Nauru Travel Diary

From Houston to Sydney 2013

From Houston

to Sydney



We took a while to get going this morning, with phone calls home to Australia and a lovely breakfast conspiring to delay our departure.  However, it didn’t matter, as our aim today was to walk around Riga, and thus our time was completely flexible and in our own hands.

The Riga City Council has produced an excellent free publication called “Riga on Foot”, with maps and details of two walking routes to follow around the city.  Using that booklet as our guide, we had a fabulous day exploring Riga and informing ourselves about many aspects of the city’s history, its buildings and its layout.

Our walk began in Dome Square, beside the Dome Cathedral in the old city.  From there, we followed a twisting route through to the northern edge of the old city and into a newer area – ‘newer’ in this context meaning buildings constructed during the 18th and 19 centuries.  After passing the National Theatre Building, we passed through a huge area of parklands known as the Kronvalda parks before arriving at one of the highlights of today’s walk (for me), some gorgeous buildings with exquisite and intricate exterior decorations in the Art Nouveau style along two streets, Strēlnieku iela and Alberta iela.  Some of the buildings, such as the Riga University of Economics and the Riga University of Law, were especially magnificent, but they were not the only ones – the two streets mentioned above were like an art gallery of outstanding art nouveau architecture.

We continued our walk past several other beautiful buildings, including the National Museum and the State Academy of Arts Building, the latter being a mixed Gothic and Art Nouveau building dating from the early 20th century with a statue in front from a much more contemporary era.  Entitled “Venus of Willendorf 21st century”, the statue is 4.5 metres high and made from foam rubber sheets with pieces of mirror tile stuck to it.  The plaque beside the statue states “Venus of Willendorf 21st century” is a conceptual work allowing women of nowadays to shine in their reflection while Venus is shining for herself”, before adding helpfully “she is surprising with her female shapes”.

Our walk continued towards the south-west, through a beautiful area of parkland known as “Bastejkalns” back into the old city, entering near the 14th century cone-topped Gunpowder Tower.  A loop through the north-eastern part of the old city saw us emerge back into Bastejkalns near the Latvian Opera Building, a lovely building in the classical style set amidst some expansive, brightly coloured gardens and parkland.

Our walk continued northwards, past the Latvian University, through another large park (Vērmanes Dāres) that had some brilliant children’s playing areas, past the Spendid Palace Cinema with its ornate entrance and the brutally-styled building that houses the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia, eventually arriving at the Orthodox Cathedral of the Birth of Christ.

This relatively modern looking large Russian Orthodox church was, like so many buildings in Riga today, under renovation, although in this case, only the main dome was covered by scaffolding.  Interestingly, a wedding had just been conducted in the church, so we were able to join the other onlookers and watch the bride and groom drive away in their elegant old Rolls-Royce, followed by a convoy of other more modern cars carrying the families and the photographers.

We continued walking towards the south-west along Brīvibas bulvāris to the Monument to Freedom that commemorates liberation from the Soviet Occupation in 1991, which was also partly covered in scaffolding for renovation.  A short walk further to the south-west brought us back into the old city.

We had arranged to meet with Anastasia, a Latvian girl who had been one of our former students at the United World College in Hong Kong, at 4 pm.  We had about 50 minutes before our meeting time, so we decided to explore one of the more chilling of Riga’s museums, the Latvian Museum of Occupation.

Housed in a somewhat soulless concrete building constructed during the Soviet era in 1969 to 1970, and located beside the House of Blackheads, the museum documented with chilling photographic images, artifacts and memorabilia the so-called three periods of authoritarian occupation of Latvia – the Soviet Occupation of 1940 to 1941, the Nazi Occupation of 1941 to 1944, and the Second Soviet Occupation of 1944 to 1991.

After spending about 50 minutes in the museum, it was 4 pm and time to meet Anastasia.  It was great to see her again, and we decided to have coffee and afternoon tea at a small streetside café in the old city.  We had a wonderful time catching up with each others’ news and, for me, being reminded yet again (as if I needed reminding) what wonderfully able and adventurous young men and women the UWCs produce.

Before we knew it, an hour and a half had passed and it was time to say our goodbyes.  Deciding that we really needed an early night this evening after so many late nights recently, we decided to have an early dinner.  We chose a restaurant specializing in Latvian cuisine and had an enjoyable and quite different dinner.  We both began with a grey peas and bacon starter, and then progressed to different main courses; Di chose chicken with spinach while I selected the pork and beef sausage with warm, pickled cabbage.  I really enjoyed my dinner; it was without doubt the largest sausage I have ever been served.

We took our time returning to the hotel, wandering through the craft market and enjoying the music provided by the street musicians, seemingly at every corner, in the warm summer air of the early evening.  We were reminded yet again what a beautiful place the old city of Riga really is.

Day 35 - Riga


9 August 2013