Latvian life and leisure

Trip Start Jul 06, 2008
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Trip End Oct 11, 2008


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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We have had a lovely couple of days in Latvia. We travelled yesterday from Vilnius, encountering rainy conditions along the way. The most rain was when we stopped at the Hill of Crosses. This is a site of pilgrimage  where hundreds come to place a cross and pray. However, it is fast becoming a tourist spot!!. The site originated back in the 15th century when as legend has it a man ,whose daughter was very ill, had a dream that told him to place a cross at this site and, of course, his daughter was cured. However, it wasn't until the 19th century that it became more popular. Then during the Stalinist years of occupation it became a symbol of resistance. The Russians had the place bulldozed several times but crosses kept reappearing even though the field was patrolled by Russian soldiers. Now there are over 300 000 crosses of various sizes, ranging from crucifixes on rosary beads to ones a couple of metres high. There is a stall selling them if you want to place your own. We got saturated walking to the place from the car park but it was an amazing sight. John Paul II visited here in 1993.
Riga is a great city. The Old Town is again partly reconstructed but as there was no bombing here during the war there are still many original buildings, especially from the 19th century. They are not restricted just to the older section but are in the City Centre as well. Baroque and Art Deco styles are evident. The reconstructed Guild Hall was renovated in 1990 and is most impressive with a wonderful clock. Our guide, Yuris, had a wealth of knowledge about various styles of architecture and some interesting stories to tell.
Just down from our hotel is a huge Freedom statue which was erected in 1920 when after WW1 Latvia became independent. During the Soviet years the statue was left but just reinterpreted. There are also some Soviet statues evident as well. The park near this statue is great, with a canal winding through and beautiful gardens.While walking along the canal we came to a small bridge which was full of padlocks. It is a tradition both here and in Lithuania for brides and grooms on their wedding day to visit various locations in the city and to place a padlock on a chosen bridge or railing to signify their wedlock!! A pity that we were told by our guide that the divorce rate is 50%!
We had both an organised tour yesterday afternoon and then we went back this morning on our own to explore the city. We also strolled down to the main square last night after dinner to soak up the atmospher at night which is always so different from the day. This is certainly a place we could come back to. We wanted to visit the Museum of the Occupation which covers both the Nazis and the Soviets but it wasn't open early enough for us. Latvia is more Lutheran than Catholic Lithuani, a result of the dominance of the German Hanseatic League and we visited one of the main churches which had been Catholic but is now converted to a Lutheran Cathedral. It has the most amazing organ and during Russian rule was used as a concert hall.
All in all a great area and one which we really enjoyed.
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