We started our da with a Tour of the Old City with a local guide and walked through the narrow streets to the town centre. Founded in 1202 by Bishop Albert, head of the Order of Teutonic Knights, Riga still boasts a multicultural population.
Our first stop was the Art Nuvo district around Old Town. The Art Nouveau movement began in Riga by 1899. Its peculiar features were the unusual shapes, flowing lines, floral motifs, the combination of fairy elements and geometric ornaments. It has been estimated that in Riga 30% of the buildings is Art Nouveau, something which makes the city a real open air museum of this art style. We entered Old Town passing by the Freedom Monument which is a memorial honouring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence. It is considered an important symbol of the freedom, independence, and sovereignty of Latvia. Unveiled in 1935, the 42-metre high monument of granite, travertine, and copper often serves as the focal point of public gatherings and official ceremonies in Riga. A sports festival was being held here during our stay, with an ice hockey rink as its centrepiece in the plaza where the monument stands.
Riga's Old Town has medieval streets. Places of interest were the Town Hall Square at the end of Kalku Street. The Museum of Occupations, the rebuilt Town Hall, and the stunning House of Blackheads, also rebuilt after the Second World War, surround the square. The cobbled streets were filled with small cafes and interesting gift shops. St Peters Church was built in 1209 and has a statue of Bremen Town Musicians outside. We also passed St Johns Church, Convent of the Saint Spirit, Painters Street, Guild Hall, the Cat House, the Powder Tower, Bastion Hill, Swedish Gate, Parliament Building, St James Cathedral, Riga Town Hall, Statue of Roland, Central Market, Latvian Opera House, National Museum of Art, St Gerthrude Old Church and the National Library.
After our guided walk around Old Town Sandy, Martin, Pete and I headed back to the Riga Museum which was very interesting. Then we walked to the KGM Museum. It looks like a completely normal - even beautiful - building from the outside, but it hides plenty of horror. The KGB building was a place of terror for many years, and it is now home to a museum that tries to keep the rooms in tune with the period. We took a guided tour around the Cornerhouse which was a sobering experience but very worthwhile. We learnt about the history of Latvia at the KGB headquarters and saw where prisoners slept, were tortured and killed. We visited the prison, interrogation rooms, 'exercise' courtyard and execution area. It was a chilling experience, and it left a lasting impression on us: it is horrific just to think what went on in there. However, it is necessary to have places like this so we can all understand the history of Europe. Well worth it, and a great contrast with the beautiful, peaceful side of Riga.
We walked across the road and had a coffee before heading to the Golden Dome Church - Christ Orthodox. The building was beautiful inside. Then we walked to the Stalin Wedding Cake Building (The Academy of Sciences Building). Like many former Communist countries has removed lots of traces of its Soviet past. The Academy of Sciences Building survived. Locals nickname it Stalin's Wedding Cake. I rather liked it myself. There are still some hammer and sickle emblems on it. The building is 65 metres high. There is an observation deck on the 17th-floor where the lift only goes to the 15th and you have to walk the rest. The panoramic views of Riga are outstanding from the observation deck. We could see our hotel in the distance (about 5 kms away). We walked back to our hotel and made it for happy hour. Pete and I went out for dinner to Bangas. I tried the local speciality - potato cakes stuffed mostly with meat, but also with mushrooms or carrots, served with a sizeable blotch of thick sour cream and Pete and a T Bone. After dinner Pete and I walked back to the Freedom Monument and watched some of the Hockey and other sporting activities in the neighbouring parklands.