Latvia & Lithuania


Although there are many countries that border the Baltic Sea, the three countries that are referred to as the Baltic States include Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. We had already visited Estonia, so yesterday and today were dedicated to the other two Baltic States. We arrived in Riga, Latvia yesterday afternoon after sailing the entire morning (and previous night) almost due east from Gotland, Sweden. After lunch we disembarked the NG Explorer and took several buses to the Old Town of Latvia’s capital city. And, as you can probably guess, it’s a beautiful one! Again, cobblestone streets, cafes, small shops, and open markets. But what sets Riga aside from the other towns and cities we have visited is its distinct and distinguished architecture. Latvia has a long history of foreign occupation, from Russia to Germany to Poland, then Sweden. It gained independence in 1918 and remained free until 1940 when the Soviet Union regained control. Finally, in 1991 Latvia became its own independent nation. So you can probably imagine how all of those occupations influenced the country’s architectural styles as well as its culture and traditions. The most famous architectural style of Riga, however, is the Art Nouveau technique of the 19th and 20th centuries. Characterized by detailed carvings, especially of animals and faces, decorative moldings, towers, spires, columns, etc… Art Nouveau is quite impressive. We took a walking tour through the narrow alleyways of the city, stopping to photograph the more impressive buildings (many of which are being used as Embassy offices. Comically, though the US Embassy is housed in what our guide referred to as a drab Soviet non-architecture building) and listening to our guide recount the history of Latvia. We had two special performances arranged for us later in the afternoon. The first was a dance performance by a group of young children and older teenagers dressed in traditional custom. The music was also from Latvia as were the dance routines. They wheeled and reeled and stomped to the music just several feet in front of where were were seated. It was definitely a highlight to my trip so far! They were great and seemed genuinely happy to be dancing for us.

The second performance was just down the street in a old church. The Dome Cathedral, as it is called, is home to the worlds largest organ, built in 1883. With 6768 pipes, some as high as 10 meters (almost 33 feet!), it is a massive contraption. Besides being the worlds largest, the organ is also famous because it can produce different sounds such as waves, bells, piano, and a number of other melodies. We were treated to a half hour concert that consisted of four different musical pieces. Each one showed the extent of the organs (and organists!) capabilities. Once again, it was a great performance.

After the concert we didn’t have much time left in town, but I wandered around with a few other guests, peering into shop windows and comparing pieces of amber jewelry, of which this region is highly famous for. Then it was back to the ship for dinner and a rocky ride to Lithuania!

Lithuania

We had another leisurely morning at sea today and I spent most of it in bed (did I mention how comfy these mattresses are?), catching up on sleep.

Lithuania is the only Baltic country that doesn’t have its capital on the Baltic shores, so in the afternoon we docked in its third largest city, Klaipeda. We only had a brief few hours in the country, so we made the most of our time. We started with a walking tour of the city center, which had more of an old-world feel to me. Possibly because the buildings haven’t undergone as progressive of a restoration as Estonia and Latvia.

After the walking tour we took a bus outside of the city and north to the small town of Palanga. Along the way we could see the rural, green landscape of Lithuania’s countryside. Palanga is famous to vacationers and resort-goers for its botanical gardens, amber museum, and long sandy beaches. We visited all three. The gardens were beautiful and well manicured and the museum was interesting (especially the pieces of amber with several million-year-old insects trapped inside), but I was eager to walk along the sandy coastline. The wind was quite strong and it was chilly, but I did see one person braving the cold and waves. What I loved best, though, standing on the beach, were the clouds overhead. They were magnificent! And the lowering sun made the light great for pictures.

Too soon it was time to start walking back through the gardens to the buses that would return us to our ship. Our guide gave us a small gift of amber pieces that she said we could dissolve in a bottle of vodka (or tea) and drink as a medicinal tonic. Who knew amber had healing properties?

We had another surprise waiting for us back on the ship. The head chef had gone out and gotten local Lithuanian cheese and three types of beer while we were onshore. We enjoyed them as we headed out of the harbor west toward Poland, our destination for tomorrow!

For dinner the Phillipine crew prepared us a traditional Philippine feast. It was delicious, but I could have done without seeing the whole roasted pig.

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One Response

  1. More amazing photos! What is the name of the App you use again? Would like to ad it to my phone! Love your blog!

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