today’s travel.  We woke, it was cloudy, we had breakfast, we drove to the airport, we checked in and we waited for our flight.  Actually, the waiting was fun, at least for me, because Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport is well set up for plane spotting with panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows and a passing parade of airlines that I seldom see in my ‘normal’ travels.

Our flight from Stockholm to Riga was on a new Norwegian Air Shuttle Boeing 737.  Although the flight was only 55 minutes (I prefer longer flights) and no food was served, it was an excellent flight as the seats were comfortable, leg room was pretty good and I had a window seat with some excellent views of Latvia as the plane approached Riga Airport.

Latvia is the third (and final) Baltic state/republic for me to visit.  I visited Estonia just as it was just about to start emerging from its Soviet era (I was there three weeks after the abortive coup in 1991 that attempted to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev), and I visited Lithuania in what was clearly post-Soviet 2005. 

On the fairly accurate assumption that Latvia was affected by its period of Soviet rule to a similar extent as Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia has obviously changed a great deal since its Soviet days.  Arriving from Sweden, there was no passport check at all, and all the licence plates on the cars follow the EU convention of having a blue patch on the left hand side with the yellow ring of EU stars to proclaim the country’s membership of the European Union.  Although there were a few old Soviet-style high-rise housing blocks evident from the air, the areas of Riga that we have seen at ground level so far are decidedly European in appearance, both medieval (in the old town) and ultra modern (such as the new shopping malls, housing, and so on).  Prices are also far more European than Russian (although Latvia does use its own currency, the lats, rather than the Euro).

Today has been the hottest day Riga has experienced this year, and we arrived at the hottest part of this hottest day when the temperature was 36˚C.  Fortunately, the drive from the airport took only 15 minutes, and we were soon in our room at a lovely old hotel that is within Riga’s old city. 

Of course, with clear, sunny weather outside (and a forecast of thunderstorms tomorrow and clouds the following day), the obvious thing to do was to go outside and explore the old city on foot.

Despite the high temperatures, walking through the cobble-stoned streets of the old city was pure delight.  Situated on the banks of the Daugava River, Riga’s old area was built during the period of the 13th to the 18th century.  There are some wonderfully majestic churches, beautiful open squares surrounded by shops and residential buildings, and some incredibly ornate public buildings.

Starting from our hotel just south of Riga Castle, our walk this afternoon took us along Pils iela to Dome Square (and the shadow of the huge Dome Cathedral), and then further south along Krāmu iela and Kungu iela to the Church of St Peter.  The church dates back to 1209, but the present building was built from 1672 to 1690, and re-built after being destroyed by artillery fire in World War II (specifically, in June 1941) from 1967 to 1983.

The church features a very high tower, and visitors are permitted to ascend via an elevator for a view over the old town (and beyond) from a height of 72 metres.  Naturally, we did this, and the views from the top in the late afternoon’s clear air were outstanding.

When we descended to ground level, we noticed that the body of the church was filled with the beautiful singing of a choral choir.  Although the choir numbered only about 16 people, the voices filled the huge church.  The choir seemed to be warming up for a performance at 6 pm that evening (it was about 5:15 pm when we were there), so Di and I sat for a while and enjoyed the simple pleasure of listening to some wonderful choral music in a large church with excellent acoustics.

When we left, we headed a little west to one of the visual highlights of Riga’s old city, the open square known as Rātslaukums.  This square has a remarkable collection of buildings on its edges, including the City Hall and the House of Blackheads.  The latter building was originally built in 1334, but after being destroyed in World War II, it was re-built relatively recently (in 1997).  Named after the Blackheads’ Society, a society of German merchants, the building was constructed as a meeting hall that was supposed to be “Riga’s greatest adornment”. 

By this time, it was time for dinner, so we chose a small restaurant and enjoyed a light Latvian-style meal while watching the fascinating passing parade of people on the cobble-stoned laneway outside.

We have only spent a few hours exploring Riga so far, but we have both been very impressed by what we have seen, and we are really looking forward to further explorations tomorrow – thunderstorms notwithstanding.

Day 34 - Stockholm to Riga


8 August 2013