The DougBlog
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

To Russia With Doug, Part 4: Riga, Latvia

Riga, Latvia

Going from Russia to any of the Baltic republics (Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania) is definitely a culture shock. The Russians are a very proud people. For example, they don’t just win a war; they make it a holiday, erect 117 monuments, and rename a park, a square, and a subway station in every city after it (and sometimes the whole city). If there’s one thing that Russians love to celebrate, it’s Russia.

Then you go to the Baltics. All three countries have different, checkered histories, but they have a few things in common: they’re small, they were important medieval ports, and they all hate Russia. That's because they were occupied by the Soviet Union for about 50 years starting in 1940. The Soviets claimed that their occupation was welcomed by the republics to defend them from the Nazis. The republics—and pretty much the rest of the world—always viewed the Soviet occupation as illegal. In any event, they all reclaimed their independence in the 1990s.

So when you go from St. Petersburg to Riga, you go from a city that glorifies Russian history to a city that commemorates “Russian occupation and oppression”. Again, a bit of a culture shock. But a pretty one:

The “Old City” of Riga is a medieval maze of old building and churches. It is quite beautiful, but a bit overrun. Apparently the UN has been threatening to remove their status as a “World Heritage Site” because the modern bustle of this—the biggest city among the Baltic states—is getting a little too close to its historic heart. That said, it is still quite beautiful:

My Hotel, the Reval Hotel Latvija, was a modern one just outside the Old Town but offering terrific views thereof (the first one in this entry was from my window!). It was also very close to the Freedom Monument, a 138-foot tall column commemorating the Latvian War of Independence. This war was fought from 1918 to 1920 and I still don’t understand who fought who…but the bottom line is that the monument is considered to be the country’s most sacred site, akin to our Statue of Liberty:

It even gets an honor guard:

And couples come to lay a wreath on their wedding day:

The Great Guild Hall, now a concert hall:

Across the street is a famous house with this sculpture of a cat on top. The house was built in the 1300s by a man who was not admitted to the prestigious Great Guild. Angered, he put this sculpture of a cat on top, sticking its butt out at the Great Guild Hall. Finally they allowed him into the Guild and he turned the cat around:

When I got to the center of the city—The Old Town Plaza—I found myself in the middle of a folk music festival:

These women must have been so embarrassed when they showed up in the same outfit:

Still, there were some beautiful buildings around the square:

Including the Dome Church, the biggest in the Baltics:

Other famous churches include St. Jacob’s Catholic Cathedral:

And the iconic St. Peter’s:

St. Peter’s is near Town Hall Square. The square is dominated by the Blackheads’ House. This intricately beautiful building was built in 1334. Although the original was destroyed in World War II, it was rebuilt in time for the city’s 800th anniversary in 2001 (as always, you can click to enlarge any photo):

These crooked old houses are called The Three Brothers:

This is Riga Castle, now home to Latvia’s President:

There is one historic synagogue in Riga, but it was closed for renovations (unfortunate, because it is apparently so beautiful that even the Nazis chose not to destroy it). A more haunting site, however, is the Big Choral Synagogue. On July 4, 1941, the Nazis rounded up about 300 of Riga’s Jews, locked them inside, and burned it down. No one escaped, and the remaining foundations of the building are now preserved as a memorial:

I didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time in Riga, but it was a lovely city. Sunset from my hotel:

Still to come…Estonia, Finland, and a night in Sweden!! BUT BEFORE WE GO TO ESTONIA…A FEW PARTING SHOTS!

On the Daugava River…is this misspelling intentional, or did they just not want to make the room for all the letters:

The Reval Hotel had some interesting signage. For example, is “Take a chance!” really the best marketing slogan for a hair salon?:

And while I realize that they are proud to offer free WiFi, is the bathroom really where they think it will get the most mileage?:

And speaking of the bathrooms, note some of the “Produkts” used to clean them (click to enlarge if you can't read it):

Finally, on my Air Baltic flight to Estonia…this woman was drinking Bailey’s. From the bottle. A big one. At 10AM:

See you in Estonia!


  • Wow. What a trip! I had no idea Latvia was so interesting and beautiful.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:18 AM  

  • Thatis intresting.A journey i would want to take some day.
    But do u know there is a beatiful village called ORONGO in kenya just next to lake VICTORIA.
    Contact me at

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:27 AM  

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