In the morning the sun was shining and the roofs of the buildings opposite were still covered by a white blanket of thick snow with a cold frosty sparkle that just shouted out ‘Winter’. Outside the hotel front door an old lady was efficiently clearing the snow from the taxi rank and the footpaths by scraping away with an oversized plastic shovel that seemed to be difficult work but most effective.
Micky was up first of course and I found him in the hotel lobby having returned from dawn patrol and still digesting the cabbage pasty that he had experimentally ordered, recklessly consumed and immediately regretted in a coffee shop around the corner. It didn’t spoil his appetite though and we all enjoyed the hotel’s generous hot buffet breakfast.
First of all today we reacquainted ourselves with the fabulous Art Nouveau buildings that were all quite close to our hotel. There had been a lot of restoration activity since we were last here and the pace of regeneration to repair years of neglect was very impressive. The buildings looked different this time bathed in soft winter sunshine with snow on the roofs and when we had done enough neck craning to peer upwards towards the statues and friezes we left this part of the city and walked once again through the spacious parks towards the city centre.
The snow was still mostly undisturbed and looked sensational in the bright sunshine. The canal, which runs around the city, was frozen solid where hooded crows were scavenging unsuccessfully and stranded ducks were optimistically looking for running water. After an aimless wander through the parks we were unsure of our position and we left navigation to Kim who was confident that she knew where we were.
And rather surprisingly she was correct and after another park we emerged at the Freedom Monument just in time to see the eleven o’clock goose-stepping changing of the guard ceremony where the young soldiers that had stood there in the cold for the last hour looked mighty relieved to see their replacements.
Next to the monument was the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, which had also been recently restored in an ugly duckling transformation from a grimy communist grey to a resplendent sandstone yellow under black domes with gleaming crosses. The renovated brickwork was clean and sharp with red brick stripes and elaborate white columns soaring into the immaculate blue sky above.
Russian Orthodox Church buildings differ in design from most western type churches because interiors are decorated with many sacramental objects including holy icons and murals covering most of the walls. Some of these images represent the Theotokos (Mother of God), the saints, and scenes from their varied and interesting lives.
Sue, Christine, Kim and I went inside but I think Micky feared either religious conversion or divine retribution for past sins and he stayed firmly outside. He missed a treat. The communists had closed the cathedral as a place of worship and had converted the building into a planetarium but the place was surely more heavenly than ever now that it had been returned to its intended purpose. The interior was bright and cheerful, was adorned with shining icons and smelled of sweet burning incense and to one side there was a service of some kind attended by a standing congregation who were in a very solemn mood.
Last time we came here there was corpse laid out in a casket and we suspected that this might be a funeral service but I wasn’t tall enough to see over the shoulders of the congregation and I though it rude to intrude to close to the front because of a macabre interest. The service was attended by nuns in black robes and pointy hats who looked like extras from the Lord of the Rings and was led by a priest in a lavish scarlet and gold robe. We stayed for a while to satisfy our curiosity and then left to find Micky who was still outside but maintaining a safe distance from the Cathedral doors.
At the market square we watched people skating and strolled through a small winter market and then we got lost again and based on her earlier success (which I put down to beginners luck!) we let Kim have another attempt at finding the way to the House of the Blackheads which we had identified as a likely place for a drinks break.
We looked out into the town hall square and tried to identify the position of the web-cam to see if we could establish if it was genuine or not but we couldn’t. There was a lot of snow clearing activity with a man in a tractor with a snow plough working quickly and efficiently to clear the square and he made a really good job of it too. The city clearly had an efficient risk management strategy with a comprehensive snow clearance plan.
Next stop was a trip to the top of a church tower to see the city from an elevated perspective and from here we could better appreciate the patchwork quilt of coloured roofs and pastel facades looking even more attractive under the snowy mantle that decorated them. Luckily we didn’t have to climb to the top and there was an attended lift that raised us to the summit.
We had ten minutes at the viewing platform which was about nine more than we really needed considering how cold it was with a bitter wind that felt like icy needles being driven into our faces; so we were careful therefore that we didn’t miss the descent when the lift came back to collect us and return us to the ground floor and back to the street.
Back at street level we strolled through a little restored medieval area called the Konsenta Veta that had been converted into a hotel, restaurants and small shops. The shoppers amongst us were seduced into an amber jewelry shop but Micky and I successfully resisted the temptation to accompany them inside. They took longer than expected so after we had organised a search party to rescue them it was time for lunch and we went to the Lido again which thankfully was serving this time; we choose our seats and then enjoyed a cheap and rustic lunch of bread and soup.
More posts about Riga…
Rosa Klebb’s endurance sightseeing tour of Riga
Latvia Dining – a Chronic Case of Indecision
Riga – Festival of the Family and a BBQ
Br-r-r-r. Snow in such a lovely vacation spot.
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I can barely look at photos of snow Andrew. It feels like the white stuff might fall on us tonight. On another note can I ask if you have kept all of these tickets over the years? Or have you scanned them?
I am a hoarder by nature. Most of the entrance tickets I have found slipped in between the pages of the guide books that I have had with me at the time and I have scanned them in.
I hope that snow stays away a while longer! I once visited Yellowstone in October and the coach driver was in a panic because snow was forecast and he was worried about getting stuck in the park for the winter!
Good idea to scan them in! I am the opposite and am more of a minimalist but scanning them gives me a whole new thought about hanging on to such things.
Yes the sad truth about winter for some parts of our paradise is that the roads become closed. Period. See you in spring.
Liked this one again the second time around! 🙂
Thanks Gunta – I need to go back to Riga for real!
Cheating! A lift??? 🙂
I’m pretty sure I’d love this place. In Summer!
Anytime is a good time in Riga!
I visited Riga in February once, but only for four hours before our ship left the harbor! I wish I could go back and stay longer, one of my favorite things to photograph when I travel is architecture and Riga has so much beautiful architecture! Thanks for sharing your pictures!
Then I am certain that you would like the Art Nouveau area in Riga!
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You do get around, don’t you.
Just an old recycled post Derrick!
Never been there but Riga has fascinated me since a history lesson many, many years ago when we had to learn about one Brother Brown or Riga, but for the life of me I cannot remember what it was all about. I think it was to do with medieval life. Your article brings me smack up to date and I will go one day, but not in winter!
Summer is probably better I have to agree!
Stunning photos Andrew, I know you don’t appreciate the “like like like” syndrome but they are rather good!
Riga is (was) a wonderful city. We went there several times from 2005 to 2011. Sadly by the last visit it was becoming a bit of a stag party venue which took the shine off it!
Gone the way of Prague then! Sad.
Yes, when we went for the first time it was in the early days of Ryanair and it was really something special, It had some seedy aspects and these seem to have caught the attention of the stag parties looking for cheap beer and thrills. The last time that we went it had become rapidly commercialised and more expensive. rather sad!
I’m awaiting moderation?
Don’t know why that is!
I enjoyed the update very much, especially the response to DrB for the update. Only time I went back to visit, was the autumn of ’89 when the Soviets were still very much in charge, but things had begun to stir toward cleaning up. I had heard rumors of the stag parties. What a stupid shame. I’m not likely to return at this point, but if I did go it would likely be to visit kin left behind there out in the rural eastern parts. I hope things have changed for better there. It was pretty sad when I saw it.
Riga changed quite quickly. The first time I went was in 2005 when it was a new destination, the last time was 2008 and the transformation to ‘Stag City’ was complete. Such a shame because it has put me off going back again.
The Baltic States are on the wish list. I would find the history and architecture fascinating but suspect it has become rather commercial in recent years?
Yes and sadly very quickly. I first went to Riga in 2005 just as it was beginning to attract the first tourists and it was wonderful but very quickly it lost its appeal for me as it became commercialised and expensive. I last went in 2009.
I’m sure it would be very different now – very geared up for tourists and stag and hen parties! We were vaguely thinking of doing a Baltic Cruise at some point – the ships stop at Tallin in Estonia but not Riga for some reason.
Riga is bad for stag and hen parties, Tallinn is very commercialised in the Old Town but probably worth a visit. Most cruise ship itineraries seem to by-pass Riga and go to Tallinn, St Petersburg and Helsinki. Perhaps there is an operational reason?
Yes I wonder why that would be – have noticed it on the itineraries I’ve seen. Must be some reason to do with the harbour maybe, licences or maybe the locals don’t like the idea of cruise ships docking and taking over the place!