Latvia – Youth, architectural beauty and music

By | Category: Travel destinations

Youth, architectural beauty and music really stood out for us in Latvia.

Art Nouveau facade, Riga

Art Nouveau facade, Riga

Art Nouveau Riga

Art Nouveau Riga

Riga (the capital pop. 800,000) is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its celebrated streets of Art Nouveau facades mainly from 1900 to 1917 and many are apartment buildings still in use . The architecture now has its own museum: Rigas Jugendstila Centrs. A curious city feature is the hundreds of spires – not just on churches.  Map reading by spire can be easier than reading street names.

Art Nouveau detail

Art Nouveau detail

Staircase in Jugendstila Centrs

Staircase in Jugendstila Centrs

Riga city of spires

Riga city of spires

As well as many concerts, there are daily opera or ballet performance at the charming National Opera.  In London the best seats at Covent Garden are £180 each, in Riga tickets range from £4 to £37 and for that you get an elegant individual gilt chair.  We went to the “World premier” of a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, now in their regular repertoire. The moment the curtains opened it was clearly a winner – set on a cruise liner !  It’s a stunning production with the lecherous and manipulative Don whispering among the sunloungers.   A bonus is that the surtitles for all the productions are in English (plus Latvian). 

Latvian National Opera

Latvian National Opera

Don Giovanni toasts his conquests

Don Giovanni toasts his conquests

Sympathy for Don Giovanni

Sympathy for Don Giovanni

We were fortunate to be asked to the post-production party attended by the Prime Minister

Valdis Dombrovskis who at 38, is a young leader of a young country – the Soviets left Latvia in 1991. There is a great pride in their national heritage among all ages. The Opera Premier coincided with the annual Long Night of the Museums in Riga when galleries and museums stay open all night. Needless to say refreshments are provided and little of the music was classical.  Some new galleries are in warehouses with bare brick interiors: the atmosphere was a bit 1960’s

The end for Don Giovanni

The end for Don Giovanni

The best way to get around Riga is on the on the newly launched hop-on hop-off boat service covering 24 stops around the City using two stylish wooden vessels one commissioned in 1902.  Tickets are only a few pounds: see timetables etc. on www.kmk.lv.  The route covers Riga Centre and the Old Town including Spikeri , Central Market – the largest covered market in Europe comprising six vast former Zeppelin  hangers.   The Spikeri area has a great atmosphere and includes warehouses being developed into art galleries, cinemas, and fringe theatre.  It already has a night market and a wide range of free events and it is claimed that by 2012 it will be the “epicentre of Riga’s creativity”.

Central Riga by boat

Central Riga by boat

There is well known notoriety to other aspects of Riga’s night life, not associated with its World Heritage. We recommend caution and on the spot advice – maybe the traditional “ask the Concierge” route !

Spire on apartments, Riga

Spire on apartments, Riga

The Old Town is best seen on foot and all the good guide books have suggested walks.  There are some sad echoes of the recent past with the ‘Jews in Latvia’  Museum and the site of the Great Choral Synagogue and, of course, Soviet manifestations.  But it so happens, that the best views of the Riga landscape is at the top of Academy of Sciences, Soviet built in a style referred  to as “Stalin Baroque”.

Another sort of Soviet legacy with a good view is the former high rise Intourist  Hotel – now totally refurbished, as the larger of the two Reval hotels in the City. 

Food:  It is possible  to avoid the “international menus” and enjoy Sorrel soup, notable among local specialities,  which include: Pelekie Zirni,  soaked beans with diced fried bacon and onion;  cold salted herring with boiled carrots, beetroot, onions and sour cream; Tsar’s fish soup with sturgeon, pike and perch;  baked pork ribs with sauerkraut and  creamy desserts with berries.

 Riga has a great deal to offer and, by the way, has some great late night spots with music, food, conversation and attractive folk and no evident signs of pre-nuptial activities ! 

Air Baltic: www.airbaltic.com
Tourist info: www.latviatourism.lv

Riga River boats: www.kmk.lv

Reval Hotel:  www.revlahotels.com

Our packages:              
www.baltictravelcompany.com
www.baltictours.com

Money:
1 Lat = £1.15   (variable)

All photographs ©2009 Anthony Lydekker

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