Cuba - More than old cars
We are in store for another warm day as we leave Vilnius for Latvia and Riga. We expect to get there by 230pm so it won't be too long in the bus. As we leave Vilnius we finally see some traffic and people. This was a long weekend in Lithuania and everyone seemed to be out of the city. It made it easy to look around but it was eerie.
During the journey our tour guide went through some housekeeping issues and then put on some music from her home country Sweden – you may have guessed it – ABBA. It was quite a good selection of their songs possibly from a more recent CD.
Morning coffee and WC break was at a rustic cafe/bar. We had good coffee and then stretched a bit while having a look at a lot of wooden carvings from tree trunks. Next stop, while still in Lithuania, was the Hill of Crosses. It is thought the first crosses started appearing in 1831 after the rebellion against Russian authorities. The crosses came to represent those that had died during the wars of independence. They took on special significance during the Russian occupation from 1944-1990. They used it to demonstrate their religious allegiances. The Soviets removed the crosses a few times during Soviet time but they kept on reappearing. There is a monument to a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1993. Quite a interesting place.
There are no formalities crossing the border from Lithuania to Latvia as both are members of the EU. Our guide gave some statistics as we neared Riga as follows; population of Latvia 2.7 million with Riga having 500,000 making it the largest capital of the Baltic States. Only 52% of the population are Latvians. Average income is €500 per month. There was a huge migration to other EU countries to earn higher incomes. This is similar to Lithuania. Christianity started about 1180 but the church wanted a tax of 10% which was enough to stop the people from joining. Church then wanted eveyone baptised and the Teutonic Knights helped out by killing those that refused. There were then the usual wars that went on but this time, when the Poles and Lithuanians ruled they established a feudal system with the Latvians as the serfs. The Latvians then asked the Swedes for help and they obliged but then refused to give the Latvians their land back. The Latvians then asked the Russians for help, the Swedes and the Russians were involved as well as the Lithuanians and Poles. When the Swedes, ruled the Latvians went to the Russians for help and they got rid of the Swedes by the beginning of the 19th century. After WW I Latvia became independent but then became part of Russia again when Russia broke a treaty with Germany and moved in on Latvia to occupy them again until 1990. It has been a tough history as with most countries in this region.
After checking into another nice hotel we set off to wander around the old part of the city. The Old Town of Riga is an art deco area with most of the buildings being built around the 1920s. We are going to have a walking tour tomorrow but will include some photos of buildings here to whet your appetite for tomorrow.
We saw a bridge of locks (see photo). We have also seen this in Lithuania. When a couple get married they put a padlock on the bridge as a symbol of their commitment to each other. Some of the locks are engraved but most are not. The divorce rate over here is the same as back home – about 50%. Some of the city councils cut the locks of the bridges as they had done on the bridge in Vilnius where there were only 2 when we saw it.
We also continue to see Storks. We first saw these in Instanbul nesting on specially built towers along the highway and in the fields. We continued to see them in Lithuania and now again in Latvia on towers of a similar construction.