Monday, 15 July 2013

Viewing the photo albums

Just a reminder that the albums containing some of our photographs can be found at:-

The easy way is to simply click on THIS LINK 

Departing Latvia 13 July 2013

Up early Saturday morning to the Bus station where we boarded a Lux Bus to St Petersburg via Valga and Turtar (both Estonia) and Kingsepp (Russia). The bus was always on time accurately allowing for one lost hour crossing into Russia. Our transit driver was waiting for us at the bus terminal an we had a late dinner at our hotel and then flaked. It was a very long day. the Pushka Inn Hotel is a bit of a clever word play upon the fact that the prestudentsmises were the home of the famed Puskin family for a few years. It's quite a good hotel with a very good reputation with foreign tourists. The city officially five million permanent residents (unofficially many more when visitors, students, and migrant workers are considered). There are plenty of foreign tourists but they are probably outnumbered by tourists from within the Russian Federation. I am still getting over the  shock that drink and food is far dearer in St Petersburg than in Latvia.

So far, other than wandering about the streets, we have had tours of the Peter and Paul Fortress Island which includes the Peter and Paul cathedral and a still operating mint and saw various buildings of renown but no longer  have much of an idea as to which is which especially all the ornate orthodox churches built to honour some Tsar or the other or success in some battle. too much too soon and too many Peters, Alexanders, Elizabeths and Catherines, generals, writers, philosophers etc. Great memorials and buildings though. Nice wide streets as it is a planned city (started 1703). Today we went to the Imperial Summer Palace at Pushkin, a little up-country from St Petersburg. It was started by Empress Elizabeth and  extended by subsequent rulers; most notably by Catherine II usually known as Catherine the Great. It is ridiculously large and ornate but not original as it was extensively looted and damaged by the Germans during their seige of the city of St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad). They occupied Pushkin at that time. So the palace has been largely reconstructed from the ruins and the work is still continuing. The grounds of the palace are extensive and include other buildings, parks, gardens and water features. The adjacent hunting forest is no longer there though. As we understand it, the primary purpose of this palace was to impress visitors from other powers of the period.

You can see a selection of our photos in our St Petersburg album. We have also added a few to the  general Riga album.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Visit to Cesis, Rauna and Drusti on 9 July 2013

Gigantic beer pot sculptures with potted plants as a head 
On 9 July, we set out to see Cesis, a regional capital, and one of its subordinate municipalities, Rauna which  contains the town of Rauna and the village of Drusti.. Vija's paternal grandfather, one Eduards Lacis was born and baptised in Drusti Parish and her paternal grandmother, Katerina Bukse was born and baptised in Rauna parish, both being of the Evangelical Lutheran faith.

We really enjoyed Cesis with its great town square, its Lutheran church and many attractive builldings and its ancient castle remains and parks. There was also an extensive children's playground area with lot of fine equipment mainly of timber. We have observed that Latvians may lack many things we take for granted but when it comes to children's  playgrounds, they far exceed Australia's offerings in both terms of quantity and quality and all without resorting to plastic garbage and our nana-state offerings. And they are very popular.. It is very rare to see one not being enthusiastically used. Cesis is  the home of Cesus Alus (alus is their word for beer) and their brewery is the biggest in Latvia. (it's okay but Latvia has other better brews in my opinion). The price of beer is reasonable and is the drink of choice for most ethnic Latvians.

Lutheran Church at Rauna
From Cesis, we went onto Rauna which reportedly has a population of about 1300 and we were astonished to find a very large and ancient church originally built in 1262 and obviously still largely intact other than for obvious repairs most notably it terms of roofing which is,of course, essentiall for ensuring building integrity. We could find no literature on this church which is surprising giving its uniqueness. However, the history of Rauna Castle provided us with some very valuable clues.
Substantial remnants of Rauna Castle remain which is remarkable considering that over the centuries it has been damaged and ransacked by invading forces a total of seven times. But the big clue was that the castle was originally built, like the church, in 1262 by Albert II,  Archbishop of Riga,  as the Archbishop's Summer Residence, which tends to explain why Rauna was provided with such a large and substantial church. We could not gain entry to the church. An outstanding feature is the two reliefs over the main and the side entry. They are extremely crude and archaic which suggests that they were original to the church (see the photographs in our album about this day).  The town looks relatively prosperous with modern municipal offices, a new shopping centre being built, new accommodation erections and many large modern houses in the town. Most surprisingly, the town has two modern toilet blocks and they are free and unlocked! We have not seem even one municipal toilet block anywhere else in Latvia - not even in Riga. Elsewhere, Latvia is a country where is can be very difficult to find any readily available toilet facilities when you need then and if you get lucky you may well need about 30 cents in loose change to gain entry. It was the same in Estonia also.  The town also had some very modern sporting facilities as well.

Lutheran Church at Drusti
We went on to Drusti which has a reported parish population of about 300. It is a small town featuring an astonishing Soviet-built water tower, large school premises, a couple of understandably insignificant shops, a modern town administration centre, and, pictured here, a Lutheran Church of untypical design. This church appears to be a simple hall (no cross shape) has massive columns at the front and a sort of dome in lieu of the usual Lutheran steeple tower. Even our tourist guide was astonished. The church was built in 1832 and my guess is that its design reflects a lack of funding combined with some Russian classical influence. We were even more surprised to find that there is a virtually identical church at a nearby village. We will pursue this further as we have contact details for the church officials. This town also featured partisan memorials and has two plaques featuring the names of several victims of "communist terror" listing those executed as partisans, those sent to gulags and those exiled to Siberia. Have a look at the photos in the album - survival appears to have been consistently short. Two "Lacis" residents are included in the exiles and may well have been Vija's relatives. Drusti now appears to be a relatively successful farming community - mainly wheat farming. Houses are mostly modern and of cottage sized but with good-sized yards. There is a block of flats as well.

Be sure to take a look at the album for this trip.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Day Trip to Jurmala 8 July 2013

Jurmala is a 32km stretch of beaches along the Latvian Baltic Coast about 30 minutes train travel from Riga. It was a favoured playground of the high and mighty of the soviet era including Kruschev and Brezhnev. It is still frequented by Russian tourists but it is also a favoured destination of Latvians especially from Riga residents on hot weekends. There is some fairly exclusive accommodation especially near the shoreline but it is  a very inexpensive day trip for Riga residents.

We decided to travel the cheapest way - by train about $2 each way per person. It was a bad mistake as train carriage entrances are about 1m above platform level and accessible by three very steep and narrow steps, It was a real struggle not only for us but also many of the local aged persons. Apparently nowhere has raised platforms not even the central railway station. Needless to say we will never attempt  to catch a train in Latvia again.

Well, they do have beaches and some very nice sand. There are no nasties as the salt level is too low for sharks, jellyfish etc in the Baltic Sea (which is also why it readily freezes in winter),  The water is shallow for quiite a long distance and there are no real waves. The water was fairly dirty where we took a look at the beach - Dzinteri beach probably the Liepa Rivr flows into the Baltic nearby. Australia's beaches they are not but they are far better than English ones and, most importantly, they are nearby and readily accessible. The streets in the major town at Jurmala, Majori, are spacious and the main stretch is a very nice mall. There's a couple of casinos we spotted and there's a number of sideshow stalls. In other words, it's a typical  tourist trap for sunshine lovers. Photos in their own album.

Monday, 8 July 2013

The XXV Latvian Song Festival is now over!

Well, the festival is over but we are still in Latvia. Yesterday, we attended the parade of all the song and dance performers. After four and one-half hour and some 1200 photos, we gave up and went for a beer and some eats and watched the top of the parade from a sitting distance. It went for over another hours as thousands upon  thousands of participants streamed past, It was totally incredible. And don't worry\, we are only putting up a relatively small sample of our photos on  our Picasa site under its own album. By the way, there is also a Festival album and and we keep updating the  general Riga album. As a reminder,  click here to go to our Picasa site.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Riga (Generally)

We traveled by Lux Coach from Tallinn to Riga, Latvia on 20 June 20013. It is not all that interesting along the road as it was mainly similar most of the way - occasional meadows, alternating forests of Scots Pines, white birch trees and alder trees. All very pretty but there is a limit! The bus was good and even had good internet.

After booking into our hotel in Riga we had a wander through the local parks and the old city. The old city is situated on the banks of the Daugava River and was once protected by raised embankments and a huge moat encircling the part of the town not backing onto the river. The moat still exists but has been reduced to about a third of its original width and is now known as the Riga Canal and is used by tourist craft and rental water craft.

Riga, as is common with most of the Baltic area, has had only limited periods of independence. Latvia was independent from 1918 to 1939 and since 1993. It has been ruled by the Russians, both Imperial and Soviet, the Danes, the Swedes, the Germans, the Poles and various odds and sods. The Latvian language is part of the Indo-European group; is similar to Lithuanian, and  both are regarded as being much closer to the original Indo-European language than other languages of this group.

About half the population is now ethnically Latvian, followed by a large group of ethnic Russians originally migrating here as part of a deliberate "sovietisation" push by the Russian communists. Latvian is the only official language but many residents, especially the younger ones, have English as a second language.  They are all so very friendly and obliging.

Most photographs, now and in the future, will generally appear under the Riga album of our photographhs so kkeep checking this album until we leave Latvia. We  are doing separate albums for tours and for the XXV Latvian Music festival, the latter will finish on the morning of 8 July.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Tallinn and rural Estonia

We arrived in Tallinn Estonia on the Ferry MS Superstar on 16 June 2013. The trip took two hours.. We spent the time nn the forward lounge drinking sparkling wine and beer. We have spent a lot of time wandering the old fortified part of the city of Tallinn. We also went on two one-day  trips and ended up completely exhausted.  Tallinn is a lovely old place at the center of the city. However, the outer suburbs have lots of those hideous Soviet condominiums. Tallinn's population is about 380,000 and the total for Estonia is about 1.8m.

The country is now independent for only the second time in its history having been ruled by a number of countries over the centuries. Most people we have met, both travelers and locals, speak good English. We will be traveling to Latvia tomorrow by  bus where we will be for three weeks.

We are sharing over forty photos of our Estonian visit. The one featured here is of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the old town of Tallinn.

You can view the photos by clicking on here.