Thursday, August 29, 2013

Roadtrip to Rundāle Palace.


Strolling through the Rose Garden at  Rundāle Palace.

I love roadtrips which explains why I've been so enthusiastic about doing this self drive tour. Today, we're heading out of the city to see  Rundāle Palace, supposedly Latvia's nod to Versailles and to explore Jurmala, a popular seaside resort for locals.  I must admit, I'm curious what a Baltic seaside resort looks and feels like. I don't imagine there will be any palm trees :-)


Our day started with the hearty buffet breakfast downstairs. I'm getting addicted to the ham they have here - very lean, smoky and not salty. And the cheese is pretty good too - reminds me of a sharp cheddar. Slap those two on a bit of buttered bread and add a few slices of cucumber and you have the prefect breakfast sandwich. Of course, I'm an eggs girl so if there are scrambled eggs, they will end up on my plate. Always a cup of tea to wash everything down with. Unlike Bro, I don't eat much but I do enjoy every bite of what I do eat :-)

Bellies filled, we headed to the car. I have to tell you that I continue to have a love hate relationship with the damn kiosk. Swear to God, it plays games with me - some days, it spews out the ticket without problem and other days, it taunts me. Luckily, we always end up with a ticket for the dashboard and so far, no ticket from the police. I have to admit, I have yet to see parking police so I wonder if this is an honor system though the few lats it costs to park is definitely not worth the price of a parking ticket so better to be safe than sorry. I still hate that damn kiosk!

Today, I did the driving honors so Bro, who's convinced he's better at reading maps than I am,  navigated us out of the city to  Rundāle Palace.  According to the map, the palace was located on the outskirts of a small town called Bauska. By now, it was evident that the distances on the map are not as great as they seem and indeed, it was a relatively short drive to Bauska. Our road trip took us through farmland and woods. The landscape is very flat here but it's quite pretty.  Since I was in the driver's seat, there are no photos of the scenery.

Before we actually arrived into Bauska, we already started seeing signs for  Rundāle Palace ("Rundāle pils" in Latvian) The sign was in Latvian but we figured the palace as what was directing us towards and so we followed the signs using the map to confirm that we were indeed on the right track. A short drive down a wooded lane and we were at a parking lot. I couldn't see the Palace itself but all signs indicated that this was the right parking lot. No tour buses and few cars around as we're traveling off season - a good sign that there won't be crowds around to spoil our visit.

Strolling towards the entrance.

A path lead out of the parking lot and we instinctively took it. It was quite a long walk but soon enough, we found ourselves standing at the entrance to the Palace. Seeing it did evoke memories of my visit to Versailles though this palace is far smaller.

Rundāle was constructed in the 1730s as a summer residence of Ernst Johann von Biron, the Duke of Courland.  Today, it's a major tourist attraction; it's also used as the accommodation for notable guests e.g., leaders of foreign nations.

To get to the palace's entry courtyard, you actually have to cross over a small bridge that spanned what looked like a was once a moat of sorts - it's dry now.

The small footbridge; palace on the other side.


The outer courtyard.  All I could think of though was "where's the grass?"

Another set of entry gates to pass through before reaching the palace itself.

The Palace.  Quite an impressive building!

Family crest?

Looking back towards the entry gate and footbridge.

Standing on the front steps; the view the Duke would've had if he was out greeting visitors.

We entered the building and followed the signs to buy our tickets. Tickets in hand, we proceeded up the stairs and began our walk through the various rooms. All very ornately decorated and some were very lavishly furnished. We were particularly intrigued by the ceramic structures that stood in the corner of every room. One of the attendants pointed us to a small closet next to one of the structures. Turns out they are wood heated stoves with the fireplace situated in the small closet. Heat is then piped to the ceramic stove which in turn heats the room. Simple solution and from the looks of it, a pretty elegant one for its time.

There were binders, in each room, that described the contents of the room which was helpful.  


Jaw dropping gorgeous. You can imagine just how opulent this room would have been back in the day.

Seriously ornate!

This room was all white with the most magnificent relief work on the walls and ceiling.

Detail of relief.  So beautiful.

Another bit of relief.

More adorable cherubs.  I took this photo at an angle so you can see the three dimensions of the relief work.

Off the large white room was a smaller one where there was a display of ceramics.

A hallway that connected several of the rooms.

One of the many lavishly decorated rooms.

Each room had its own wood heated stove designed to warm the room.  Each stove was
decorated with blue and white colored, hand painted ceramic tiles.

The room was empty, better to show off the stunning mural work on the walls and ceiling.

Detail of the stove.

Detail of the handpainted tiles.  Notice how each one is a different design.

A dining room.

Table setting fit for royalty.

Every room was very tastefully decorated.

Lounging area in the Duchess's bedroom.  Her room was definitely decorated
with a very feminine touch.  Even the stove was designed to match the rest of
the room.....no rectangle block with blue and white tiles here.


Ceiling detail in the Duchess's bedroom

You had to exit the Palace through the basement which had been converted into a small museum.  All the items were nicely displayed but nothing was described so I just walked through without stopping other than to take some photos.



The Duke?

From one of the upstairs windows, we got a glimpse of the back garden - typical French style with parterres. Bro was looking forward to exploring it as he also spotted all the roses growing in the flower beds. He is a rose fiend. 

We quickly wrapped up our visit inside the Palace. Lovely place but after a while, the rooms all start to look the same. That's when it's time to leave.

We had to pay extra to visit the gardens but I knew there was no way we would skip out so we handed over the required lats and proceeded on in.

Indeed the beds were filled with roses. According to the brochure, there are over 12,000 plants of different varieties planted here! Not surprisingly, Bro recognized many of the varieties planted here. I don't know how he remembers them all. To me, one red rose looks just like another. He also knew which varieties were disease resistant, pointing out the mold spots on weaker varieties. Anyone who thinks I'm a geek has obviously not met my Bro. Just saying. Of course, I don't think he was suppose to step inside the beds but he just couldn't help himself - had to lean down and sniff as many flowers as he could.

The garden is huge! Thankfully, there are benches here and there where you can sit and rest your feet for a bit. I found a couple of benches calling my name so I took a breather while Bro continued to check out the roses.

There was a beautiful alley of immaculately pruned trees that marked the center line of the area where the parterres were located. We went inside a few and each had it's own theme like this one where the flowers were all in shades of blue and white. So pretty. One parterre was home to the restrooms - housed in a Chinese style pagoda building. My vote for classiest and most elegant facilities I've ever seen!

It was such a glorious day to be outside though it was a bit hot standing in the open sun. While we enjoyed our time here, soon even Bro was ready to leave. There's only so much of 12,000+ plants you can see before you call it quits.

Entry to the garden.

It's very large garden.  This is the view as you enter.

It was late summer so annuals were still in bloom.  So pretty.

Video of garden with music playing in the background.  I don't know where the music was coming from. Frst the clock chimed and then the music followed.  It was such a nice moment.  Too bad the video is so fuzzy.  I have to work on focusing :-(

The rose beds are just to the right and left of the flower beds.  The parterres are in the distance, past the water fountain.

Roses.  Only the late season bloomers were flowering.  Gardener's cottage in the background.

View of the house from the garden.  It's a beautiful space.

Bro checking out the roses and probably violating some rule or other by stepping into the bed.

One of the pools in the garden.

Say hello to Tess of the d'Urbervilles, a David Austin rose developed in 1998.

Tree lined path.  The parterres are to the right and left of the trees.

No description needed.  Just admire the view.

Vine covered arches.  Entrances to the parterres are just past the arch, to the right and to the left.

Brugmansia in bloom.  There's enough trimming work in this garden to keep a small army of gardeners busy full time!

One of the parterres.  This one focused on annuals and perennials with blooms in shades of purple.

Another beautiful parterre.  Some of the parterres had benches - what a lovely view to be had.

The world's classiest looking restrooms....at least from the outside.

Another view of the palace.

Claire Austin, another standout rose from David Austin.  A delicate vision in white.

Portmerion.  Pretty in pink thanks to David Austin.

Young Lucidas, vibrant in shades of fuschia.  Another David Austin creation.

I really enjoyed my time in the garden.  Too bad it's so far away from where I live - I'd love to visit  more often.

Neatly trimmed boxwoods and terra cotta chips decorate two large beds.

He can't help himself :-)

I think we spent more time wandering the garden than inside the house but can you blame us?  All good things do come to an end so eventually we left the gardens behind and made our way to back to the entrance, crossing over the small bridge.

Leaving  Rundāle Palace.


Quick pose for a photo to remember my time here.

The moat.

One last view.  Bye, Rundāle.  It was our pleasure visiting you.

Located just across the gravel path from the bridge was the orchard. We had walked alongside it on the way in. Even from a distance, I could see the trees were heavily laden with fruit. Of course, we had to check it out. Plenty of fruits had fallen to the ground and there were plenty still hanging off the limbs. The trees were of different varieties but in all cases, the fruits were small. A bite into one confirmed they were very tart and slightly mealy. We figured they must be a native variety - maybe heirlooms? In any event, we decided it was probably okay for us to pick a few fruits off the tree - so much here that we figured no one would care. So, we discretely pulled down a few limbs and plucked the fruits. Whatever we picked went into my backpack.

The orchard, filled with apple trees laden with ripe fruit.

Bro, scoping out the possibilities i.e., which fruit he's going to pick.

He had his choice of red and green apples.  All were extremely tart and a bit mealy.

Obviously native varieties.  Each branch is literally covered in fruit!

Even the orchard was a pretty place for a stroll.

A quick stop for Bro to use the restroom and we were back to the car and heading back to Bauska. It was lunchtime and we decided that if we found a place to stop for a bite, we would. As we neared Bauska, I spotted the green sign with the white letter "i" printed on it. Universal symbol for Information Center. We decided to check it out so I pulled in to the parking lot. We headed inside the building and there was a very friendly behind the desk. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot happening in or around Bauska except for  Rundāle so we walked out without any recommendations in hand.

The Information Center.  Cute building.

Walking back towards the car, we did notice a small restaurant. As good a place as any to get a bite and chances are, it's local Latvian food.

Kafejnīca "Tornis".  I don't read Latvian but "taverna" is word I know!

We entered in to what looked like a small town pub. A small bar and a few tables. There were other patrons inside so that was a good sign. We got seated at a table and left with two menus.

Perusing the menu.

After our lunch experience in Old Town Riga, we realized the portions here are really substantial so we actually both ordered half portions of the meal.

Yo!  Put the map down and eat!

I went with the salmon which came with home fries and some pickled veggies including pickled squash which was surprisingly, very tasty. I could have done with another helping of the squash. The fish was a very decent portion and well cooked - not dry. Seasoning here is very simple - think salt and dill, lots of dill.....lots and lots of dill. Did I say, there's a lot of dill here? :-)

My dish, minus some of the dill that came with it.  Very substantial portion and reasonably priced.

Time to eat!  Need energy as our day is only half over!