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Posts Tagged ‘riga’

Other Rigas

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Although my primary interest in Riga was Art Nouveau, I explored other parts of the city as well. I particularly liked the parks that lay between my hotel and the old town. My first afternoon I found the Orthodox cathedral, rather more impressive inside than those I had visited in Helsinki and Tallinn, and the iconic statue at the entrance to the old town. I have to confess that my favorite place around the parks, however, was the Apsara tea house. Not only did it boast a bewildering array of teas (including two varieties of my favorite white tea), after you climbed the spiral staircase to the top floor and took your shoes off, you could relax on cushions on the floor and watch the passing parade in comfort.

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One day I took a bus north through the suburbs to visit the Open Air museum. Now I’ve visited open air museums in Wales and in the Netherlands and found them fascinating, and easily worth several hours. Unfortunately, I can’t put Riga’s in the same class. There are, after all, only so many wooden storage buildings, and even houses, you can look at without them all looking the same. And unlike the wooden houses I had seen in Russia, these were very plain – it was only houses from the far eastern reaches of Latvia that showed any decoration at all.

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One afternoon I trekked over to the main market, held in four former zeppelin hangers. It was a very clean and orderly market, and I didn’t take pictures. The next afternoon I walked the other way along the waterfront (mostly occupied by a very busy road), and admired the suspension bridge. Just inland, I found a new gold statue with an inscription in Latvian and Russian. I enlisted the help of a young woman nearby, who was befriending a stray cat, and she told me that the statue was very new – she hadn’t seen it before – and was a new concept, as it was of an “ordinary” citizen of Riga.

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I thought perhaps the wooden buildings in the Russian section of town might be more interesting, and took a bus off to the other side of the river. But no – those buildings were in serious need of TLC, and didn’t look like they had boasted much decoration when new. I should have visited the “garden” suburb instead. I grew up in Letchworth, in England, known as the First Garden City, and had been intrigued to read that this part of Riga made the same claim (wikipedia backs Letchworth). I’ll check it out next time, as Riga made my revisit list.

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Riga: Art Nouveau

Riga surprised me – much bigger and more crowded than I expected. But being bigger turned out to be a good thing, because Riga has enough space for its multiple personalties to flourish.

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Cheap flights bring in the drinkers and partiers, who populate the old town’s cafes and pubs. I took a look around there, mostly to check out the buildings. Oddly, it was busiest on Monday afternoon, and things quieted down considerably as the week progressed. I don’t know whether Monday was the end of some long weekends, or whether the wetter weather kept people indoors. Aside from one expensive drink at an outdoor cafe on one of the main squares, and a good meal at the Hotel Neiburg (so-so mushroom soup but delicious salmon salad with avocado and fennel) I visited the old town only to take pictures and pick up some information at the T.I.

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I had come to visit a newer part of Riga, home to the largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings anywhere. Where the old town walls once stood, a river and a necklace of pretty parks now keep the two sides of Riga apart. I had chosen a hotel in the newer section, the Hotel Edvards, which sounded small and comfortable in the In Your Pocket write up, and which I loved. I gave it the highest rating on tripadvisor, not something I often do.

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My first afternoon I took advantage of the sunshine to visit the Art Nouveau buildings scattered around the old town. The next morning I had arranged with a woman I had “met” on the fodors.com discussion board to get together for coffee, and on the way I took a look at the Art Nouveau museum at Alberta 12 (http://www.jugendstils.riga.lv/eng/muzejs ) and picked up some brochures. I enjoyed both our talk, and the lovely Art Cafe Sienna my new friend had chosen.

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Reading the brochures I made a discovery. Turns out there are three kinds of Art Nouveau, at least in this part of the world: Eclectic, Perpendicular (or Vertical) and Romantic/Nationalist, which explains the confusion I had felt in Helsinki, where there was very little Eclectic Art Nouveau. Unfortunately, I very much prefer Eclectic, which is the style I really think of as Art Nouveau. While I saw plenty of Eclectic in Riga, many of the buildings in the brochures belonged to the other styles.

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