Riga is a real charmer and a contender to be the Paris of the Baltics. I know people fall all over themselves about Prague and how it is the Paris of Eastern Europe, but don’t give Riga short shrift since it has exceptional architecture, restaurants, cafes, parks, and pastry. In fact, you won’t really need to go indoors to see all of the art you might want to enjoy since the city parks are filled with good sculpture at every turn.
The Art Nouveau Museum is nice, but the buildings on Alberta Street alone should satisfy your thirst for this aesthetic genre. If you are traveling on the cheap, there is no need to spend a fortune to experience the local cuisine to the fullest. There are many inexpensive options around town to grab a great meal for 3-5 euros! Riga is already on my short list for a return visit. When I finally travel to Russia, I will probably make a pit stop for a week on my way to St. Petersburg. Definitely visit Prague, but don’t miss Riga.
Like Paris, Riga has plenty of cafés and open-air dining.
HEADING INTO THE OLD TOWN
Even the modern German brick building on the left is interesting.
ST. PETER’S CHURCH – A painting by Albrecht Dürer hung over the altar for many years until someone thought it would be a good idea to burn the masterpiece. Ironically it was set fire to on the site which houses the Art Academy of Riga.
Riga Town Hall Square
HOUSE OF BLACKHEADS – It served as a guild for the unmarried German merchants of Riga. The original was built in the early 14th. century, and as with so many beautiful structures in Europe, was bombed to rubble by the Nazis in 1941. It was reconstructed from 1995-1999 and now serves as home to the president of Latvia.
FREEDOM MONUMENT – This monument is a memorial to the soldiers who fought in Latvia’s war for independence from 1918-1920. It was unveiled in 1935 and was nearly demolished by the Soviets when they occupied Riga in 1940. Thankfully a Soviet artist, Vera Mukhina, deemed the monument as possessing to high an artistic value for destruction. The Soviets attempted to use propaganda to alter its meaning, but in the heart of the Latvian people, it always retained its original interpretation. On June 14th. 1987, 5,000 people assembled to honor the victims of the Soviet regime and lay flowers. This event reinvigorated the national independence movement which culminated three years later in the re-establishment of Latvian sovereignty after the Soviet regime.
ART NOUVEAU DISTRICT
ART NOUVEAU MUSEUM – 12 Alberta Street
SITTING ROOM AND SOLARIUM
If there’s a “Stairway to Heaven”, this would be it.
PATTERNS ON THE WALL AS YOU ASCEND THE STAIRCASE
ART NOUVEAU RESTAURANT – 13 Alberta Street
A very tasty leg of rabbit in cream sauce with carrots.
9 ALBERTA STREET – Treatment above the entry.
7 ALBERTA STREET
2a ALBERT STREET – This magnificent specimen of art nouveau pulchritude is the former address of my friends Boris and Tamara Azizov. Tamara grew up in Riga where she and Boris met. The British Philosopher Isaiah Berlin also lived in this house 1909-1915.
A PAIR OF SPHINX KEEP WATCH ON THE PROPERTY
THE OTHER SPHINX
ART ACADEMY OF RIGA
Does this sculpture look familiar? It should if you were with me in Vienna at the Natural History Museum. I’ll give you a second to collect your thoughts. It’s a modernized whimsical take on a famous 39,500-year-old sculpture.
VENUS OF WILLENDORF – Here’s the original. What do you think of the artist’s interpretation? I thought it was a delightful concept and helps to enlighten people as to the existence of the original masterpiece, its origins, and implications.
The strawberries were so sweet, juicy, and delicious.
These are special tiny wild strawberries that cost a fortune back in the States if you can even find them.
AND FOR THE CAVIAR LOVERS…..
What in God’s name is that?
CAT’S HOSTEL – It is a sanctuary for homeless cats sponsored by my hostel. The entrance leads to the cellar where they are welcome to relax and enjoy themselves free of charge.
BOAT RIDE ANYONE?
I really love the movement in this sculpture, especially the fact that there is something to be gained from viewing at different angles as opposed to this two-dimensional masterpiece by Matisse which I nevertheless adore.
Henri MATISSE – The Dance – 1910
I FELL IN LOVE WITH THIS PARK
This statue even makes a trash vulture seem desirable. It’s a seagull for those who have not made out what variety of bird this is. Riga has quite a few of them flying about given the proximity of the Baltic Sea.
An adorable bridge suffering from a terrible case of love lock blight.
Another addition to the plague of love locks found clear across Europe. Again, what a perfect way to freak a guy out than a prison analogy. Whatever happened to “If you love someone, set them free”?
Once again at least there are a number of interesting locks, and not just the cheap crap being hawked in souvenir shops. If you’re going to make a mess of some perfectly good ironwork at least invest in a decent lock. Better yet find something really special in an antique store, and have an artisan add an inscription or other interesting imagery.
MAIJA BALTINA – The artist standing next to her sculpture near the opera. I’m wasn’t sure whether she was really the artist or just a woman who was down on her luck and needed to talk to someone. I try to do something nice for someone at least once a day so I chose to accommodate her. Her name was Maija, and I took her for cappuccino and pastry and we shared some stories. I googled her name and found a Latvian sculptor referenced at 75 years old which would fit the story. Still, she did have all the trappings of a bag lady.
Latvian National Opera
For some reason, Maija took exception to this sculpture, but I really couldn’t understand her explanation.
THE ART KEEPS COMING
Rainy Day Walking Tour
BALTU ROTAS – A very nice jewelry store specializing in rings with pagan symbology, but the real story here is the horse. One fine evening a few drunk British stag party dudes happened upon this equine effigy and thought it would be a good idea to get naked and take pictures sitting on the thing. The only problem is that it was the middle of winter, bitter cold outside, and their sweaty nads adhered to our wooden friends frigid back. Any attempt to remove themselves was painful and risked them affecting a radical “sack”ectomy. So these literal numbnuts had to wait for the fire department to come and extricate them from their sticky situation.
CAT HOUSE – This is not a stylish house of ill repute, but it received the moniker due to the two cat finials on the conical towers.
THE LATVIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ART – Beautiful inside and out with a great collection of Latvian art.
FOYER LEADING TO THE GRAND STAIRCASE
Kristaps GELZIS – Over. II (This is deceptive) – 1987
Juris PUTRĀMS – Boundary I,II
Girts MUIŽNIEKS – In the Garden – 1989
Edgars ILTNERS – Masters of the Land – 1960
Janis ROZENTĀLS – Arcadia. I – 1904-1908
Kārlis HŪNS – Young Gypsy Woman – 1870
Kārlis HŪNS – Italian Courtyard – 1871
Jānis LIEPINŠ – Still Life with Pipe – 1927
Niklāvs STRUNKE – At the Table (Smokers) – 1923
Karlis PADEGS – Madonna with a Machine Gun – 1932
Jānis TIDEMANIS – Divorced Wives -1934
Jēkabs BELZĒNS – Portrait of my Daughter – 1909
VW BUS BAR – One last work of art at the hostel next door.
Next Stop Tallinn, Estonia.