Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Exploring Riga. Old Town.


In the heart of Old Riga.  St. Peter's Church on the left; House of Blackheads on the right.

From where we had parked our car, outside Riga's Central Market, we could see the spires of Old Town. For a few minutes, we debated whether to leave the car where it was and walk over or try and find a closer parking spot. We settled on doing the latter - I didn't want to have to worry about walking all the way back to the market to essentially just pump the meter. So, we hopped in the car and drove towards Old Town. There were plenty of available park spots but we ended up pulling into a parking lot instead. It seemed a bit sketchy at first - the "ticket booth" was actually a camper. When we first walked up to it, there didn't seem to be anyone inside but then a young guy popped up from the bed he was resting on. We would pay by the hour so we could stay as long as we wanted. Perfect for us! We got our ticket and then double checked the car to make sure we hadn't left anything out in visible sight, locked all the doors and went on our way.


Across the street from the parking lot was a small courtyard - looked like the back parking lot for a bunch of buildings. Bro was convinced there would be a short cut to Old Town and so he walked around to investigate. Then, a woman approached us to ask if she could help. There's no denying that we stand out as tourists! So, we told her what we were attempting to do and she replied back to follow her and so we did. We entered into an office building and headed to the lobby. There was another entrance. She instructed us to go out the entrance and turn right. Bro's instincts were right. We thanked her for allowing us to take the short cut through the building. She didn't seem to think anything of it but I can tell you this, no one in Washington, DC or San Francisco, CA would do this for you!

We followed our instincts and walked up the streets though we did have a map in hand. I figured Old Town was small enough that we would eventually get to some landmark or other. Of course, I am the perennial optimist. We walked the cobblestone streets and I was enjoying just seeing the surroundings; the place is really pretty and very clean.

It was late morning by now but many of the establishments still seemed to be closed. As we would discover later on, most places don't open up until around 11am. It was nice not to be mobbed by tourists!

With map in hand, navigating us through the streets of charming Old Town Riga.




As we walked about Old Town, we managed to happen upon many of the key sights including St. Peter's Church which was closed at the time.

St. Peter's Church.

Eventually, we made it to the square where the famous House of Blackheads is located.  This is the heart of Old Town Riga.  There were a few small tourist groups milling about but it was nowhere near an unbearable crowd.  It was a picture perfect day for spending time in a place that was as lovely as this was.

St. Peter's Church on the left, House of Blackheads on the right.

The original House of Blackheads building was erected during the first third of the 14th century for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild for unmarried German merchants in Riga.  Subsequent renovations were done, the last being completed in 1999.

It looks like two separate buildings but it's actually just one, the entrance is in the building on the right.

Entrance to the House of Blackheads.  A small but pretty building.

Another view of the square.  House of Blackheads is just to my left.

House of Blackheads on the left, the black building in the background is the Occupation Museum.

 You would think a sign like this would not be necessary but some tourists just don't know how to behave.

Taking a breather.

Occupation Museum on the left, St. Peter's on the right.

Aside from the historic landmarks, the square was also home to the Occupation Museum.  We passed by the entrance, debating whether or not to go in.  In the end, we decided not to as I thought it would be educational but too depressing - a bit to early in our holiday to be visiting a place like this.

From the square, we continued our stroll about Old Town.  By now, we had ditched the map which was pretty useless to begin with - it was nice to just take in the views and not be distracted by trying to read a map!

A sneak peak of Riga Cathedral.

Pretty street flanked with shops and restaurants.  The weather was perfect for an al fresco meal.

Riga Cathedral which sits on one side of a square. The Cathedral is the
Evangelical Lutheran cathedral in Riga, Latvia and is the seat of the Archbishop of Riga.

Tourist trolley stopping off in front of the Cathedral which was closed at the time.

Opposite side of the square from Riga Cathedral. 

I loved the clocks and the weather meters.  It's lunch time.  Hint, hint, Bro!

This was about as crowded as the streets were.  No crowds!

Soon enough, we had meandered our way to a complex of three houses known collectively as the Three Brothers. 

Three Brothers on the left.


The three houses together form the oldest complex of dwelling houses in Riga. The houses are situated at the addresses 17, 19 and 21 Mazā Pils iela.

17 Mazā Pils iela (the white building) is the oldest, dating from the late 15th century. The exterior of the building is characterized by crow-stepped gables, Gothic decorations and a few early Renaissance details.

19 Mazā Pils iela (the yellow building)  has an exterior dating from 1646, with a stone portal added in 1746. The style of the building shows influences from Dutch Mannerism.

21 Mazā Pils iela (the green building)  is a narrow Baroque building which gained its present look probably during the late 1600s.

The Three Brothers complex today houses the State Inspection for Heritage Protection and the Latvian Museum of Architecture.

By now, it was well past 1pm.  Our stomachs were growling and it was time for lunch. We found a small little restaurant serving local cuisine and there was seating outside. Perfect spot to take our break. I wasn't all that hungry but I knew I needed to eat. As we perused the menu, I couldn't help but look at the woman seated nearby. She was obviously eating her lunch and it was a BIG plate of food that looked awfully delicious and hearty. I decided I wasn't going for a full plate so I ordered an appetizer. Bro went all out. I envy his metabolism - guy devours food like there's no tomorrow and is slim as ever. I used to be able to do the same. Now, I simply look at food and gain weight! Sucks to be a middle aged woman :-(

We took our leisurely time to eat lunch. No rush. After we paid our bill, we headed to building across the small plaza from the restaurant. According to our map, it was a former palace but now a museum. The doors were locked - apparently, the place was under renovation. Oh well.

Sneak peek of St. James's Cathedral.

Such pretty views every which way we looked.

The streets were narrow which meant no cars.

Locals and tourists enjoying a meal outdoors. 

We're heading towards Swedish Gate.  The Gate was erected in 1698  to provide
access to barracks outside the city wall.

We continued our walk and eventually made it to Swedish Gate and the mustard yellow colored buildings of the barracks that are located just on the other side. Pretty little area filled with small shops and restaurants. This would have been a nice lunch spot for lunch.

Making sure I followed him through the Gate.

A long row of yellow buildings.  Formerly the barracks, now restaurants, shops, and offices.

Swedish Gate on my right, barracks on my left.

Another view of the barracks.  I loved the bright yellow color, especially against the brilliant blue sky!

At one end of the barracks was another small city square with a museum.

Two views of another pretty square.  You can see the spires of St. Peter's Church and Riga Cathedral in the background.  With views like this and all the rest that we've seen so far, it's not surprising why this place is on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites!



From Old Town, we some how made our way to the modern city of Riga.  First though, we stumbled upon another of Old Town Riga's historic landmarks, the Cat House which is known for the two cat sculptures with arched backs and raised tails atop the roof turrets.

The House of Cats with the kitties atop the turrets.

It is said that the owner of the house wanted the cats to be placed with their tails turned towards either the house of the Riga Tradesman Guild, aka the Great Guild, or City Hall (depending on who's telling the story) as held a grudge against their members. Both the Guild house and City hall are located nearby and in the sme direction so who really knows what the true story is.  In any event, it's definitely a quirky way to decorate the tops of turrets!

 

Leaving the Cat House behind, we just continued our wandering and ended up back in the modern city of Riga.

The city is peppered with small city parks and squares - all very lovely for strolling about or just sitting and people watching.  If you're in a downtown park, a boat ride is not far away.



Without planning it, we had somehow made our way back to modern day Riga. We crossed the main road and headed towards Freedom Monument.  According to the guide, there was a changing of the guard ceremonies at the top of every hour. We were close to the time so we decided to hang around to watch the ceremony. Unfortunately, there were no guards in sight so we gave up after a few minutes of waiting. Maybe the guide book was wrong.

Freedom Monument which honors oldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918–1920).

The road that the Freedom Monument is on intersected what looked like a city park. We decided to check it out. A small river ran through the center of the park.



People were out and about enjoying the day and the green space. I have to say that Riga does have quite a bit of green space which I am sure is greatly appreciated by its residents and tourists alike. We found some benches on the edge of a well tended garden that fronted a pretty little building. According to the map, we were at the Latvian National Opera House. We had been walking all day and had reached the point where any excuse to sit was a good one. Pretty view of a garden, a water fountain and a lovely building in the backdrop seemed like a good reason to take a break :-) It was also the perfect spot to do some people watching. As always, Bro noticed how there are no overweight people here and everyone seems to be well dressed (read, no sweatpants). I told him this is typical European culture. The slobby people all moved west to the US. Harsh words I know but at some level, you have to admit it's true.

Latvian National Opera House.  There was a pretty garden in front.  We made use of the benches to enjoy the view and rest our feet.

View of the garden.  Latvians love flowers!

By now, it was mid afternoon and we were beginning to lose steam.  We had no idea how far away we were from our car but we both agreed we were tired and ready to call it a day. We decided to back track through Old Town and make our way back to the car.

I learned that I have to look up at the roof. Notice the roof topper?

Here's a close up shot.  Quite something, isn't it?

Gorgeous architectural details everywhere you look.

It may be old architecture, but art is very modern here.  See the colorful paintings on the building window.

I couldn't get enough of the charming streets.  No graffiti or trash anywhere!

On our way through Old Town, we saw the opened doors to St. Peter's church.  Tired or not, we were here so what the heck. - pop inside for a quick look see.

St. Peter's Church on the left.  We're heading there for a spectacular view.

It's a pretty church from the outside.

Inside, it's stark with almost a modern feel to it.

Entry to the church was free but would have to pay an extra 5 Lats each to go to the top of the tower for a view. I was so tired I didn't know that I would have the energy to make it up and back down so I was about to suggest that Bro go up on his own. We then found out that the only way up would be via elevator so we both went :-) Yay for the elevator. We found our way to the elevator. There was a female attendant inside. We got in and waited a few minutes for others to join us - needed a full elevator before the attendant would press the Up button. It was just about the slowest and clankiest elevator I've ever been on but no one was in rush so snail's pace was fine. At the top, there was a small viewing platform with 360 views of Old Town, the modern city, the Daugava River and the zeppelin hangars of the Central Market. We weren't high up but enough to see it all. It was a pretty view and I'm glad we did this AFTER having seen all the sights because we could recognize the landmarks from above.

You can see the arched roofs of four of the zeppelin hangars that make up the Central Market.

Wonderful view of the Daugava Riva, Riga Cathedral, St. James's Church and the buildings of Old Town.

Bird's eye view of buildings in Old Town.  I love the colorful facades.

Posing for the obligatory photo.  Not the best background view but hey, this is proof he was there!

Eventually, we took the clanky elevator back down and did a quick walk around the church. There was a textile exhibit taking place inside the church - along the right and left aisles. It was the first time I had ever seen something like this in a church and I have to say, the work was über modern. Somehow I thought Riga would be stuffy Soviet culture but I'm beginning to learn that it's anything but! From the church, we made our way back to the car.

Interesting.  I'll leave it at that.

By the time we made it back to the car, we were more than ready to leave.  Luckily, we knew the hotel was just a short drive away.  We paid our ticket and drove off.

As tired as we were, our day was still not yet over!