Day 9 – Cultural Riga

2 Oct

This morning, the weather forecast was for rain.  Apparently it did.  I made full use of the hotel facilities and prepared myself well for the day ahead.

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First order of the day, once I eventually got moving, was a visit to the Russian Orthodox cathedral.  The odd tourist wandered about, but mostly it was Russian women in headscarves busying themselves with looking after the place.  The occasional man-with-a-briefcase stopped long enough to venerate an icon.  Gold and silver was everywhere, with one of the largest iconostasis I have seen anywhere. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside.  They didn’t believe in turning on the lights either, but if they had, we would surely have been blinded by the reflections.  The light streaming in the windows of the typical onion dome was enough to see by. There was generally an air of calm and peacefulness.  Shortly to be spoiled by the large group of kids who had assembled outside for a guided tour.  I left before they hit.

Next stop was the Museum of the Occupation (of Latvia).  The museum itself had moved from its normally indicated position on the tourist maps to a rather more obscure location outside the old town.  Just as I was about to give up, a huge sign encouraged me forward, and what looked like a prison fence revealed itself as the temporary home of the museum.

Donations only – any excuse not to give change – and I was shown upstairs, past photos of Queens, presidents and other important people signing the visitor book.  The displays were excellent and contained in three rooms.  Each room had at least one audio visual presentation and the text on the displays was in good English.  These described the story of Latvia from 1939 to the present day.  The invasion by the USSR in 1940, and the subsequent Nazi invasion in 1941, made Latvians fight each other – sometime brother against brother, father against son, as the various armies conscripted the locals into their armies – against the 1907 Hague convention on such things.  I had a feeling that they weren’t trying to make excuses as to why they collaborated with their invaders – merely trying to explain the reasons – mostly that they didn’t understand the enormity of what was planned, or that they were looking out for themselves first and foremost – a perfectly normal reaction, if you ask me!

Latvia also suffered immensely from the movement of people – originally 75% of the population were ethnic Latvian, but by 1952, only 52% were Latvian – the rest had mostly been moved from other Soviet republics, mostly voluntarily, in the hope of finding a better life.  This has had a huge impact on modern day Latvia that is still very apparent to me.  It’s very Russian – far more so than Estonia.  Lots of Russian being spoken on the street – nearly everyone understands it.  Latvian as a language is not spoken by everyone.  The 1950s “Russification” of Latvia will take a long time to change.

One of the bleakest videos on display were interviews with some of those who were forcibly deported by the Soviets to Siberia (or “out that way”).  Some told how their new neighbours ran away because they had been told they were cannibals.  Other stories of scrapping mouldy green flour from the bottom of sacks as the only food available.  Many of the stories are too harrowing to repeat here. 15,477 people were deported.  6000+ died,  6000+ returned eventually to Latvia.

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The Baltic Way

The Baltic Way was also featured – where 2,000,000 people joined hands from Tallinn, via Riga, to Vilnius in 1989.  This was one of the biggest peaceful events of the most recent path to independence.  In May 1990, Latvia intimated that it wanted independence from the USSR, and after bloody violence in January 1991 (mentioned in yesterday’s blog), it was eventually recognised in August 1991.

Joining the UN, the EU and NATO has helped Latvia find its way in the world, but there is still a lot of change required here.

Out on the streets, beggars are common, and it’s obviously that the standard of living here for quite a lot of the population is not very high.  The tourist areas may confused my perception here, but there are only tourists and beggars on the street, as far as I can see.

Leaving the museum after an enlightening 90 minutes, I had time for a coffee and cake in Livu Square.  The place was mostly desserted (see what I did there), except for some beggars.  One was very nice in his approach and I stupidly gave him some money.  There was then a queue of more beggars asking the same.  I did a quick escape and wandered around a few more streets and squares.

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The Great Guild Hall

Back in Livu Square, with the beggars gone, and police car taking their place, I met up with Steve and Yok Leng as we had arranged.  We visited the Great Guild Hall and bought our tickets for an oriental music festival – Rumi Fest, which was supposed to be featuring some Latvian acoustic guitar trio and also some Spaniards with the “Road to Andalucia”.

The Guild Hall itself was a fantastic concert venue, although there were 4 flights of stairs to climb first.  Very modern inside, with gothic mirrored windows (reflecting in), it looked a lot bigger than the 300 odd seats that it held.  The audience was about half full.

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Latvian Acoustic Guitar trio

The Latvian trio were fantastic musicians and enthralled us with their versatility over many styles of music.  No CDs available for all of them, just individually – Alvars Hermanis, Kaspars Zemetis & Marcis Auzins.  The two female comperes, however, introduced the evening in both Latvian and Russian.  One was appropriately dressed for an evening at the theatre, with a long flowing red dress.  The Russian speaker was going to a funeral.

After an interval, the Spanish musicians took their turn, including a trumpet player with the shiniest jeans in the world, a percussionist in flamenco style dress and a lead guitarist whose eyebrows moved almost as much as his wrist.  Surprisingly, the audience of Latvians and Russians wasn’t overly receptive to him addressing them in Spanish (although it was way better for me – my Russian and Latvian ain’t that good!)  “My Way” (“the end is near” etc…) in Andalucian style, was a cue for too many songs to be added.  Defo preferred the Latvians.

By this point, it was almost 9pm, and Yok Leng had snuck out early. Steve and I decided on a cheap night of food – and settled on a very nice pizza in a brick cave all to ourselves.  Also managed to find a postbox (had been searching all day) for some of you lucky readers.

The rumour was that the following day start time had been brought forward to 8:30am (instead of 9am), but we threw caution to the wind, and headed for the Skyline Bar in the Radisson Blu (5 star hotel).  The 26th floor had a good view of Riga, but the glass was a problem for the camera – the DJ and disco lights didn’t help.  Paying to get in, we got a wristband each, and then spent the next 10 minutes trying to get served at the bar.  One free woman, standing at the bar, advised that she only did table service.  So we sat down and she ignored us there.  Back at the bar we finally managed to sample a “Clavis Riga” – the official cocktail of Riga.  It consisted of Riga Black Balsam, Rhubarb Liqueur, White Chocolate Syrup, Pomegranate Syrup and Apple Juice – all topped off with a slice of orange rind.  It. Was. Great.

Tried another with disappointing results (in comparison).  On the way out, we got chatted to by a mildly drunk Norwegian member of a rally cross team who was trying to hold the lift for his absent wife. We all made it safely down.

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Riga by night, from the Skyline Bar

Back in the hotel, I received a post-it note from Tauno to confirm that we were departing at 9am as originally planned.  Whew!

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One Response to “Day 9 – Cultural Riga”

  1. Ruth Fry October 3, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

    Amazing extensive informational blog

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