Latvia Trips

Lithuania - Vilnius - Day 2 - Hill of Three Crosses, Church of St. Paul and St. Peter and Gediminas Avenue

Guido Amberotti

Latvia

The Northern Parts of Old Vilnius:

Main Attractions: Rūdninkų Square, St. John Cathedral, Cathedral Square, River Neris, Hill of Three Crosses, St. Peter and St. Paul's Church, Gediminas Avenue, Genocide Museum, Mother of God Church.

Duration: 1 day. Distance: 13 km. Weather: the walk is along open spaces.  No rain or wind. Start: Comfort LT 'Rock and Roll' Hotel. End: Vilnius Bus Station.

Our 2nd day Itinerary:

We start our day with a 700 m. walk to the Margutis (see our "Vilnius - Day 1" blog. From Comfort Hotel LT - Rock 'N' Roll Hotel, Kauno g. 14 we head east on Kauno g. toward Mindaugo g., 300 m. We turn left onto Šv. Stepono g., 400 m and turn left onto Pylimo g. for 10 m. The 'Egg' (Margutis) is on the left:

Continue walking north-east onto Rūdninkų g. and 65 m. further, on your right, is the All Saints Church, Rūdninkų g. 20:

We continue, in the same direction (NE) along Rūdninkų g. crossing   Ligoninės g.. On our left is a green, small park with sculptures- Rūdninkų Square (Rūdninkų g. skveras):

Continue northeast on Rūdninkų g., cross Dysnos g. on your left and continue toward Rotušės a. Turn left onto Rotušės a., 35 m. Slight right to stay on Rotušės a., 220 m. Continue onto Didžioji g., 200 m. We are in the Town Hall Square (see "Vilnius Day 1" blog:

Continue onto Pilies g., 110 m. On your right you can look at the original souvenirs of the Lithuanian touristic gifts shops:

In case you missed the ascent to St. John Cathedral in Vilnius University - for having a panoramic  view of Old Vilnius - turn left onto Šv. Jono g., 45 m. Pay 1.5 euros/person to be entitled to enter the St. John bell tower. Climb 27 stairs and use the elevator to arrive to the roof terrace. Just remember that the wonderful views are spoiled by ugly-netted windows up there:

Compass in the entrance to the elevator:


You can see the Hill of Three Crosses from the far distance (see below):

Gediminas Castle from St. John Cathedral roof terrace:

Vilnius University from St. John Cathedral roof terrace:

Return west along Šv. Jono g. and turn LEFT (north)  on Pilies g. toward Šv. Mykolo g., 250 m. In the end of Pilies g., on your left, you see the studio of Adam Mickiewicz, where he lived during the years 1815-1819 (as a student in the Faculty of Education in Vilnius University):

Turn left onto Šventaragio g., 55 m. Turn right, 95 m and we are,again (see "Vilnius - Day 1" blog) in the huge courtyard opposite the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, Katedros a. 4. Opposite is the Inner court of Grand Dukes Palacewhich stands in the Cathedral square and was created by Vytautas Kasuba, and was put up in the Cathedral Square. Gediminas lived between 1275 and 1341 and ruled the Grand Duchy of Lithuania for 25 years. He moved the capital of Lithuania from Trakai to Vilnius. He was better known as a diplomat who attracted the attention of Europe to Lithuania than as a military chief. It was in the letters of Gediminas to Western Europe that the name of Vilnius was mentioned for the first time in 1323. This year is considered to be the year of the founding of Vilnius. Gediminas succeeded in expanding the state borders and the sphere of influence of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania far to the east and south. Under the rule of Gediminas, Vitebsk and Volyn were annexed while the lands of Kievan Rus fell into a vassal dependence of the Duchy. On their trip west, the army of Gediminas even approached Berlin. The area of the Lithuanian state doubled during the times of Gediminas. He was better known as a diplomat than as a military chief. The huge square is easy to spot, nice to stop and is a nice surrounding:

We already visited the Grand Dukes Palace during our first day in Vilnius (see "Vilnius - Day 1") blog.

Inner court of Grand Dukes Palace:

Since, we visited most of the sites in the Cathedral Square during our 1st day in Vilnius - we skipped all these attractions and moved to the north, back side of the Cathedral and the Grand Dukes Palace. Here, you cross an extensive park (Vilniaus pilių valstybinis kultūrinis rezervatas) along an asphalted path - where the National Museum of Lithuania (Lietuvos nacionalinis muziejus,

the Old Arsenal and the Museum of Applied Arts and Design (Taikomosios dailės ir dizaino muziejusis) on your right (from south-west to north-east) and Gediminas Castle is further distant on your right (east).

You can't miss the giant Stonehead Sculptures looking very much like Easter Island statues. These three carvings are a little way down towards the river Neris:

On your walk through the park - you will see the River Neris on your left, undulating through the heart of Vilnius, passing near iconic attractions such as Gediminas Castle for example:

Vilnius Old Town extends SOUTH to the river. The north-western end of the park meets King Mindaugas Bridge (Karaliaus Mindaugo tiltas) over the Neris river. This bustling intersection is VERY PRETTY and you can get breath-taking views from both of the river banks:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------A short detour: follow the paths along the edge of the riverbank and create your own guided tour. You can follow the curves of the river for a perfect stroll at any time of the year, and there are more than just picturesque banks to discover. The paths allow you to admire the stunning architecture, Old and New Vilnius and bridges from a different perspective. The best time is to take a tour at sunset and enjoy the illuminations of the city by night:

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From the most north-west corner of the park (intersection of T. Vrublevskio g. and Arsenalo g.) we take the asphalted path parallel to the Arsenalo g. street and walk from west to east (Neris river on our left). We pass through Skirpos al. on our right and cross the Vilnia river over a small bridge and follow the signpost to the Hill of Three Crosses. Avoid the ascent IN A VERY HOT DAY. Take water with you. A steep path but relatively short walk up (approx. 20 minutes).Beyond the bridge we turn RIGHT and slight LEFT up to the hill. The first two thirds of the ascent to the Hill of Three Crosses is shady, but zig-zags up. On our left is the official Parking lot . We take the right leg and continue climbing further for 10 minutes. We pass an amphitheatre on our left. 3 minutes later we turn RIGHT to an array of 150 stairs - leading, at last, to the Three Crosses. The hill itself with the brilliant three white-washed crosses is quite impressive:

The original crosses were wooden and the local residents would replace them once they have been rotted. At the top you will find the original crosses which are laying down. However they were replaced with concrete ones in 1916 but were sadly destroyed by the Soviets in the 1950s. This all has been replaced by the current monument which overlooks the city. From the Hill of Three Crosses you get a panoramic  view over Vilnius. BUT, it is quite disappointing and DOES NOT rival of the view from St. John Cathedral or from the Cathedral Belfry Bell Tower. During the morning or evening hours you can watch the hot-air balloons taking-off and fly over the city:

The forest around the Hill of the Three Crosses:

Note: there are alternative routes to arrive the the Hill of Three Crosses. There is way from the Bernardine Park or from Gediminas Castle. Both of the are unsafe. The wooden stairs coming from the south are unstable, quite horrifying and might be a danger if you don't calculate your steps beforehand. 

We descended the hill and walked down along the the same spiral road - leading to the Kosciuskos g. This street is leading us to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (Vilniaus Sv. Apastalu Petro ir Povilo parapija).  It is a 1.1 km. walk, under the trees, from the Bridge over Vilnia river (where we started our climb to the Hill of Three Churches) to the Church of St Peter and St Paul. It is a moderate climb. Kosciuskos g. is sloping upward with our face to the church - No.1 attraction in Vilnius. You can every bus which passes through Kosciuskos g. (also tram CG)  - but it is 2 stops ride only. Trolleys and buses stop almost across the street from the church. When we start climbing, the Neris river is on our left. We can see a green park with several statues on the banks of Neris river. On your way up - be careful when you cross a public parking lot. It is not a long walk - but you might be tired after climbing to the Hill of Three Crosses.

The stunning St. Peter and St. Paul's Church is located in the Antakalnis neighbourhood of Vilnius. It is regarded as one of the 16 most beautiful churches in the world. It was a former monastery complex. Its interior is astonishing collection of some 2,000 stucco figures by Giovanni Pietro Perti and ornamentations by Giovanni Maria Galli and is unique in Europe. The church is regarded as a masterpiece of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Baroque. The church is a 17th-century basilica with a traditional cross floor plan and a dome allowing extra light into its exceptional white interior. The central facade is framed by two bell towers that are circular at the bottom and octagonal at the top. The bells are from 1668. The double broken pediment has a relief of Mary standing on a cannon, flags, and other military attributes. Below the relief, Latin inscription reads REGINA PACIS FUNDA NOS IN PACE (Queen of Peace, protect us in peace) and reflects the intentions of the founder Pac and is a word play on his last name. Pac the founder is buried under the threshold of the church (his own wish) so that people would trample over him, the great sinner... Keep in mind that this church might be very busy with hordes of visitors. The pure whiteness of sculptures and intricate stucco carvings inside are unusual and very impressive. Once inside - you will be blown away. All that without the standard gold decorations. FREE. Opening hours: everyday: 06.00 - 18.00. Photography is allowed inside:

Further below is the main portal, surrounded by two creatures holding papal tiara (symbol of Saint Peter) and a sword (symbol of Saint Paul). 

The main entrance is flanked by two large sculptures of Saint Christopher carrying baby Jesus and a skeleton standing on crowns and other symbols of power.

Its interior has over 2,000 different decor elements that creates a stunning atmosphere. The main designer of the decor plan is not known. It could be the founder Pac, monks of the Lateran, or Italian artists. No documents survive to elaborate the creating artist and explain the ideas behind the decorations, therefore various art historians attempted to find one central theme: Pac's life and/or Polish–Lithuanian relations. 

The internal decor combines a great variety of symbols, from local (patron of Vilnius Saint Christopher) to Italian saints, from specific saints to allegories of virtues. There are many decorative elements – floral (acanthus, sunflowers, rues, fruits), various objects (military weapons, household tools, liturgical implements, shells, ribbons), figures (angels, soldiers), fantastical creatures (demons, dragons, centaurs), Pac's coat of arms, masks: a huge variety of elements which are individualized, rarely repeating. The variety of the stuccos is tremendous and unexpected in a Catholic Church. Once inside you are astonished by the beautiful architecture and amazing paintings on the ceiling. You can spend hours observing everything inside:

St. Florianus:

 

The nave is dominated by plain white walls that contrast with the opulent decorations elsewhere. From the central nave, the entrance to each of the four chapels has two allegorical female figures. The central nave is also decorated with evenly spaced sculptures of the twelve apostles. It also has a number of torture scenes from the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire - but, these are not, immediately, visible. The nave has narrow side aisles which are turned into interconnecting chapels: Women's or Queens', Saint Augustine's, Saint Ursula's, and Soldiers' or Knights'.

 A noticeable feature is the missing main altar. Instead, Kazimierz Jelski sculpted four prophets (Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Elijah) while Franciszek Smuglewicz painted the large central painting depicting the emotional final parting of Saint Peter and Paul. 

Four other paintings hang in the choir: another painting by Smuglewicz depicting Archangel Michael, painting of Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, a formal portrait of founder Michał Kazimierz Pac, and a painting of crucified Jesus. The ceiling of the apse is decorated with three stucco reliefs depicting the conversion of Paul the Apostle, calling of Saint Peter, and handing over of the keys of Heaven to Peter by Christ. This scene emphasizes that Peter and subsequent popes derived their power directly from God.

Above them, there is a relief of the Holy Spirit represented as a dove. The ceiling of the choir has a relief of the dinner at Emmaus. Next to it, there is a Latin inscription that reads "domus dei aedificata est supra firmam petram" (your house is built on firm rock). The dome's pendentives depict the Four Evangelists. The inscription surrounding the base of the dome: "Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram edificabo ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevale buntadversus eam" (You are Peter (rock) and on that rock I shall build my church and gates of hell shall not prevail against it) is from the Confession of Peter and is the same as that of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. 

Above it, there are sculptures of four Doctors of the Church: Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine (his sculpture can be seen from the entrance), Saint Ambrose, and Pope Gregory I. A boat-shaped chandelier made of brass and glass beads hangs from the middle of the dome and reminds that Saint Peter was a fisherman. Made by craftsmen from Liepāja and installed in 1905, it had eight seven-branch candle holders. 

The ceiling is decorated with five frescoes which are the second largest ceiling frescoes (after the Pažaislis Monastery) in Lithuania. The three smaller frescoes above the organ form a triptych from Saint Peter's life: healing a cripple, escape from prison, and vision of a sheet with animals. The other two frescoes depict Quo vadis? and Peter's confrontation with Simon Magus. This boat chandelier is really outstanding ! The coin box, near the entrance turns on the lights for the chandelier:

After visiting in the St. Peter and St. Paul's Church - we head to our next destination: the Gediminas Avenue. In case you, probably, want to dine head to Sakwa restaurant. It is on your way to the bus stop. From the church - head west, 10 m. Sharp left toward M. K. Paco g., take the stairs, 45 m. Turn right onto M. K. Paco g., walk 100 m.  and the restaurant  is on the left. A lot of space. Budget prices. Polish food. Traditional appeal. Filling and tasty. Take any BUS or TRAM which rides down to the Neris river and drop off at the intersection of Kosciuskos g. and King Mindaugas Bridge (Karaliaus Mindaugo tiltas) (over the Neris river). 

Continue south on Karaliaus Mindaugo tiltas toward Arsenalo g. (on your right) and Žygimantų gatvė (on your left) and continue southward along T. Vrublevskio g., 230 m. Continue onto Šventaragio g., 50 m. Turn right onto Gedimino pr or Gediminas Avenue. In the beginning of the Gediminas Avenue - we see the Vilnius Cathdral Belfry (Bell Tower) on our left:

Gediminas Avenue is a nice street to walk down and see a mixture of old and new combined together. High end shops, government buildings, hotels and parks. It will remind you the Champs-Élysées in Paris - BUT, far less bustling and crowded. The avenue is totally sleepy. The avenue start with the Cathedral in the east and ends, in the west, with the Parliament. It is a 1.8 km. walk along this main artery of Vilnius. But, still, the transportaion along this avenue is very sparse. There many old and new, beautiful mansions or buildings like:

Gediminas Avenue #3:

Statues of Three Muses on Lithuanian National Drama  (Lietuvos Nacionalinis Dramos Teatras) in #6:

Gediminas Avenue #9 near the GO9 shopping centre:

After 550 m. walk, with our face to the west, we arrive to Vinco Kudirkos Square  (Vinco Kudirkos aikštė) opposite Novotel Hotel:

From Hotel Novotel Vilnius Centre, Gedimino pr. 16, head west on Gedimino pr. toward Vilniaus g., 40 m. Turn left onto Vilniaus g. to find a busy, narrow road with many restaurants, cafes and eateries. A good option for having lunch or dinner is Pinavija Cafe & Bakery, 21, Vilniaus g - 160 m. walk from Gediminas Avenue. Two main portions in 20 euros. Clean, pleasant, but a rather slow service. The road has a few interesting buildings (most of them need/under restoration):

Note the Radvila Palace - 17th-century palace, now home to a modest museum showcasing Lithuanian art & culture - in the intersection of Vilniaus g. and Islandijos g.:

Back to Gediminas Avenue (with our face to the north). Turn LEFT (west) to continue our walk along Gediminas Avenue:

Harry Krishna in Gediminas Avenue:

Gediminas Avenue #27:

After crossing vasario 16-osios g. - we see the City Park in Lukiškių Square (Lukiškių aikštė):

No way you miss the turn to the left (south) to Aukų g., opposite  Lukiškių Square. Here resides the Genocide Museum (Genocido aukų muziejus).

It is, actually, the KGB Museum. We DID NOT enter this museum since it was closed. Very few people know this period in history of Lithuania: how cruel were the Soviet authorities and how the Lithuanian people were tortured and imprisoned during the Russian conquest. As well as dealing with the systematic murder of Jews by the Nazis, we advice you to study the brutal treatment of the Lithuanian nation by the Soviets during both the war and subsequent occupation. Housed in the former KGB building across from Lukiškės Square, the museum retains in its basement the prison used by the Russian secret service (KGB), as well as the original execution chamber, where bullet holes still scar the walls. Opening hours of the museum: MON-TUE: closed, WED-SAT: 10.00 - 18.00, SUN: 10.00-17.00. Prices:  adults – 4 €, concessions – 1 €. Photography permit – 2 €. Entrance to the museum is free of charge for the tourists with the Vilnius City Card. Cash payments only:

The outdoor exhibition is devoted to the Jewish Genocide. We were deeply moved by the outdoor exposition of children paintings and the memorial monuments in Aukų g. Both of these chapters of history - will leave you under a shock and mentally exhausted:

We continue walking along Gediminas Avenue until its most western end. 

Gediminas Avenue #41:

Gediminas Avenue - National Library:

Gediminas Avenue - The Parliament:

We continued westward, crossing the Neris river along the bridge of A. Mickevičiaus g.

After crossing the bridge - you see a park on your left and a big church on your right - The Mother of God (Vilniaus Dievo Motinos ikonos „Ženklas iš dangaus“ cerkvė) Church:

We turned LEFT (south) to Vytauto g. and in the intersection with Liubarto g. you can catch buses (#1,2,7) to Vilnius central Bus and Train stations.

Lithuania - Vilnius Gaon State Jewish Museum

Guido Amberotti

Latvia

Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre:

Main Attractions: Easter Egg (Margutis) Sculpture, Choral Synagogue, Tolerance Center and Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum.

 Duartion: 1/2 day. Weather: any weather. Distance: 1/2 km. Combinations: we spent 1/2 - 3/4 day in Trakai and the rest of the day was devoted to the Gaon Museum. Start: Easter Egg (Margutis) Sculpture in the intersection of  45 Pylimo g. and 1 Raugyklos g. End: Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum.

IntroductionJewish Vilnius:

Lithuanian Jews can be traced back from the 14th century. Vilnius as the capital is known in Jewish culture as Vilna or, more precisely Vilne in Yiddish. Jews were attracted to starting a new life in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1323, Grand Duke Gediminas issued an invitation for craftsmen and merchants to settle there, stressing the tolerance of local people, and in 1388 under Vytautas the Great, the Duchy’s Jews gained their first charter. The charter was confirmed in 1507, by which time more than 6,000 Jews were residing in the Grand Duchy. By the mid-16th century, around 30,000 Jews called the Grand Duchy their home. Many more Jews flocked to Lithuania during the bloody Northern Wars and Great Plague of 1708-11. Jewish communities tended to exist fairly independently, with each local community (Kahal), made up of Rabbis and elders responsible for collecting taxes and maintaining public buildings. A council, or Va’ad, kept close relations with the monarch and made sure the correct taxes were given to the state, while, on the same time, opposing any anti-Jewish legislation. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth slowly became home to the world’s biggest Jewish population. In 1800, at least a quarter of a million Jews lived in Lithuania, but by then the country had been absorbed into the Russian Tsarist empire. Hassidism, which strengthened traditional principals of faith while urging people to enjoy life, was spread in Lithuania by learned Rabbis. But Vilnius (Vilna) was also the world capital for traditional Talmudic learning, eventually becoming known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, or Jerusalem of the North. Towering over the many great Jewish figures the city has produced is unquestionably the Vilna Gaon (‘Wiseman’) Elijah son of Shlomo Zalman (1720-97), who headed the Mitnagdim - a trend that criticized Hassidism. Jews established themselves as successful tailors, grocers, furriers, clothiers, innkeepers and doctors. Academies (Yeshivot) for young Jewish men were established in: Vilnius,  Kaunas, Telšiai and Panevėžys and were internationally renowned.
Life for Jews in the Tsarist empire was restrictive, however. Throughout the 19th century Jews were not permitted to move from many regions of the empire into the inner regions of Russia. Jewish boys were forced to conscript into the Tsar’s army for a term of 25 years, many of them forced to be baptized. By the outbreak of World War I most Jews were impoverished, with very low incomes. Jews were forced to move out of villages, as they were blamed for alcoholism and dishonesty among local people. Although Jews made up little over 14% of the population of Lithuania, towns like Ukmergė became more than 50% Jewish. Small towns known as Shtetl thrived with dozens of wooden houses, a wooden synagogue and countless artisans. At the same time, however, Lithuanian Jews (Litvaks) were known for their dedication to science as well as religion, their high intellect and individualism. Though the Haskalah tradition which promoted Jewish assimilation with other cultures was slow to take hold in Lithuania, communities gradually opened up more. Zionism, which looked to the creation of a new state in Israel or the Holyland, also gained in popularity. In Vilnius, Kaunas and other cities and towns, traditional Rabbis clashed with progressive cultural activists. At the same time, anti-Semitism increased among Christians, spurred on by rumors and propaganda.
As the 20th century approached, Jews became renowned activists, writers, journalists and businessmen. Famous Litvaks included the brilliant violinist Yasha Heifetz, the influential artists Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall and Jacques Lipchitz and such expressive native-Yiddish writers as Abraham Sutzkever, Chaim Grade and Moshe Kulbak. Between the wars, Vilna, at that time under Polish rule and known as Wilno, was a bustling international centre of modern Yiddish culture and scholarship. Jews made up more than 36% of the city’s population. Yiddish schools, newspapers and many other institutions flourished. Vilna had more than a hundred synagogues and prayer houses. Famous libraries such as the Strashun Library had more than 35,000 rare volumes of literature by the mid-1930s. Scholars gathered in Berlin in 1925 founded YIVO, the Institute for Jewish Research, to be located not in Prague or Warsaw but in Vilna, with branches in Warsaw and New York. Honorary members included Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein. It was between the wars that Vilna truly became known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania – the capital of Yiddish culture and learning. But this thriving life was cut abruptly. During the Holocaust around 95% of Lithuania’s Jews – 200,000 women, children and men – were murdered, the highest percentage in Europe, destroying centuries of Jewish existence in Lithuania. Many were killed by local collaborators, including the vast majority of the 80,000 Jewish residents who lived in Vilna before the Nazi invasion of June 1941. Sites of mass murder can be found throughout the country. Today, Lithuania’s small Jewish community of three to four thousand makes bold efforts to maintain its extraordinary and valuable heritage.

Jewish Vilnius sites:

Holocaust Exhibition: Pamėnkalnio str. 12, Vilnius. Prices: adult - 3 €, concessions: 1.5 €. Opening hours: MON - THU: 09.00 - 17.00, FRI: 09.00 - 16.00, SUN: 10.00 - 16.00. Saturdays - closed. Tel: +370 5 262 0730. Email: holokaustoekspozicija@jmuseum.lt. It is an affiliated exposition of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. The museum boldly exhibits  Lithuanian collaboration in those dark times and leaves no aspect of the topic untouched. One unusual section is the Malina, a Ghetto hideout video and audio installation in which real diary entries can be experienced. Guided tours available in: English, Lithuanian, German and Russian.

Paneriai Memorial (Ponar Cmentarz), Agrastų g. 15, Vilnius. FREE. Opening hours: MAY-SEP: Mondays, Saturdays: closed, TUE-WED:  09.00 - 17.00, FRI, SUN: 09.00 - 16.00. From OCT-APR (inc. APR): the Center is opened by appointment only. Between July 1941 and July 1944, approximately 70,000 people of whom over half were Jewish were murdered at this site by the Nazi Security Police (Gestapo), the SS security service and the Vilniaus ypatingasis burys (Vilnius Special Squad), in which the majority were Lithuanians. Find several monuments and the remains of pits where the victims were killed and burned. A tiny museum inside the territory displays copies of archival photographs – not recommended for children – and documents, explained in an irregular mix of languages. Paneriai (Ponar to the Jews, Ponary to the Poles, Paneriai to the Lithuanians) is about 10km southwest of the Old Town. Catch a Trakai- or Kaunas-bound train, get off at Paneriai, turn right from the station and walk about 800 metres along Agrastu Street. The site is at the end of the road. To get there by car, leave Vilnius via Švitrigailos Street and follow the same road, bearing right on Eišiškiu plentas (near the Statoil fuel station) and then follow the signs.

Jewish Cemetery, Sudervės Kelias 28: To get there from the centre, take bus Nº73 from the Juozo Tumo-Vaižganto stop or Nº43 from the Lukiškės bus stop. Very few graves of famous Jewish people such as the Gaon of Vilna were moved here. This new, pre-war Jewish cemetery was actually opened just before the WW2. The Gaon’s grave attracts many visitors from many countries. Currently it has about 6,500 Jewish graves. Gravestones are covered in the writing of several languages including Yiddish, Lithuanian, Russian, Polish and English. There are plans to build a monument in place of the old cemetery in Užupis.

Užupis Old Jewish Cemetery in Krivių g.: Only very few graves survived in the most northern end of  Krivių g. in Užupis. It was active from 1828 to 1943 or 1948. It was also destroyed by the Soviet authorities in the 1960s following the destruction of the Great Synagogue of Vilna. 

Our 3-4 hours itinerary: we start at the Easter Egg (Margutis) Sculpture in the intersection of 45 Pylimo g. and 1 Raugyklos g. Sculptor: Romas Vilčiauskas. 2003. Today the Easter egg signifies the restoration and revival of this part of the Old Town. This sculpture is on a stone platform with some non-uniform patterns on the surface, and with primarily three
colours: green, red and gold/yellow, in a few shades. This sculpture was a present from the republic of Užupis. Previously this part of the city was very busy because of the bird market situated next to "The egg“. Bird market was the point of attraction for people from all around Vilnius districts.

We continue walking along Pylimo g. with our face to the north-west and our back to the south-east. 160 m. further north we arrive to the Choral Synagogue (Vilniaus choralinė sinagoga), Pylimo 39. Built in a Moorish style in 1903 (an inscription on a dark grey stone tablet on the walls gives a date, 1903). Architect: Dovydas Rozenhauzas. It is the only active synagogue that survived both the Holocaust and Soviet rule in this city that once had over 100 synagogues. The term Choral Synagogue relates to the inclusion of a choir section, a feature considered by some to be a revolutionary form of modernization and assimilation at the time it was built. Several cantors who are famous all over the world were born in Vilnius. A small-scale attraction: on the 2nd floor in the women's section is a matzah (matzos) - making machine that is worth seeing. Opening hours: MON-FRI: 10.00 - 14.00 (better, come earlier in the morning - during services. It is difficult to see it without disturbing the prayers. Our advice: come in Friday evenings and Shabbat/Saturday early morning hours). Prices: €1.

From the Choral Synagogue - head northwest on Pylimo g. toward Plačioji g., 250 m. Turn left and CLIMB onto Naugarduko g. and the Tolerance Center and Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, Naugarduko g. 10/2 is 200 m. further up (south-west). Opening hours: MON-THU: 10.00 - 18.00, FRI,SUN: 10.00-16.00. Saturdays - closed. Prices: adult - €4, concessions - €2. Combined ticket: Tolerance Center and Holocaust Exposition – €5. Groups up to 15 visitors (tours in a foreign language): €16. Photography permit €1.50. Note: door may be closed, you have to ring a bell to alert an old lady to open the door. Tel.: +370 5 212 0112. E-mail: muziejus@jmuseum.lt, tolerancijos.centras@gmail.com.

Established inside a former Jewish theatre, the Centre for Tolerance’s activities include visiting exhibitions and a permanent exhibition on the upper floors. It is a beautifully restored building and is used for art exhibitions, symposiums, conferences, discussions and seminars. It focuses on the heritage of art and culture of Litvaks (Lithuanian Jews).

The first floor hosts the main/permanent exhibition "Jewish Life in Lithuania" (Žydų gyvenimas Lietuvoje) documenting the historical ties between Jews and Lithuanians, historical and cultural dimensions of the Jewish community, the course of the Holocaust in Lithuanian and anti-Semitism today. It includes 28 stands telling the story of the Jews, from the settlement of the very first communities in the current and historical territories of Lithuania to current events. The main aspects of the life of the Jewish community are sketched in the Lithuanian Grand Duchy, the 19th century, the early 20th century and independent inter-war Lithuania. The painful facts of the Holocaust and genocide, the history of the community in the Soviet period and the development of Jewish life in the newly independent Lithuania (from 1990) are presented. The exhibit provides a view of the features of Shtetl life, including daily life and cultural, scientific and political achievements. The Second World War (WW2) took the lives of more than 94 percent of Jews within the current borders of Lithuania. Fascinating Yiddish theatre posters which showed vibrant and Jewish Vilnius was before 1941. The Litvak civilization was lost along with them. The exhibition doesn’t allow us to forget the relatively recent consequences of war and a stimulus to encouraging tolerance in Lithuanian society of today. A very moving museum.  The testimonies (pictures, videos, voices, documents) of some of the few Lithuanian Jewish survivors will leave you breathless for several hours or days. Many heartbreaking tales of family tragedies side by side with really amazing stories of people reaching out to help, very often at great risk to themselves.

Marc Chagall - Vilnius Great Synagogue, 1935:

The first temporary exhibition (AUG 2018) was a retrospective exhibition of Rafael Chwoles pictures. Born on April 25, 1913 , in Vilnius , died on March 31, 2002 , in Paris. Most of his life, lived in Warsaw. A Polish painter and graphic artist of Jewish descent , a member of the Vilnius literary and artistic group Jung Wilne. In 2020, the Rafael Chwoles Museum is planned to open in Vilnius:

Nehama Lifshitz:

A girl with a flower:

But, the main highlight, being an outstanding find is the Samuel Bak pictures. Spectacular. This is an enormously stunning exhibition with large-scale, highly surreal and imaginative pictures of a Jewish genius, who, concentrates, mainly, in Jewish (but, still, universal) symbology. A painter who survived the holocaust as a boy and, since, dealt with it in his many moving paintings. 

Samuel Bak - Rumors:

Samuel Bak - Market:

Samuel Bak - Old:

Samuel Bak - Ancient Town:

Samuel Bak - Triptych:

Samuel Bak - Realers:

Samuel Bak - The Possibility:

Samuel Bak - The Secret:

Samuel Bak - Time is Money:

Samuel Bak - Jacob Dream:

Samuel Bak - Eye for an Eye:

Samuel Bak - Adam & Eve in Shelter:

Samuel Bak - Ideologies:

Samuel Bak - Return to Vilnius:

Lithuania - Trakai

Guido Amberotti

Latvia

TRAKAI:

Main Attractions: Trakai History Museum, Kenesa, Trakai Island Castle Museum, Kibinine.

Duration: 1/2 day. Weather: ONLY bright or sunny day. Avoid very hot or rainy, cold days. Walking distance: 5 km. Facilities: there 2 supermarkets along the main road. There are several kiosks near the bridge leading to the castle. Toilet - ONLY into the castle site (you must pay the entrance fees to use it). Many eateries and restaurants along the main road leading to the castle. Many of them offer the Kibinai (see below). Weather: only during the summer months. Try to time your trip in the middle of the week, to avoid weekend crowds – it does become really busy, especially on nice days and in the summer. Don’t go if it rains – the lakeside walk will cover your legs/clothes in mud.

Getting thereBy bus: from Vilnius Bus Station (Sodų St. 22, tel. 1661), platforms No. 5, 6, 7, 8 (local), 28 and 29 (intercity, via Alytus). Buses to Trakai run approximately 50 times per day (at weekends about 40 times), at intervals of about 10–20 minutes. Price: approx. 2 euros. Duration: 35 minutes ride. www.autobusustotis.lt. From Trakai to Vilnius: platforms 5 and 6.

By train: from the Railway Station (Geležinkelio St. 16, tel. +370 5 233 0088), www.litrail.lt

You can pay the ticket inspector on the train for the ticket but that costs a little extra. You can also pay the driver of the bus but passengers with tickets have priority boarding and others are taken on only if there are seats left- in high summer it's mission impossible, so to be safe than sorry head for the ticket's office first when at the bus station.

Walk to the Bus Station/Railway Station from Comfort Hotel LT - Rock 'N' Roll, Kauno g. 14, Vilnius: walk About 10 min or 750 m. Head east on Kauno g. toward Mindaugo g., Continue onto V. Šopeno g., Turn right onto Sodų g. Turn left. Enter the roundabout. Railway station is on the left. Bus Station is on the right.

Introduction: Trakai is an unbelievable historic city with an impressive lake - making it a famous resort in Lithuania. It lies 28 kilometres west of Vilnius. Because of its proximity to Vilnius, Trakai is a popular tourist destination. Trakai is inhabited approx. by 5,500 inhabitants. The UNIQUE feature of Trakai is that it was a melting-pot and preserved by people of SO MANY different nationalities: Karaims, Tatars, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews and Poles lived in this small piece of land. The atmosphere around is very quiet and does not hint of this historical heritage. Presently, 2/3 of the population is Lithuanian, 20% are Polish and the rest are Russians and other minorities. Trakai is a town built on water. The town is surrounded by 200 lakes. The history museum in the castle, our main destination in this day tour, was established in 1962. Festivals and concerts take place in the island castle in summer. Choose a sunny day for this visit. You won't believe - but this small, modest city was the cradle of Lituanian monarchy and the capital of its Dukes. Today, is is a retreat from the NOT SO bustling city of Vilnius. Its main assets, for the foreign tourist - are walks around the beautiful area or yacht trips on one of the numerous lakes.

The Karaims: Karaims are a small Turkish-speaking, a special and unique religious and ethnic group which was transported to Trakai by Grand Duke Vytautas in year 1397 and 1398 from Crimea (nowadays, in Ukraine). The  Karaims were granted separate self-government.  From then, Trakai remained a notable center of Karaim cultural and religious life. The Karaite religion is a derivative of Judaism. Some famous scholars were active in Trakai in the 16th and 17th centuries, all of them with pure Jewish names:  Isaac ben (ben = son of) Abraham of Trakai (1533–1594), Joseph ben Mordecai Malinovski, Zera ben Nathan of Trakai, Salomon (Shlomo) ben Aharon of Trakai, Ezra ben Nissan (died in 1666) and Joshuah ben Judah (died In 1658). The local Karaim community, the backbone of the town's economy, suffered severely (like the Jews) during the Khmelnytsky uprising against the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the massacres of 1648. By 1680, only 30 Karaim families were left in Trakai. Early in the 18th century wars, famines, and plagues reduced the Karaims to three families. By 1765 the Karaim community increased to 300. Trakai's Karaim Kenesa (synagogue ) is a rare example of a surviving wooden synagogue with an interior dome. Kibinai, the traditional Karaim pastry, can be found everywhere in Trakai and other place around Lithuania:

Our itinerary in Trakai: The suggested route below would give a first-time visitor in Trakai a good idea of what the most important landmarks in this small town are. With our face to the bus station - turn RIGHT (north) and walk along the lake and the asphalted street. Vytauto g. It is almost 2 km. walk from the town stations to Trakai Island Castle Museum – with very nice walk along the colored houses of the Trakai town and the lakes’ shores. For anyone with average fitness it shouldn't take more than 40-45 minutes. The signs in the railway station show you the general direction and it’s really impossible to get lost. Walking along Vytauto galve - note the old,colored, wooden, Karaite houses or huts along this picturesque street (especially on your left, the lake side). Karaim houses always have three windows facing the street. In the Middle Ages, having so many windows showed your status, since you had to afford to pay window tax. According to legend Karaites used to build their houses dedicating one window to God, a second to Vytautas (the ruler), and the third one for the owner himself. In reality it was all about money – windows could only be installed after a tribute was paid to the duke. Therefore, less wealthy residents had one or two windows on the street side.

Vytauto g. #93:

Vytauto g. #51:

After passing Maironio gatve on your right - you see the Orthodox Church of Nativity of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary on your right. The widest section of this historic area was  inhabited by Catholics and is also rich in architectural variety: different building sizes, shapes of the roofs and so on. One of the main accents of this part of the old town is this traditional Orthodox church:  

Lake shores on your way along Vytauto g. to the Castle:

Nearly before we slight to the east - heading to the Castle Island - Vytauto g. changes to Karaimų g. On our right, at Vytauto g. #5 we see a blue wooden house: the headquarters of the Trakai Historical Park. It was built in the first half of the 19th century by Dominicans who resided in the nearby Peninsula Castle. The symmetrical one-storey log house with vertical boards nailed around was common to this period. Nearly 50 years later the Dominican monastery was closed and the building they owned was converted into Trakai county police offices. Soon afterwards the Russian Empire post office began functioning in its place. Lastly, for nearly 100 years (up until 1960) it served as the Vilnius county post office and telegraph, was used to safeguard the archives, and to accommodate postal workers who lived in five of its rooms. The former Post of the Russian Empire is, actually,  on the corner of Karaim and Kęstutis streets. The main facade of the building is facing Karaim Street. On the south side the plot is limited by Kęstučio street, and in the north by the ruins of the Karaimai g.7. The Post Office operated here until 1960, and then the building was adapted to different needs of administrative institutions. Currently, the Directorate of Trakai Historical National Park is located here:

Beyond (north-east to) the Russian Post Office resides the Trakai History Museum (Trakų istorijos muziejus), Kęstučio g. 4. Open: TUE - SUN: 10.00 - 18.00. MAY-SEP: 10.00 - 18.00, NOV-MAR: 10.00 - 17.00. Mondays - closed. Prices: adults - 8 euros, students/seniors - 4 euros. The museum resides in a former chapel/monastery of the Domenican order. Fortunately it has survived the Soviet occupation from 1944 to 1990. Most of the exhibition in this small museum is of sacred art.

We continue walking along Karaimu g. (our face to the north-west) and see more wooden houses:

At Karaimų g. 22, we pass through the Karaite Ethnographic Museum. Three small rooms dedicated to the life, history, culture and memory of the Karaite communities of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. Price: adult - €2, student/senior €1. O Mondays, Tuesdays - closed. Open during the summer months: WED-SUN: 10.00 - 18.00.  NOV-APR: 10.00 - 17.00.

Before we slight RIGHT (north-east), heading to the bridges leading to the Castle-island - we see this modern, wooden, Karaite house (on our left):

Approx. at 41 Karaimų g. we turn right (north-east) to approach the Tourist Information Office and the path leading to the bridges:

Nearby Kenesa (main Synagogue) of the Qaraite Jewish community in Trakai. A rare example of one of the surviving wooden synagogues of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth with an interior dome. It is still in use. Karaite architectural and interior design features can be seen in this unique one-storey wooden structure. It consists of two spaces: main part (for men) and a balcony (for women) supported by four columns. As in other temples of Eastern religions women and men pray separately in the Kenesa and everyone is required to wear a head covering. The Kenesa has an impressive light blue dome shaped ceiling made with eight arches. Geometrical and plant components beautify the interior of the house of prayer. Interestingly, the altar is in the southern part and all burial ceremonies are held with the deceased person's head pointing southward. The wooden Trakai Kenesa was build back in the latter part of the 14th century and endured numerous wars and fires. Today you can see another Karaite temple in Vilnius, in the part of the city called Žvėrynas:

We pass two bridges and tow lakes on our way from Trakai mainland to the island where the Trakai Island Castle Museum resides. Crossing the first bridge - we awalk with our face to the north-east:

With the second bridge - we are with our face to the north and the Castle Museum is opposite us:

on both sides of the second bridge you see giant wooden Totems:

As we approach the Castle - we see it more clear and more in detail. Towering over the calm waters, it tells the story of the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania and its golden age, when the territory of the country spanned from the Baltic to the Black Sea:

Entrance to the Trakai Island Castle Museum:

Trakai Island Castle Museum: Trakai Castle was originally built in the late 1300s to help protect the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and nearby capital Vilnius from crusading Teutonic Knights that plagued the Baltic region. After the troublesome knights were trounced in the Battle of Grunwald, Trakai was no longer needed as a military bastion. Instead, it was refashioned into a ducal palace that remained in use until the end of the 17th century. Interestingly, several different empires and occupiers had a hand in the restoration of Trakai Castle. Work that was begun by Imperial Russia in the early 1900s was continued by Germans and Poles until the end of World War II. Soviet authorities finished the job and established the Trakai History Museum. The end result is surprisingly cohesive and the stuff childhood fantasies. Stone foundations are topped with red brick towers in the French Gothic style and wooden balconies encircle every floor of the soaring ducal palace. Entry prices: €8 Adult, €4 Student/Senior  + Photography permission €1.50.

Trakai - a picture from 1923:

The castle is located in the middle of the lake and is very picturesque. The entrance is 9 euros. You can see most of the site FREE without payment. 7 euros the paddle boat onto the lake around. The cruise around the castle costs 5 euro per person and goes for 30 minutes. The castle is VERY BEAUTIFUL (especially, in a bright day) and well restored from the outside. Inside, it has many exhibition rooms about the life of the medieval times - and, for us, it was a total disappointment. The castle museum has an extensive collection of artifacts and interesting historical displays about the castle, the town, the country, its history and people. The whole inner courtyard is busy with heavy machines and reconstruction works (AUG 2018). Minimal toilets (under payment). No toilets outside, nearby. If you are used to visiting castles and palaces with elaborate interior designs and décor elements, this castle might come as a disappointment since décor elements have not survived the turbulent twists and turns of historical events. Moreover, you have to buy a separate ticket in order to be able to take pictures inside:

Better, take a stroll around the castle (1/2 hour walk) and enjoy the pastoral lake shores OR take a paddle boat in one of the numerous lakes around:

We walked around the castle and enjoyed taking photos from many angles and sides of this mighty complex. The scenery along the lakes' shores - was  very pastoral and relaxing. If you like spending short time in wilderness this is for you:

You walk back to the bus station or railway station on the same way you've arrived to the Castle. Take the time to sample Trakai cuisine in Kibinine. It is a tradition in Lithuania to eat some kibinai, traditional Karaim pasty and meat dish, whenever a local visits Trakai. Kibinai are Lithuania’s tastiest pastry snack, filled with anything under the sun but usually pork, mutton or chicken. There are even venison, mushroom, spinach-and-curd and chocolate-and-hazelnut versions. Kibinai is very much like an English Cornish pasty. It is also exactly the same as “Empanadas” from northwest provinces of Argentina. Kibinai has become so popular in Lithuania, that many cafes, shops and street vendors offer them as a fast food option. A lot of commentators note that the small size of Karaim community is disproportionate to its strong influence in Lithuanian cuisine. One of the best places to try them is Kybynlar , a restaurant which seems to put a lot of effort into presenting the Karaim culture through their cuisine. Another one is Senoji Kibinine, Karaimu g. 65:

Try also Cepinilai:

Lithuania - Vilnius - Day 1 - from Gates of Dawn to Vilnius Cathedral

Guido Amberotti

Latvia

Lithuania - Day 1 in Vilnius:

Part 1: Vilnius Old Town.

Part 2: St. Anne's & Bernardine Churches, Užupis, Vilnius Cathedral Square.

Duration: 1 day. Distance: 10-12 km. Weather: no rain. Start : Comfort Hotel LT - Rock 'N' Roll or Vilnius Railway Station / Vilnius Bus Station. End: Vilnius Cathedral.

Part 1 Main Attractions: Gates of Dawn, Amber Sculpture Museum, Holy Church of Trinity, Church of St. Casimir, Town Hall Square (Vilniaus rotušė), Zemach Shabad Monument, Kazys Varnelis House–Museum, Constantine Sirvydo Square, Vilnius University, Literra bookstore.

Part 2 Main Attractions: literatų gatvė, Saint Anne’s Church, Bernardine Church, Bernardine Monastery, Adam Mickiewicz Monument, Užupis Angel, Constitution of the Republic of Užupis, Entrance to Užupis, Bernardine Gardens, Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, Monument to Grand Duke Gediminas, Vilnius Cathedral.

Our hotel in Vilnius: Comfort Hotel LT - Rock 'N' Roll, Kauno g. 14, Naujamiestis, Vilnius. It is presented in Booking.com as a 2-star hotel. A joke. It is a SUPERB hotel. it deserves 4 stars. VERY ATTRACTIVE hotel. Full with colors. Young and vibrant atmosphere. Modern, clean,  comfortable, quiet, attentive and helpful. All the staff members are young. Take high-floor room. Better, a room on the back (you'll have a nice view of Vilnius Old Town houses' roofs).  Rooms are spacious. There only two cons: the hotel is A BIT more distant than other popular hotels (it takes 15 minutes to walk to the Old Town). There are very few restaurants  around. One of them is the Ararat - Armenian restaurant (5 minutes walk from the hotel). Second disadvantage is that the Hotel (not everyday) is very busy and fully-occupied due to tourist groups. THe dining-room might be busy from 08.00 to 09.00. Beyond these hours - the breakfast is very good. A huge selection of food with many fresh options. Another daunting fact is the loud music during the breakfast (the 80s and 90s oldies) which, sometimes, is unbearable with heavy loads of diners. VERY RECOMMENDED HOTEL. It is 10 minutes pleasant walk to the railway and bus stations. Bus stop to/from the airport is 3 minutes walk. The bus to/from the airport costs 1 euro. The hotel-ordered taxi from/to the airport is a 8 euro fixed rate. The hotel is equipped with an elaborate gym. The hotel has an interesting, modern decor. It looks brand new. Good Wi-Fi connection. A big plus is that the hotel resides opposite to an HUGE supermarket with unbelievable selection and budget prices. The hotel provides you with gluten-free bread. Self-service laundry is available, n the 4th floor, for 10 euros and includes the washing powder.

Day-1 itinerary Part 1:

We start our tour in Vilnius Old Town at the Gates of Dawn. From Comfort Hotel LT - Rock 'N' Roll, Kauno g. 14 (Kauno g. x Mindaugo g. intersection) we head east 170 m. and continue onto V. Šopeno g., 170 m. The Bus Station is on your right (after climbing 2 minutes to the right). Note: in this area several street are not signposted clearly. Continue straight and turn left later onto Sodų g., 310 m. The Railway Station is on the right (top of the hill). Turn right onto Pylimo g., 30 m. Slight left onto Bazilijonų g. 280 m. Turn left onto Aušros Vartų g., 15 m. You arrived to the Gates of Dawn, Aušros Vartų g. 14. This is the only surviving gate of the first original five (some say ten) gates in the city wall. It was built between 1503 and 1522 as a part of defensive fortifications for the city of Vilnius, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Of ten city gates, only the Gate of Dawn remains, while the others were destroyed by the order of the government at the end of the 18th century. The gates were first mentioned in 1514. At first the Gates of Dawn were called the Medininkai Gate, as it is on the road to Medininkai. In Polish this gate is called Ostra Brama, the “Sharp Gate” because it was in the southern end of the city, which was called the Sharp. In the 16th century city gates often contained religious artifacts intended to guard the city from attacks and to bless travelers.

The Chapel in the Gate of Dawn contains an icon of The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy, said to have miraculous powers. This little church is situated above the gate/arch. You first see a few frames full of medallions as offerings of thanks from prayers. These frames are again in the main room. The Madonna herself is inspirational. Very powerful imagery and one can understand why she commands such devotion from the crowds. The painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, in the Chapel of the Gates of Dawn is known all over the world. It is believed to have miraculous powers. The Blessed Virgin Mary of Ausros Vartai (Lithuanian for Gate of Dawn) is considered the guardian of Lithuania. Many churches in other countries have copies of this painting. The icon is artistically beautiful. The picture, which is also called “Vilnius Madonna”, was painted in 17th century. It is painted in the Renaissance style, in tempera on oak boards, later repainted in oil. Since the middle of the 17th century it has been said to have miracle-working powers. One of Lithuania’s most celebrated pilgrimage sites. More than half a million people visit the shrine each year to see the portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mary that lies within its walls. Note: if services are held in the church (from the street looking up, you get a clear view if there are no worshipers standing in the balcony) - there is no access to the church. This location attracts many devout worshipers and can be busy - especially in the morning and evening hours. With your back to the old town (north) and face to the gate (south) take the left side stairs to climb to the church:

As we continue walking north on Aušros Vartų g. - we see, on our right, a section of the walls of Old Vilnius:

200 m. further north-west we arrive (on our left) to the Gintaro skulpturu ir inkliuzu muziejus, Amber (Amber Sculpture Museum "Amber"), Aušros Vartų g. 9. Open: SUN-THU 10.00 – 19.00, FRI-SAT 10.00 – 17.00. FREE. When we visited this olace - it looked like a typical tourist/souvenirs shop. Two rooms only.

Several steps further north, on your right, is the Holy Church of Trinity. The church/monastery compound contains a fortified entrance gate, a university, an hotel complex for visitors and monastic cells. The church is surrounded by adjoining four towers at each corner:

30 m. further north - the German restaurant Bunte Gans is very recommended and reasonably priced. Big portions. Again, 30 m. further, Gusto Blynine, Aushros Vartu 6 is a Pancakes restaurant with GF offers as well. Recommended. Head further northwest on Aušros Vartų g. toward Pasažo skg., 95 m. Continue onto Didžioji g., 90 m. On your left is the Radisson Blu Hotel.

Opposite, on your right (when your face to the north) is the Church of St. Casimir (Šv. Kazimiero bažnyčia). It is the first and the oldest Baroque church in Vilnius. It is as beautiful from outside as inside. Absolutely worth a visit. The construction of the church began in 1604 in memory of the holy prince Saint Casimir. It was built by the Jesuits with funding by the Great Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Lew Sapieha. The construction was finished in 1616, and the interior design completed in 1618. Its composition and facade were designed along in line with the famous Il Gesù church in Rome. It remimdes also the churches in Kraków and Lublin, Poland. The design was of Jan Frankiewicz, a pupil of architect Giovanni Maria Bernardoni:

Continue onto Didžioji g. for 170 m. to arrive to the Town Hall Square (Vilniaus rotušė). The town Hall in Vilnius was mentioned for the first time in 1432. In 1387, Lithuania became a Christian state and Vilnius was granted Magdeburg rights. Thus, there appeared a need for headquarters for the city authorities. As the main square of the city was located here, it was decided to build the Town Hall in the same place. The building housed the magistrate (in other words, the city councilors) as well as court rooms, the treasury, archives, an arms and ammunition warehouse, and rooms for preserving standards of measurement. A prison was established in the basement. Initially it was a Gothic style building and has since been reconstructed many times. The current Vilnius Town Hall was rebuilt in neoclassical style according to the design by Laurynas Gucevičius in 1799. It has remained unchanged since then. The Town Hall's Gothic cellars have been preserved and may be visited. In the 20th century, an art museum was housed in the Town Hall. Today Vilnius Town Hall is a representative building. Many different events are organised at the Town Hall during a year: concerts, literary evenings, presentations of books, exhibitions and festivals. The building is impressive, with its six large pillars, and classical style with a low sloping roof. A flight of steps lead to the main entrance, which says, 'Vilniaus Rotuse'. The pediment of the Town Hall is adorned with the coat-of-arms of the city of Vilnius – St Christopher carrying baby Jesus on his shoulders. There is Tourist Information Office in the building (left hand side of the facade with your face to it).

The Town Hall Square (Rotušės aikštė) at the southern end of the Pilies Street is a traditional centre of trade and events in Vilnius and is lined with attractive buildings and colour.  Major annual fairs, such as Kaziukas Fair (Saint Casimir Fair on the beginning of March), are held in this square, the main Christmas tree is decorated here, various concerts and other attractions are organised as well as celebrations of the important dates of the state. During summer months expect open concerts during the evenings. During the nights the buildings are all lit up. 

Before continuing down north along Didžiji g. and the Town Hall Square - we turn LEFT (west) at the north-west corner of the Town Hall building (the south-west corner of the square) to Vokiečių g. Here, resides The Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) (Šiuolaikinio meno centras ), 2 Vokiečių street. Note the black statue at the middle of this busy street or avenue:

On the first turn to the LEFT (south-west) we turn to 

and, opposite, is Zemach Shabad Monument in  MesiniU Street close to the intersection with Dysnos g. It is a tribute to the Jewish heritage of the city. The monument shows bearded man with a child. He was one of the most famous members of the Jewish community of his times, and was a Doctor and social activist. The monument reflects his concern for children: he is shown with a little girl and her kitten (in her lap). The doctor was prominent in making children remove their fear of medical procedures, and this lovely monument reflects this:

We return to the Town Hall on the same way - passing several cultural establishments (like the CAC) and more exclusive shops like this souvenirs, tabac and liquors shop:

We continue walking north along Didžioji g. and the houses' numbers are decreasing. Further north, the Kazys Varnelis House–Museum, Didžioji g. 26 is housed in one of the oldest buildings on the Rotuses square. Open: by advance booking MON-FRI 10.00 – 17.00, SAT 10.00 – 15.00. Visits are possible by guided tour only. They will arrange a guided tour also for just two people which is a real treat. Entrance fee is EUR 2.50 per person. The house-museum (33 halls) of the famous Lithuanian artist, a master of stained-glass and modern art (minimalism, optic art) houses various collections of great value: old graphics, painting, sculpture, furniture of Renaissance and later periods, and a collection of oriental art, maps and abstractions by Kazys Varnelis himself. 37 halls, impressive exhibition and amazing passionate guides. Tour last about 1.5-2 hrs. Appointment (by phone or email) necessary. Highly recommended:

Further north Didžioji g. 11:

On our right, at  Didžioji g. 12, note the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas.

Further north at Didžioji g. 4 is Lithuanian Art Museum (Lietuvos dailės muziejus) with 18-19 centuries paintings. We did NOT enter this museum and it looked quite deserted. We continue northward to Constantine Sirvydo Square (Konstantino Sirvydo skveras) known as "Frenchpark" or Park of Konstantin Sirvydas. The Konstantino Sirvydo skveras is north-west park adjacent to the museum. Constantine Syrvida is (lived around 1580-1631) - theologian, philosopher, writer, linguist, preacher, author of the first Lithuanian dictionary. The whole area around - beautiful palaces, interesting streets ! In the east side of the square is the Souvenir Market. Several artist exhibit their paintings. You can several impressive pictures:

Didžioji g continues north as Pilies g. With the first turn to the left from Pilies g. we arrive to Vilnius University campus. Head northeast on Šv. Jono g., 95 m and arrive to Vilnius University (Vilniaus universitetas). You pay for admission (2 euros, € 1,50 for students or seniors) to the university grounds; a nominal fee gets you a brochure of the architecture. Stroll around this beautiful Renaissance campus and don't miss the book store (open only on weekdays) with a ceiling that will remind you of the Sistine Chapel. You can pay separately to climb to the top of the Church Bell Tower for a great view of the old town and its surroundings. The cafeteria is a great place for lunch, but they close by 14.00.

Vilnius University is the oldest and the largest university in Lithuania established in 1579. As for a long time it was the only one university in Lithuania, it influenced Lithuanian society a lot. Nowadays it includes 19 academic subdivisions, almost 3000 employees and more than 23700 (!) students in total. The Vilnius University is one of the most important educational institutions in Lithuania which has operated for more than 400 years already. As a part of Lithuanian history, it also distinguishes in owning some objects of heritage of historic architecture. The Old ensemble of Vilnius university occupies an entire quarter of the Vilnius Old Town. It is located near the Presidential palace. 4 old streets (University st. , Castle st. , street of St. John and Kapas st.) surround the complex. This complex of buildings was finally formed in the end of the 18th century and, surprisingly, has not changed until nowadays. As an architectural masterpiece, the Old ensemble includes 12 buildings of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and classicism styles, the Church of St. John and a Bell tower. All these buildings perfectly reflect a history of the university as they were built not all at the same time, but one after another. 

Vilnius University is the oldest university in the Baltic states and one of the oldest in Northern Europe. It is the largest university in Lithuania. The university was founded in 1579 as the Jesuit Academy (College) of Vilnius by Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, Stephen Báthory. The wide-ranging Vilnius University buildings represent all major architectural styles that predominated in Lithuania: Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism. Note The Grand Courtyard of Vilnius University and Church of St. Johns and the main Library with its bronze doors. Inside the library: P. Smuglevičius hall in the Vilnius University Library. Note also Petras Repšys’ fresco "The Seasons of the Year" (painted in 1976-1984) with motives from Baltic mythology at the Centre of Lithuanian Studies.

The most impressive yard is the Great yard. The Great yard has always been the most important in the whole structure of the Old Ensemble of Vilnius university. It unites sacred, academic and representative functions of the university. There are the main buildings of Renaissance style located, an authentic marble board made in 1580 hangs announcing an opening of the university: “Academia et Universitas Societatis Jesu Erecta anno 1580”. There are also other boards memorializing various emeritus people and of course, the marvelous Baroque church of St. John and the Bell tower here stand.

yards of Simonas Daukantas and Motiejus Sarbievijus, and the Observatory yard. The oldest one is the Observatory yard. It was formed in the end of 16th century. In the 17-18th centuries a pharmacy here operated and various herbs were grown. The most impressive building there is an observatory of classicism style which is decorated with zodiac signs and Latin sentences like “Hinc itur ad astra” (Such is the way to the stars).

The yard of Library is surrounded mostly by library sections. For 200 years this yard was used for household purposes, but later right after several reconstructions it started serving as a representative yard. The library includes several halls worth visiting because of their exclusive historic décor.

Biblioteka Hall Smuglevicius:

The yard of Motiejus Sarbievijus nowadays is the main yard of philologists of Vilnius university as M. Sarbievijus was the most famous poet in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. This inside yard is surrounded by buildings of various shapes and styles including spectacular counterforts, arches and frescoes.

Right from the yard of M. Sarbievijus there is a passage to the other inside yard of Simonas Daukantas who was a famous Lithuanian historic and a student of Vilnius university. The most valuable architectural composition there is a fragment of an authentic Renaissance attic. As this complex also belongs to philologists (DOMUS PHILOLOGIAE), the inside lobbies here are decorated with creations by talented Lithuanian artists like a scratchwork “Muses” and a mosaic “Lithuanian Mythology”:

 

The St. John Catholic church has an impressive and ornate Baroque interior:

Another real highlight was the church bell tower, which, for 2 euros, can be ascended with the use of a combination of stairs and an elevator. Of the numerous observation towers in the old town, this one might be the best, because from here one can actually view the Vilnius Castle Hill (difficult from the hilltop) and the many red-tiled rooftops of Vilnius Old Town district. BUT, your views are hindered by an ugly metal net stretched over the wide viewing windows.

Entrance to St. John Bell Tower and Church:

Your most outstanding experience in the university would be, no doubt, the AMAZING Literra bookstore you should not miss, with its amazing painted ceilings. This is a campus bookstore with popular literature in Lithuanian, scientific books, books authored by university faculty, and university souvenirs. The bookstore has beautiful murals on its walls and ceiling. With its dark wood interior, low lighting and painted, vaulted ceiling, the bookstore looks and feels like an intimate library of a luxury European estate and not a campus bookstore. Although the vaulted ceilings are not themselves very large, the frescoes that fill them expand the room outward, upward, and into the past. The ceiling is low and fully decorated so your eyes cannot help but be drawn to the frescoes of caricatures of professors and students painted by Antanas Kmieliauskas in 1978. Lithuanian artist Antanas Kmieliauskas created Littera’s sprawling frescoes in 1978 for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Vilnius University. His work was part of a larger project intended to use the university’s interior spaces – which were no longer in their original form – to reflect the university’s history. The paintings on the ceiling are reportedly based on real students and their sins. Kmieliauskas created a series of scenes representing the university’s historic areas of study, which include astronomy, medicine, botany, music, and art. Each scene includes symbols of the discipline depicted, an allegorical figure, and what seem to be stylized representations of actual professors and students – all of which appear to be slowly drifting toward the top of the vaulted ceiling. Double check if the bookstore is not CLOSED during weekends or holidays. With your face to the St. John Church, in the middle of the courtyard, turn LEFT, descend the stairs (there is a window with the "1988" title). You arrive to another courtyard. On your left - a fountain, and, on your right (deep in the corner) - the Littera bookstore:

The frescoes Antanas Kmieliauskas created for Littera are just one of works created by various artists to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Vilnius University. Just next door and up the stairs, Aisciai Hall features “The Seasons” by Petras Repšys. (Although these are also frescoes, they are very different in style.) There are also two halls with frescoes included in the university library tour (advance registration required). Other areas with frescoes are not open to the public.

We leave the university and head to Part 2 - Užupis --> skip to Tip 2.

National Library of Latvia

Guido Amberotti

Latvia

Riga - National Library of Latvia, Mūkusalas iela 3:

Duration: 2-4 hours (1/2 day). Weather: best for rainy or windy day. For the view of Riga from the Library upper floors - you need a sunny or bright short period of time. Start & End: The National Library of Latvia. Public Transport (stop - 'Nacionala biblioteka'):  Bus: 3, 4, 4z, 7, 8, 10, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 32, 35, 38, 39, 43, 54, 55. Minibus: 238, 242, 244, 246, 263, 270, 271. Tram: 1, 2, 4, 5, 10. Trolleybus: 9, 27. Location:  the library resides in the western side of Riga - beyond the Daugava river. In case you want to cross the Daugava river on foot from Old Riga: your best bet is arriving from the House of Blackheads / the Town Hall Square / the Latvian Riflemen Monument /  Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. Take a short 15-20 minute walk from Riga Old Town over Akmens Tilts (Stone Bridge) and you are here.

View from the Stone Bridge (Akmens Tilts) to the Island Bridge (Salu Tilts):

just a bridge span from Old Town, on the left bank of the Daugava, looms an extraordinary, culturally significant edifice,  also known as Gaismas Pils (Castle of Light) - the new Latvian National Library.

In Latvian folklore, a crystal mountain symbolizes the height of achievement – something not easily attainable but full of rewards for those who make the commitment to reach its peak. Latvian literature and folklore also speak of the 'castle of light' as a metaphor for wisdom that has been lost, but will rise again from the depths of the Daugava river after the Latvian people have overcome the intellectual darkness of war, invasion and occupation. The architect has incorporated both of these Latvian myths into the design of the new National Library building. The building was built solely for Latvian National Library in order to have all notable literature works in one place, which previously was dispersed in many parts of Riga. Located on the left bank of the Daugava River, its glassy slopes mirror the spires that shape the distinctive silhouette of Riga's elegant Old Town.

Opening hours: MON - FRI: 9.00 - 20.00,  SAT - SUN: 10.00 - 17.00. NOTE: Library is closed for public on the 2nd Monday of each month (Maintenance day) and on Latvian public holidays. On special occasions (with prior notice) - the Library is closed during state level events. You can find list of these dates: https://www.lnb.lv/en/nll-maintenance-days-and-public-holidays-2018-and-summer-opening-times

Guided excursions: Duration of the tour: 1 hour. Pre-booking on weekdays only (MON - FRI) from 9.00 to 17.00. Phone: +371 22022920, e-mail: ekskursijas@lnb.lv.

Detailed list of facilities in the Library:

Reading Room Level Opening hours, Welcome Desk: Phone: +371 67806135, +371 25627640, E–mail: welcomedesk@lnb.lv , Level 1: MON–FRI: 9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00. 

Aleksejs Apinis Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room: Phone: +371 67716025, E–mail: retumi@lnb.lv,  Level 5 :MON, WED, FRI: 12.00–20.00, TUE, THU: 9.00–17.00, SAT:10.00–17.00 , SUN: Closed.  

Alfreds Kalnins Music Reading Room: Phone: +371 67716064, E–mail: muzika@lnb.lv) Level 4: MON-FRI: 9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00. 

Archives of Latvian Folklore of the Institute of Literature, Folklore
and Art (University of Latvia): Phone: +371 67228632, E–mail: lfk@lulfmi.lv ,  Level 5: MON-FRI: 10.00–17.00, SAT-SUN: closed.

Audiovisual Reading Room: Phone: +371 67716065, E–mail: av@lnb.lv , Level 4: MON, WED, FRI: 12.00–20.00, TUE, THU: 9.00–17.00, SAT: 10.00–17.00, SUN: closed.

Baltic Research Centre for East Asian Studies Library (AsiaRes) Reading Room: Phone: +371 67716172, E–mail: asiaresbibl@lnb.lv , Level M:MON, WED, FRI: 12.00–20.00, TUE, THU: 9.00–17.00, SAT: 10.00–17.00, SUN: closed. 

Book issuing point: Phone: +371 67716204, E–mail: klasitava@lnb.lv , Level 2: MON-FRI: 9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00.

Children's Literature Centre: Phone: +371 67716041, E–mail: berni@lnb.lv ,  Level 7:  MON, TUE, FRI: 9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: closed. 

Economy and Rights, Reading Room: Phone: +371 67806121, E–mail: jurzin@lnb.lv, Level 2: MON-FRI: 9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00.

Humanities and Social Sciences, Reading Room: Phone: +371 67806122, E–mail: soczin@lnb.lv, Level 2: MON-FRI: 9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00. 

Inte, SAT-SUN: Closed. rnet Reading Room: Phone: +371 67716178, E-mail: ilasitava@lnb.lv (link sends e-mail), Level M:  MON-FRI: 9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Reading Room: E-mail: jfk@lnb.lv, Level 3: MON-FRI: 12.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: Closed.
Konrāds Ubāns Art, Reading Room: Phone: +371 67806140, E–mail: maksla@lnb.lv, Level 4:  MON-FRI: 9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00. 
Lettonica and Baltic, Reading Room: Phone: +371 67716023, E–mail: letonika@lnb.lv, Level 5: MON-FRI: 09.00 - 20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00.
Library and Information Science, Reading Room: E–mail: zlasitava@lnb.lv,Level 8: Closed due to reorganization.
Maps Reading Room: Phone: +371 67716031, E–mail: karte@lnb.lv, Level 6: MON, WED, FRI:12.00–20.00, TUE, THU: 9.00–17.00, SAT: 10.00–17.00, SUN: closed.
Periodicals Reading Room: Phone: +371 67806126, E–mail: periodika@lnb.lv , prese@lnb.lv, Level 3:  MON-FRI: 9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00.
Reference and Information Centre: Phone: +371 67806110, E–mail: uzzinas@lnb.lv, Level M: MON-FRI: 9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00. 
Silence and Meditation Room: Phone: +371 67716063, E–mail: tereze.veinberga@lnb.lv, Level 4: MON-FRI:9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00.
Small Prints Reading Room: E–mail: sikdarbi@lnb.lv,) Level 6: MON, WED, FRI: 12.00–20.00, TUE,THU: 9.00–17.00, SAT: 10.00–17.00, SUN: closed.
Technology and Science, Reading Room: Phone: +371 67806132, E–mail: tehnologijas@lnb.lv, Level 3: MON-FRI: 9.00–20.00, SAT-SUN: 10.00–17.00.

Other facilities and current events in the Latvian National Library: exhibitions (permanent and temporary), restaurant, bistro and cafe "Klīversala". Friends room – Shop and Information Centre for Latvia's centenary celebrations.

The idea for a new National Library was conceived in 1928 - building was finally started in 2008, so it took a good 80 years to get started! As part of Riga's European Capital of Culture celebrations, selected library holdings were symbolically carried from the old to the new building by a human chain on 18 January 2014 (it opened to the public in August 2014).

The new library building houses a modern information centre and ample space for cultural and social events, offering one and all multi-themed reading rooms and access to rare books and audio/video recordings besides the usual printed matter. Open to the general public for viewing is the Dainu skapis. Dainu skapis is a cabinet with 73 drawers of three different sizes used as an editor's tool by Krišjānis Barons (1835-1923) working at the most famous edition of Latvian folksongs “Latvju Dainas” (published in 6 volumes / 8 tomes between 1894 and 1915). The cabinet itself (as a furniture item) was made by a craftsman in Moscow in 1880, the contents of it – paper slips sized approx. 3 x 11 cm (which constitute the actual value of the heritage item) – are the collection of folksong texts sent to the editor by different collectors and copied from other sources available at the time of editing. The material found there came from different individual collections, dating back to mid-19th century (the copied material comes from editions published as early as 1807). The compilation work of the particular edition was started in 1878, so the bulk of the material is later than this date. The very idea of a folk songs' text publication was part of the Latvian national revival. This movement followed the European romantic tradition of the time searching for important heritage of the past to turn that into the cornerstone of the modern culture. The particular work survived change of trends and Dainu skapis for many decades has been both a symbol of Latvianism and a priceless source for scholarly research. The cabinet that UNESCO recognizes as having global significance; included on the register for the programme called World Memory.

The basic objective of the new structure is to accrue and preserve national and international literary works, securing access to them for the general public. Over four million units are now located here, mostly Latvian publications concerning Latvia and Latvians.

Opened in August of 2014, the striking edifice is the masterwork of the world-renowned Latvian-American architect Gunārs Birkerts. It is magnificent, modern glass pyramid that dominates the skyline. It is also spectacular with its position on the waterfront:

The library building has already become active in organizing various exhibits, concerts and conferences. You will be given a leaflet telling you about the temporary exhibitions. There are also permanent exhibitions including a very comprehensive one about the history of books in Latvia. Available here are a restaurant, cafe, WiFi, and the most splendid panoramic view of Old Town.

Guided Tours: Informative guided tours for groups Monday to Saturday; prior reservation on workdays /Mon-Fri/ from 9:00 to 17:00; 22022920, or at ekskursijas@lnb.lv. Foreign visitors please note a EUR 2 fee for a tour; groups of 15 - EUR 20. Guides conduct tours in Latvian, Russian, German and English.

No entrance fee for individuals. Non-guided-tours visitors are allowed entering ONLY floors 1-8. To go to the roof terrace you need to be with a guide.

Security rules: you must leave ALL your bags in a locker, so have a one euros coin with you. You get a special badge which accompanies you during your stay in this temple of culture and architecture. Enter the great hall and ask for a (free) visitor pass with a personal badge. This way you have access to the first eight floors. The view is best from the children's library.

Other facilities: clean, modern restrooms everywhere. The cafeteria or restaurant, with a view over the Daugava river, has excellent food, huge variety of servings. All with very low prices. The overall price for a lunch is about one third of what you'd pay in the old town just across the river! Nice view while eating. A SPECIAL EXPERIENCE ! You will be blown away with this complex and its activities !

We recommend allowing half-a-day for visiting this impressive, admirable, spectacular site. For its size, architectural achievements, extent and quality of culture included in its multiple sections and departments, wealth of exhibitions (reflecting Latvia special character and soul), FANTASTIC view of Riga (especially, during the 2nd half of the day, during bright days) from any high floor of the library - except of the roof. There is also (one-of-a-kind) auditorium where a large crowd is made seated and be entertained by speakers on various issues and subjects. A lovely idea !

Jūrmala

Guido Amberotti

Latvia

One day in Jūrmala:

Main Attractions: sculpture by L. Kristovskis “Lāčplēsis”, Jomas iela, Rainis’ and Aspazija’s Summer House, Jūrmala Globe, Adventure Park "Jurmala Tarzan", Kado Karim, Villa Alvine, Dzintari Concert Hall, Dzintari beach, Jūras street, Turtle sculpture.

Duration: 3/4 day. Distance: 3-4 km. Weather: any weather. Start & End: Majori railway station.

Jūrmala on the Baltic coast has three main assets: with its impressive 26 km long white sand beach, fantastic spa & health retreats, and a convenient location only 30 minutes from Riga city center, this coastal gem has all the ingredients to qualify as a top wellness destination in Europe.  Latvia’s premier beach resort has been fascinating since the heyday of the Russian Empire. Jūrmala originally was a string of fishing villages along the Baltic sea coast that over time became a popular holiday destination amongst wealthy Russians (this was while Latvia was still a part of the Soviet Union). But it wasn’t until 1877, when the railway opened, that Jūrmala became a tourist destination as well. It was awarded city status in 1959. Today, the seaside resort attracts people from all over Europe.  The beach is a long stretch of silky sand backed by more than 4000 historic wooden houses. Visitors come to laze by the water and to stroll or cycle the surrounding streets, admiring the wooden chocolate-box homes along the way.

Public Transportation: Passenger trains to Jūrmala leave Riga Central Station (Stacijas laukums 1) from Tracks (ceļš) 3 and 4 on Platform (perons) 4. Look for trains going in the direction of Tukums, Ķemeri or Sloka. Depending on your selected destination, the ride from Riga to Jūrmala takes between 20 to 50 minutes and costs between EUR 1.90 and EUR 2.40 (for example, Riga–Majori takes 30 minutes and costs EUR 1.90). The train line runs through the entire length of Jūrmala, from Priedaine to Ķemeri, with 14 stops within the city limits. Generally spoken - 2 trains / hour. The wagons are quite old but clean. In Riga, buy a ticket at the counters in the main ticket hall or, directly, from the conductor on the train. If you plan on taking your bicycle with you on the train, make sure to also buy a baggage ticket. Find train schedules and other information at www.pv.lv/en.

The Jūrmala Tourist Information Centre is located in the heart of Jurmala - Majori. It is easy to reach because it is located next to the railway station, the bus stop and car park.

We chose to drop off in the Majori railway station of Jūrmala (as we said before, Jūrmala is a chain of villages - and there are several stops or railway stations in the municipal district of Jūrmala. Head eastalong Jomas iela toward Ātrā iela, 160 m. At Jomas iela 32 you see the sculpture by L. Kristovskis “Lāčplēsis” stands opposite the Railway Station in Majori. In 2006, a fountain “The Horizon” was opened here:

Behind the sculpture (north) you see a beautiful garden with a white house planted into this garden. The premises of the Jurmala Culture Centre offer possibilities to visit varied events – concerts, dance performance, art exhibitions, here there is also Jurmala cinema: 

Nearby is the Rainis’ and Aspazija’s Monument devoted to two famous Latvian poets: 

The No. 1 attraction in Jūrmala is Jomas iela, Jurmala’s kilometre-long pedestrian boulevard, a strip of friendly bars, cafes and restaurants. The name of the street in Latvian means parallel lines in the sand of dunes. Nowadays there is a tradition to celebrate the first Jūrmala’s pedestrian street - Jomas street festival. This is an iconic street in Jurmala - but you'll be surprised that there are NOT many pedestrians thetre. Most of the passers-by are tourists. Part of the shops, bars, restaurants and stalls - are closed. But, still, it is a charming mix of pastoral architecture, good and budget food, nice and cheap souvenirs and proximity of nature (forests, beaches, nature reserves and dunes):

Further north-east along Jomas iela - we see the Mermaid and Swimmer statue by Olga Shilova:

Along the street there is an exposition of historical pictures of Jūrmala. Here is the beach (probably 100 years ago):

Jomas iela #66:

Jomas iela #55:

Jomas iela - Hats stall:

Jomas iela - Hand-made woolen yoys - Kariniino:

Jomas iela #79:

When you arrive to Jūrmala Casino, turn left (north) to the Raiņa un Aspazijas vasarnīca - Rainis’ and Aspazija’s Summer House, 5/7 J. Pliekšāna St. Rainis’ and Aspazija’s Summer House is, actually, a museum which is devoted to the two famous Latvian poets. The cottage in Majori was purchased by Rainis in the autumn of 1926. It was both a workplace and a summer holiday retreat for the poets until 1929. There are three buildings, typical of the wooden architecture of Jūrmala, forming the museum complex. The poets’ Summer Cottage – a single story wooden building with an attic, wood carvings on the facade and an Art Nouveau veranda, with its small paned windows – was built at the end of the 19th century. Another building is a small stone cottage, which is located deeper in the garden, while a third – a neighbouring summer house, was built early in the 20th century. It is a wooden house built with Art Nouveau influences. One can see the poets’ rooms with their authentic furniture and other items, The Rainis and Aspazija personal library, as well as the “Rainis’ life and writings” exposition at the Museum. Closed: SUN-MON. Open: other days 10.00 - 17.00.

At the eastern end of Jomas iela (the intersection with Turaida iela) you see the Jūrmala Globe - Jūrmalas globuss:

If you continue walking more eastward - you arrive to the Adventure Park "Jurmala Tarzan". VERY pleasant walks for families and adults, wonderful and advanced playgrounds for children including skatebording  and rollerskating. You can spend here hours ! There is a lot of shade because of the trees. Amazing views from the viewing, metal tower in the middle of the huge park (in clear days you can see Riga's skyline and the Baltic sea). The tower is a bit shaking at its top - so avoid it during windy times. NOT for those who are scared of heights. The entry to the viewing tower is FREE:

You arrive to the Adventure Park via Aizkraukles iela. In Aizkraukles iela, on your left (north) resides Kado Karim, a shapely trio of brand new apartment buildings, the brainchild of designer Karim Rashid. It is a collection of three separately standing, but functionally integrated three-floors buildings. Housing a total of twenty one apartments, each structure conforms to the same architectural scheme, but each features its own particular concept of interior design. The all three complexes are with undulating forms and unique circular windows. Influential Latvian architect Andis Silis, founder of the architectural bureau SZK Partneri, designed the demure white buildings of Kado Karim. Each story forms an organic layer, slightly off set from the next, but retaining a cohesive rounded shape of the structure as a whole. Regularly spaced rectangular windows and small balconies mirror the shelved protrusions of each shifting layer:

The parallel street of Aizkraukles iela (more northern) is Ikšķiles iela. Arrive to this street via Turaidas iela (a shady, pleasant street in its own. We shall walk along part of this road a bit later. See below).

In Ikšķiles iela #1 we find the Villa Alvine. Very attractive residence project (several apartments are for vacation rentals. Part of the project is, actually, an hotel): 

From Villa Alvine, Ikšķiles iela 1 we turn RIGHT (north) toward Turaidas iela and walk 160 m. (turning right to stay on Turaidas iela). 60 m. further, on our right, is the Dzintari Concert Hall, Turaidas 1. An architectural and cultural gem. This is an open-air (no walls, just roof) stage about 200 m from the Baltic sea coast. In the past these halls were widely used for concerts of classical music presented by symphony orchestra, nowdays they are more often used for pops, e.g. annual festival in the first week of August. The Dzintari Concert Hall complex includes an elegant concert hall built in the 1930s, with excellent acoustics – the Small Hall, and the summer concert garden built in the 1960s – the Great Hall. Professionals have evaluated this place as a unique and in the matters of acoustics as one of the best in the entire Europe. During reconstruction in 2004 to 2006, the park at the concert hall was expanded and beautified, and the wings of the Great Hall now spatially merge with the view of Jurmala dunes. Centenarian pine trees in the concert hall's park sways in the wind, while the sea rustles behind the dune, washing waves over a white sand beach. This is a place to look for true synthesis of art and nature while enjoying world-famous artists live (http://www.dzintarukoncertzale.lv/):

Continue walking north beyond the Dzintari Concert Hall - and you arrive to the wonderful Dzintari beach. In overall, Jūrmala has 12 official bathing areas, 11 of them are on the seashore and one - on the shore of Lielupe River. In summer, it can get really hot and sunny in Latvia, with temperatures around 28-32 degrees Celsius in Jurmala. We were rather surprised to see such a lively atmosphere on the beach. Jūrmala's beach is formed of fine white silica sand, which has been brought here by the coastal stream over thousands of years. The beach is a great place for resting. Note two main facts: almost no shade and the water becomes deeper very gradually (the water is very flat at the beginning). It is a VERY beautiful strip of beach with clean, white sand and (most of the time) the beach is not over-crowded. The more you walk to the WEST - the less people you see. There is still enough space to have a peaceful day at the beach (well, Latvia, in general, provides you, the tourist, a lot of space - nothing is crowded). There are CLEAN public toilets along the beach (but they cost 1 euro to enter). Water is not very salty:

After walking along the beach we head back to the railway station. We suggest you to walk back to Majori station along a different way that is illustrated above. You can walk BACK to Turaidas iela (where the Dzintari Concert Hall is, now, on your left) and turn LEFT to Jūras iela and make the whole way, along Jūras iela (with your face to the south-west) until you arrive to Vanagi iela and turn LEFT to Ērgļu iela to arrive to Majori train station. Another option is walking along the beach until you see the Turtle sculpture

and turn LEFT to meet Jūras iela and follow the instructions above to arrive to the train station. Jūras street is the street closest to the Jūrmala dunes, where you can see almost all of Jūrmala's typical architectural styles. Jūras street has 23 architectural monuments of state and local importance:

Wooden Villa Jūras iela 53:

Hotel Eiropa, Jūras iela 56:

 

Art Nouveau Riga - Days 3-4

Guido Amberotti

Latvia

Days 3-4 - Art Nouveau and other Cultural Attractions in Riga:

Part 1 Main Attractions: Audēju iela 7, Kalēju iela 23, Šķūņu iela 4, Šķūņu Street 10/12, Tirgoņu iela 4,  Latvian National Opera, Blaumaņa iela 28, Elizabetes iela 22, Bergs Bazaar (Berga bazārs), Hotel Bergs, Latvian Puppet Theatre, Radisson Blu Hotel, Esplanāde Park, Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral, Latvian National Museum of Art.

Part 2 Main Attractions: Elizabetes iela 39-41, Elizabetes street 33, Elizabetes iela 10 A, Elizabetes iela 19, Riga Ferry Terminal, Strēlnieku iela 4A, Alberta iela 13, Alberta iela 11, Alberta iela 12 (Art Nouveau Museum), Alberta iela 8, Alberta iela 4, Alberta iela 2, Alberta iela 2A, Alberta iela 1, The Flying Frog cafe' and restaurant, Kronvalda Park, City Canal (Pilsētas Kanāls), Latvian National Theatre.

Duration: 1 day - 2 days. Distance (two parts): 7 km. Weather: any weather. Start & End: The Central Bus Station / Wellton Hotel and Spa.

Introduction:  First, we shall explore several individual buildings in central Old Riga (Vecrīga). Later, we'll walk along Elizabetes iela (from south to north). We'll finish our route with the stunning Alberta iela and walk back southward to Old Riga. The majority of the Art Nouveau buildings are individual houses. Very few of them are museums. Our route goes from south to north. 

Art Nouveau architecture is one of Riga’s claims to fame. Over a third of all buildings in Riga are examples of this unique school of design. When Art Nouveau was at the height of its popularity, Riga just experienced an unprecedented financial boom. This incredible wealth also coincided with an earlier lifting of a ban against erecting masonry buildings outside the city walls. In medieval times, all of the wooden buildings outside the ramparts would be razed to prevent an invading army from using them for shelter.

One of the city’s most prolific Art Nouveau architects was Mikhail Eisenstein (1867 - 1921), father of the legendary Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein who gave the world such cinematic treasures as Battleship Potemkin and Ivan the Terrible. He is best known for his collection of buildings on Alberta iela that is famous for its unusual sculpture, coloured bricks and tiles, geometric ornaments and uniquely shaped windows.

Other Latvians would also leave their mark on Riga and Konstantīns Pēkšēns (1859 - 1928) designed no less than 250 buildings including the iconic edifice at Alberta 12, which the architect once called home and that now houses the Riga Art Nouveau Museum. A founder of the Riga Architects Union and a Riga councilman, he embraced all of the styles of the times and moved on from the eclecticism so popular in mid to late-1800s Riga to Art Nouveau and its later offshoot, national romanticism. The latter was an attempt by Latvian architects to incorporate elements of ethnic mythology and folklore into their designs.

Art Nouveau should NOT be confused, as it often is, with 1930s Art Deco. The ‘new art’ or ‘new style’ , also referred to as Jugendstil, is a slightly older form of expression that gained popularity at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. If something looks sleek, angular and shiny -  it’s probably Art Deco. If you’re faced with elaborate, flamboyant naked maidens, floral motifs and funky gargoyles, it’s most likely Art Nouveau.

But Art Nouveau wasn’t only relegated to the façades of Riga buildings. The flowery style became a part of everyday life and was present in well-to-do homes in furniture, flatware and fashion and was commercially used in graphic design, most famously in advertisement posters. For a fascinating look at an Art Nouveau apartment where even the bathroom and kitchen are adorned with Jugendstil elements do not miss the Riga Art Nouveau Museum where you'll have the opportunity to be dressed in period costume. 

Tip 1:

Part 1 from Riga Bus Station to the Latvian National Museum of Art:

Days 3-4 Part 1 Itinerary: From Wellton Hotel and Spa we head SOUTH, 30 m. Turn right onto Vecpilsētas iela, 190 m. Turn right to stay on Vecpilsētas iela, 55 m. Turn right onto Audēju iela and look to your right at the house at Audēju iela 7. One of the first Art Nouveau buildings in Rīga. The building has an asymmetrical façade with stylised plants – irises, dandelions etc. On the Audēju Street façade, there is a relief presenting a stylised apple tree – the symbol of creative power. There are apples in the branches of the tree, and they symbolise wealth, productivity and welfare. There’s also a small bay window with surprised faces on either side. The building now houses a design institute:

Head east on Audēju iela toward Kalēju iela, 55 m. Turn left and walk 90 m. onto Kalēju iela to see the house at Kalēju iela 23. One of Riga’s most beautiful buildings was the brainchild of Pauls Mandelštams, who is also considered to be the city’s first Jewish architect. You can’t miss its grand entrance way embellished with daisies and a hanging lamp made to look like a flower. The central element in the building is the bay window encircled with chestnut leaves and flowers. At the centre of the bay window – a gilded representation of the sun, something that can be seen in various versions in the façades of many Art Nouveau buildings in Rīga. The building now is home to offices and a café:

Head northwest on Kalēju iela toward Teātra iela, 200 m. Turn left onto Kaļķu iela, 70 m. Turn right onto Šķūņu iela and walk 35 m. to find the house at Šķūņu iela 4. The same architect as in Kalēju iela 23 - Pauls Mandelštams. The house is very simplistic and hardly worth our attention. Figures of children are seen on the entrance portal. Such figures usually represented intermediaries between the spiritual and the material world. Art Nouveau stained glass is seen in the windows of the stairwell. The building is now full of offices and looks quite neglected:

Walk further north-west to arrive to Šķūņu Street 10/12. Completely different story.  This striking art nouveau building completed in 1902 was designed by the Baltic German duo of Friedrich Scheffel and Heinrich Scheel. Unfortunately, most people don’t even notice it because the street is so narrow. Its beautiful features including the watchdog at the top of the façade are best appreciated from Amatu iela. The façade of the building is decorated with stylized plants – reeds, poppies, narcissus and chestnut leaves. Elements of flora are also seen in the balcony railings and the metalwork on the roof. The main accent of the building is the ornate and massive two-story bay window, decorated richly with motifs of the poppy. The dog above the bay window is guarding the building. The initials of the original owner (businessman called Detmann) can also be seen in the façade. The architect is Heinrihs Šēls:

The same owner, Detmann,  owned in the past the building at Tirgoņu iela 4 (adjacent to the Lido restaurant in our blog of Riga Day 2. The symmetrical façade is accented with a bay window that has balconies on either side. The entrance portal is accented with sculptures. The pilasters at the corner of the building turn into expressive sculptures of a female and a male figure. Art Nouveau metal carvings decorate the windows of the two lower floors. Our opinion is that you may skip also this building and turn to the Riga Opera House: 

We change direction and look forward to explore the eastern parts of Old Riga (Vecrīga) from south to north. We head, first, to the Opera House surrounded by charming gardens and water. From Tirgoņu iela 4 to the Latvian National Opera: Head north on Tirgoņu iela toward Šķūņu iela, 35 m. Turn right onto Šķūņu iela, 30 m. Turn left onto Amatu iela, 120 m. Turn right toward Riharda Vāgnera iela, 80 m. Continue onto Riharda Vāgnera iela, 170 m. Turn left onto Teātra iela, 70 m. Turn left to stay on Teātra iela, 60 m. The Latvian National Opera, Aspazijas bulvāris 3 is on your right. From Šķūņu Street 10/12 to the Opera building: head southeast on Šķūņu iela toward Mazā Monētu iela, 80 m. Turn left onto Kaļķu iela, 120 m. Turn right onto Riharda Vāgnera iela, 170 m. Turn left onto Teātra iela, 70 m. Turn left to stay on Teātra iela, 60 m. Turn left and the Latvian National Opera, Aspazijas bulvāris 3 is on the right. The Latvian National Opera is the home of Latvian opera, choir, orchestra and national ballet. This stunning building stands between Old Riga and the City Canal. The opera and ballet of Latvia have established themselves well on the international stage. The Latvian National Opera is housed in a white-washed building constructed in year 1863, designed by architect Ludwig Bohnstedt. It was destroyed by a gas leak in 1882. It was reopened in 1887 and included the city’s very first electric power station, whose tall smoke stack is still visible today.  It was fully renovated during 1990-1995 to provide best conditions for both performers and audience. A new annex, combining 19th century and today's architectural elements, was added to the building in 2001. in 1912, Pāvuls Jurjāns opened the Latvian Opera House. Unfortunately, the outbreak of WW1 led to the departure of Latvia's first opera singers to Russia. In 1918, Jāzeps Vītols revived the house and kept it running until the Soviet takeover of 1940, after which it was renamed the Latvian S.S.R. State Opera and Ballet Theatre and its repertoire was significantly affected by the Soviet ideology. In 1991, along with Latvia’s independence, the theatre regained its original name and artistic freedom. There are over 200 performances annually. The tickets are reasonably priced. The most expensive tickets are around 40 euros and the cheapest ones less than 10 euros. The Opera is closed from June to End of August. In other months - DO NOT MISS any available performance. When it is sold out, you can ask about standing tickets. Go to the Box Office at 18.00 on the day and there might be available places in the 'standing section'. Riga has an annual opera festival period in mid-June which definitely might include opera/ballet special events in this spectacular building. The park opposite the Opera, the fountain and the building façade – are, all, WONDERFUL in a sunny day. Do not miss the fountain and the small bronze sculpture in front of the building:

A sculpture of Māris Rūdolfs Liepa (27 July 1936, Riga – 26 March 1989, Moscow) a Soviet Latvian ballet dancer (male) :

If you walk several metres north from the Ballet dancer statue - you see another charming sculpture of the Mayor and his Wife and Dog (George Armitstead 4th Mayor of Riga). George Armitstead was the mayor of Riga from 1901 to 1912. His wife was Cecile Pychlau:

We shall walk, now, approx. 1 km to move to the eastern part of Vecrīga. Before entering the l-o-n-g Elizabets street - we shall visit another impressive building in narrow Blaumana iela 28. Go back to the southern side of the Opera building. Head southeast on Aspazijas bulvāris toward Teātra iela, 70 m. Turn left toward Krišjāņa Barona iela, 35 m. Slight right toward Krišjāņa Barona iela, 40 m. Turn left toward Krišjāņa Barona iela, 30 m. Turn right toward Krišjāņa Barona iela, 10 m. Turn left onto Krišjāņa Barona iela, 750 m (!). Turn right onto Blaumaņa iela for 40 m. and the Art Noveau house at Blaumaņa iela 28 is on the right. The house is packed into a narrow space where Blaumaņa and Pērses streets meet at Barona street. This Art Nouveau building was designed by Karl Johann Felsko in 1903. It is covered in dragons, wolves and a variety of other macabre animals:

Now, we return to Elizabetes iela - starting at the house in £22. From Blaumaņa iela 28 head southeast toward Marijas iela, 190 m. Turn right onto busy Marijas iela, 350 m. Turn right onto Elizabetes iela, 50 m. and Elizabetes iela 22 is on the right. In its own time was the largest residential building in Riga. it occupies a part of a district between Elizabetes, Marijas and Alfreda Kalnina streets.

A bit more northward to Elizabetes 22 there is a samll alley to your right (east) pointing to The Bergs Bazaar (Berga bazārs). An historical pedestrian village-like enclave originally constructed between 1887–1900. It has been turned into a small, stylish and trendy shopping and dining attraction. Simply stroll about stopping to rest on one of the many benches:

A bit further north, along Elizabetes iels, on your right - a marvelous blooming oasis in front of Hotel Bergs. A complex of a five-star, small, luxury hotel, contemporary offices space and private rental apartments:

Further north, in the intersection of Elizabetes iela and Krišjāņa Barona iela - we see, on our right,  the Latvian Puppet Theater (Latvijas Leļļu teātris) (http://www.lelluteatris.lv/en/192-kase).  The Latvian Puppet Theatre offers performances in either Latvian or Russian every day, but shows often sell out, so buy tickets at its box office as soon as possible. Tickets office is open: 10:00-18:00, SAT, SUN 10:00-17:00. There are more than 30 plays in Russian and in Latvian for children from 2 years at the repertoire of the theatre. Performances take place at the Great Hall, Small Hall and the small Puppet Museum, which is located in the same building (K.Barona 16-18):

We continue walking northward along Elizabetes iela. Now, crossing Krišjāņa Barona iela (on our left and right) - we see the Vērmanes Park on our left. Meanwhile, we skip this nice park and insist walking along Elizabetes iela.  500 m. north to this intersection - we see the high-rising Radisson Blu Hotel with its 25th floor Sky Bar restaurant. This restaurant allows the BEST, panoramic view of Riga. BUT, you must order food in this bar for having this view. This restaurant is CLOSED in the morning hours. So, we took the elevator (FREE...) to the 24th floor and took magnificent photos of this wonderful city - through the glass windows of the highest floors in the Radisson Blu hotel. Note: these windows allow only 270° panoramic view. You have to be prompt, polite and assertive with your presence in this property. Come with a reasonable code of dress and nobody will say a word !

Before you cross the Elizabetes street and enter the park - continue walking several steps. see the building at Elizabetes iela 67 near restaurant Lido Vērmanītis:

Walk 90 m. further nort and DO NOT miss the  Splendid Palace on your right. Old cinema building. The external facade, although hidden from the street, is lovely. There is a very good bistro/restaurant inside with friendly staff. In the evenings - it is a cinema/theatre. Movies are screened in their original language but with perfect atmosphere and quality:

Opposite the Radisson BLu Hotel ,west to the Rhotel, is the Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral (Russian Orthodox Church) and the Esplanāde Park.  We descend from the hotel high floors, cross Elizabetes iela and have a LONG detour in the Esplanāde Park. 

Our main points of interest into this park are: the Latvian National Museum of Art graces  on one (north) side, while the cupolas of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral majestically rise in the other (south). There are no real attraction drawing you to the park on its own. We skipped the Latvian Art Academy, residing adjacent to the museum. The park used to be teeming with Soviet-era sculpture.  The Esplanāde Park was once an unruly and unkempt hill known as Senais or Kubes kalns. It was mentioned as early as the 12th century as a staging point for enemies to attack the area, which is why it was finally levelled by military decree in 1784. The flattened land later served as a parade ground for the local garrison. It was converted into a  park during Riga’s 700th anniversary celebrations in year 1901. The present greenery was created in 1950 as a community park. The park includes statues of Prince and General Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly (born 27 December 1761, died 24 September 1818),  a Russian Field Marshal and Minister of War during Napoleon's invasion in 1812,

Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly, Russia postage stamp, 2011:

a renowned writer Rainis and the 

The Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral (Kristus Piedzimšanas pareizticīgo katedrāle) is situated a bit south-west from the statue of Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly. The golden domes of the cathedral are quite visible from many parts of Riga and the church is a very nice landmark. The gleaming gold domes that sparkle in the sun are an unforgettable sight. Really nice stonework on the outside and very well decorated on the inside. Lots of gold and beautiful icons inside. It is known that photography is NOT allowed inside Russian/Orthdox churches. BUT, we had seen several visitors taking photos - and we did the same. Women need to cover heads, so take a head scarf. It was built between 1876 and 1883, with decorations made by the firm of August Volz, during the period when the country was part of the Russian Empire. It is the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Baltic provinces built with the blessing of the Russian Tsar Alexander II.  During the end of the 19th century the neo-Byzantine style building was the most expensive edifice of that time in Riga, its interior was uniquely rich and of high artistic value. The cathedral was renowned for its outstanding collection of ancient and valuable icons. Three iconostasis painted by the brightest lecturers of St Petersburg Academy of Art and the famous Russian painter Vasily Vereshchagin. During the First World War German troops occupied Riga and turned its largest Russian Orthodox cathedral into a Lutheran church. In independent Latvia, it became, again, an Orthodox cathedral in 1921. Soviet authorities closed down the cathedral and converted its building into a planetarium. The cathedral has been restored since Latvia regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. 

The Latvian National Museum of Art, Jaņa Rozentāla laukums 1 (closed on Mondays) is the greatest surprise of your day 3 in Riga or during this itinerary. It is situated next to the Academy of Art. You see Magen David (Jewish Stars) in the front facade of the Academy - since, part of the funds for construction of the academy - were raised by Latvian Jews. OPening hours: TUE:10.00 – 18.00, WED: 10.00 – 18.00, THU: 10.00 – 18.00, FRI: 10.00 – 20.00, SAT: 10.00 – 17.00, SUN: 10.00 – 17.00. Prices: 3 euros, concessions: 1.50 euros:

Academy of Art:

Reconstruction of the Latvian National Museum of Art lasted several years and was finished on 1 December 2015. The building was designed by the German architect Wilhelm Neumann and built in 1905.

Rear side (into the Esplanāde Park) of Latvian National Museum of Art:

The main entrance from 11 Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela:

Latvian National Museum of Art - the lovely Kafenica. Beautifully designed:

Take the elevator and start your visit at the stunning floor 5 (wooden attic) or CUPOLA. More contemporary art (during AUG 2018: hand-knitted rugs, Transfiguration by Egils Rozenbers). Fantastic design of wooden cupola with giant white wood beams and a transparent GLASS FLOOR. Unbelievable design. A great, unique experience of design and exhibition space ! DO NOT MISS floor 5 !!:

From the cupola you can go out onto two roof terraces with views over the City. Fantastic view from the balcony in floor 5 to the south:

Radisson Blu Hotel from southern terrace in Floor 5:

Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral (Kristus Piedzimšanas pareizticīgo katedrāle) from Attic at floor 5 - breathtaking sight:

View to the north, Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela:

We descended to floor 4 (with glass floor)

to see a temporary exhibition of the Latvian painter Niklavs Strunke (1894–1966). One of the most outstanding representatives of the 20th century Latvian Avant-garde. He was a painter, graphic artist, book decorator, designer and theatrical artist. During summer 2018 the museum displayed his paintings of Italy.

Niklavs Strunke, capri, 1924:

Niklavs Strunke, Florentine in Winter, 1929:

Strunke made the cover to the book "1000 & One Nights":

Floor 3 includes several unheard Latvian Artists.

Karlis Padegs, 1952:

Floor 3 - Latvian Art - Janis Tidemanis, 1930s:

Floor 3 - Latvian Art - Leo Svemps, 1937:

Floor 3 - Latvian Art - Niklavs Strunke, 1937:

Floor 3 - Latvian Art - Jekabe Kazalke (1895-1920), Circus:

Jekabe Kazalke, Ladies at the Seaside, 1920:

Floor 3 - Latvian Art - Alexandra Belcova, Tennis Player, 1927:

Teodoris Zalkains, 1928, Portrait of Mussorgsky:

Arturs Baumanis (1847-1904), 1887, Horse of Destiny:

Janis Rozentalis, 1894, Coming from the Church:

Do not miss the empty Central Hall in Floor 3:

From Floor 3 we recommend using the pretty stairway. A A good photo-op of the interiors of this beautiful building and gem:

Floor 2 - The Soviet era, Janis Osis, Rowing Race, 1958:

Floor 2 - The Soviet era, Leonids Maurins, 1972, Silvery Night Fishing:

Floor 2 - The Soviet era, Meija Tabaka, 1974, Wedding at Rundale Palace:

Floor 2 - Central Hall:

We exit the museum from its north entrance in 11 Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela and walk east to the intersection of Elizabetes iela and Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela. Then, we turn left and walk northward along Elizabetes iela. Skip to tip 2 below.

Riga - Day 2 - From The Central Market (Centraltirgus) to the Bremen Town Musicians Statue

Guido Amberotti

Latvia

Riga - Day 2 - From The Central Market (Centraltirgus) to The Dom square:

Part 1: the south part of Old Riga (1/2 day) - Tip 1 below.

Part 2: the central part of Old Riga (1/2 day) - Tip 2 below.

Part 1 Main Attractions: The Central market, The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum, The Latvian Academy of Sciences, Riga Orthodox Church of Annunciation of St. Virgin, Riga Railway Station, Forum Cinemas.

Part 2 Main Attractions: Mentzendorff House, House of the Blackheads, Town Hall Square, Latvian Riflemen Monument, Riga Cathedral, Dome Square, Līvu Square, Mikhail Chekhov's Russian Theatre, Cat House, Saint John Church, St Peter's Church, Bremen Town Musicians statue.

Duration: 1 day. Distance (two parts): 7 km. Weather: any weather. Start & End: The Central Bus Station / Wellton Hotel and Spa.

Introduction: our route, today, starts in the southern part of Riga Old Town and move northward to more central sites in Vecrīga. The southern part is called Spīķeri (from German Spéicher), which have now been turned into a hip arts & entertainment quarter.

Our hotel: Wellton Hotel and Spa. It resides opposite (north to) the Central Bus Station. You have to pass an underway (3 minutes walk) which connects both of them. The Central Bus Station is adjacent (west and south to) to the Central Market of Riga:

We start our daily route in the Central market (Centraltirgus) that will attract you for hours. A great walking tour. Five hangars and outdoor stalls sell a variety of Latvian and international produce, from seafood to cheeses, to meats, to fruits and vegetables. The Central Market is an intriguing combination of sights and smells and is great for people-watching, too. There is no item on earth - not represented in this HUGE market. We saw tens of markets around the world. The RIGA market is one of the best two or three around the globe.  No other attraction like this in Europe ! It is one of the most visited in the world, as 90,000-100,000 people shop here per day on the average. The market is busiest on Saturdays and Sundays. In 1998, the vast territory of Riga Central Market was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Here you can pick up a last-minute snack or souvenir to remind you of your brief stay in the Latvian capital city. Every hangar is equipped with automatic doors and you can move among 4 of them without exiting outside. You can visit the market hangars in any weather conditions. These architecturally-imposing food pavilions, built in the 1920s, are Riga Central Market’s calling card. It was planned from 1922 and built from 1924 to 1930. Originally used as military airship hangars, they were later transformed into market venues. The market's pavilions are five of nine Zeppelin hangars remaining in the world.

Everything is very inexpensive. It's a great market to check out and get a taste of the locals, and, above all, a fun stop in Riga.

Still, half of the market stall stand outside in the open air. Many of them are rows with souvenirs:

Amber items:

Onto the hangars - there are special territories for: fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, flowers etc':

Salmon fish products including eggs:

Medus = Sweet:

The open-air stalls are, mainly, clothes and second-hand items stalls and stalls for local small holders with at this time of year: cherries, raspberries, red and black currants and strawberries. Around there are many farmers that sell fruits for little prices (and they are very good too !):

You can also buy a local drink called Kvass from barrels. It is made by bread with very very low alcohol. It tastes a bit sweet. 0.3 Litre - 1 euro, 0.5 L - 1.4 euro, 1 L  - 1.4 euro:

Pharmacy - alternative medicine:

Tin caps:

The market is very vibrant, rich, intriguing - but, NOT noisy and NOT vulgar. Very suitable also for children. Part of the stall are open during the night. You can find stalls opened 'around the clock'.

Be careful from pickpockets. On the same time the market's administration has determined to take tough measures on sellers that are deceiving customers. There are future plans to join nearby train and bus station into a single complex as well as increase selling of Latvian produce.

From the most southern parts of the Central Market - we head to Spīķeri (the area of the past Riga Jewish Ghetto). You can easily arrive to the Ghetto even with our general hints. Search for the most south-east outskirts of the market and start walking in this directions. Ask the locals about the Ghetto or Spīķeri and follow several poor signposts. You will see the mighty, high-rising Latvian Academy of Sciences or the Observation deck on your left (west) all the time:

The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum are, formally, at Maskavas iela 14A, Latgales priekšpilsēta. The more you strive for the south and approach Spīķeri - the more desolated, poky and neglected are the surroundings. Avoid this area in rainy or hot days. There is no shelter around. You will hear (during the weekdays) noises of reconstructions and build-up. This  warehouses area or barn district on the banks of Daugava between present Gogoļa Street, Central Market, Krasta and Turgenev Street was, for hundreds of years a centre of wooden warehouses and, later, during the 19th century, of stone warehouses (the Red Warehouse district). All warehouses, except the warehouse stretching along Turgeņeva Street at Maskavas Street 14A, are massive two-storey or three-storey brick buildings. The warehouse at Maskavas Street 14A (now, the holocaust Museum) is a one-storey building. Warehouses have arched basements and wooden coverings between floors. Warehouses form a spatially not completed, but monolithic ensemble of buildings. According to special building regulations elaborated for the warehouse district, all warehouses have matching facades, i.e. facades that have similar and harmoniously attuned design. They are designed in the so-called „brick style” – one of formal varieties of the 19th century eclectic style that prevailed in the architecture of industrial structures, warehouses and other commercial buildings. We don't think that you'll have the opportunity to appreciate the qualities of this interesting district. It is under the project  of “Revitalization of the degraded territory between Maskavas, Krasta and Turgeņeva streets” . The ambitious project turns the streets warehouses and blocks into a publicly accessible, cultural and educational quarter, of interest to both locals and tourists. The territory is attractive for both locals and tourists as the warehouse block is located in the historical centre, which is included on the Unesco World Cultural Heritage list. It will take years to complete this plan. Within the framework of the project, the entire block of buildings and the Daugava embankment were revitalised and the underground pedestrian tunnel reconstructed, through which one can go from city centre to the riverside promenade and take advantage of the beautiful views of the city seem from scenic river banks. The area is now characterized by cobbled passages, benches, flower pots, trees, playgrounds, a skate park, a place for performances and events, a wide promenade near the Daugava, viewing areas and a quayside – all instead of the desolation that was:

The entrance to the Jewish Ghetto Museum is from Krasta Iela. The Retro Tram #7 arrives nearby:

The museum is FREE (donation is happily accepted). Closed on Saturdays. Open: 10.00 – 18.00. The museum is VERY moving with both of its parts: the Jewish and the Armenian. Not for the faint-hearted, but great lesson to us all. You won't forget this exposition for a long time. A lot of provocative material, leaves you plenty to think of. This museum is mostly outdoors and has lots of information about the ghetto and the holocaust. There's also guided tour in area, but you can also just go and walk on your own. Very moving wall of memorial:

There is an exhibit about the Jews sent from Theresienstadt to Riga called "3000 Fates":

Do not miss the inspiring court with the 'Weeping Willow' (like the one in Budapest Jewish Museum) and the Hebrew letters:

You can go inside a ghetto house and see models of Latvian synagogues on the first floor and a typical ghetto apartment on the second floor.

There are several striking documents and photos concerned with the Jewish Holocaust and revival history - like the photo of David Ben-Gurion (1st Israel PM and the main figure of its independence) as a delegate in the Zionist Congress in Riga:

or the picture of Sara Aaaronson - member of 'Nili' underground group fighting against the Ottoman mandate, assisting the British army conquering Israel (Palestine) during WW1:

The exhibits on the Armenian genocide are mesmerizing. The exhibition consists of video-installation, rare photos and books,and textual information that increases the knowledge on the first genocide of the 20th century, the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks from 1915 onwards:

A small but AMAZING museum.  The Ghetto is a very bold reminder of the evil that people can carry out or cooperate with. In this sense - Riga has a very shameful history.

Our next destination is the Latvian Academy of Sciences (Stalin's Cake), the highest building in Riga. Your direction is north-east. Find the intersection of  Maskavas iela and Turgeņeva iela. Turn left (north-east) onto Turgeņeva iela, 160 m. Turn right onto Elijas iela, 50 m. Turn, again, left for 30 m. and the Latvian Academy of Sciences Observation deck,  Akademijas laukums 1 will be on your left. The Latvian Academy of Sciences is a striking building, dating from the Soviet era (known in other countries as 'Stalin's Wedding Cake'), but it offers amazing views of Riga. "Panorama Riga" is a circular terrace - observation deck of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, offering breathtaking 360° panoramic views of Riga. Beautiful Stalinist style building. You can find buildings like this in Moscow and Warsaw. Open: daily 10.00 - 22.00. Entry fee to the viewing platform 5€. Children - FREE. Come with the 5€ notes ready in your pocket. Sometimes, the ladies there refuse to give change. Route to the platform via elevator and two staircases. There is an elevator that takes you to the 15th floor, the platform is on the 17th. Stunning 360° view from the top. You can see most of the Riga old town here. You get excellent views on all four sides on the very top of the building. You can see the Old Town, the Daugava River, and other major landmarks of the city from this deck without obstruction and the photographs taken here are terrific. The terrace is wide enough, so groups of tourists or companies of friends can feel free on the "Panorama Riga" observation deck. As you walk round the observation deck information signs help give some background to key buildings that you can see. You can watch the most beautiful sunset or have a romantic date in the height of 65 meters (17th floor of the building). There is an elevator almost to the top, you have to climb only two floors up. The views from atop the deck are better than the ones from the Radisson Blu hotel or from St. Peter's Church. Much cheaper than going to the viewing platform of the St Peter church in the old Town. You also get a flavour of the Soviet architecture and decor in the ground floor/entrance area. Early mornings are not busy and are favored for the sun position. Another favored hour is the sunset one. There is toilet in the tower:

Further north-east we arrive to the intersection of Turgeneva iela and Gogola iela. In this intersection - you see a beautiful Russian Orthodox church. The Riga Orthodox Church of Annunciation of St. Virgin or Rīgas Dievmātes Pasludināšanas baznīca, Gogola iela 9. The original church that once stood here was destroyed when the entire area was razed in 1812 to deprive Napoleon’s army of shelter. The army took a different route. Fortunately, some of the historic icons were saved and now adorn the walls of the current yellow wooden church that was built in 1818. Although it looks like it’s falling apart on the outside its simple interior is still worth a quick peek. Very colorful and nicely decorated church. No photos allowed inside:

It is a 550 m. walk to the central Railway Station in Riga. There were 3 reasons we decided to visit the station. First of all, it main hall is magnificent. It is a very cool commercial center, well organized, air-conditioned, not overloaded and includes many amenities - including the Lido restaurant (where we had a good lunch, see below). Head northwest from the Russian Orthodox Church in Gogla iela 9  toward Turgeņeva iela
200 m. Slight right to stay on Gogoļa iela, 280 m. Turn right at Satekles iela to face the central Railway Station (Stacijas laukums). This was the place to buy our tickets for our day trip to Jūrmala (well, no need to buy in advance). It is a terminus for five railway lines: Riga–Skulte, Riga–Lugaži, Riga–Daugavpils (Zilupe), Riga–Jelgava (Liepāja), Riga–Tukums (including Jūrmala) as well as international trains to Russia, Lithuania, Germany and Belarus. Most public city transport stops are situated in the nearby streets — Marijas iela, Merķeļa iela, Satekles iela and 13. janvāra iela:

In the Central station building on the first floor there is Rimi supermarket. Nearby Iin the Origo complex) there is a brilliant Stockmann supermarket.

The Station facade with reflection of Marijas iela and Satekles iela:

A bit north to the Train Station - you find the Origo shopping centre. We had our lunch in Lido Origo restaurant. Air conditioned. Pleasantly decorated. Always busy - but, you have your own space. 9 euros per person for beetroot soup (pink, not red, tasty, filling, full with beetroot pieces, onion, garlic, parsley, hard eggs etc' - a meal of its own), main course (meat or chicken or fish with two add-ons). Superb meal in a budget price. A huge selection to choose from. You choose your portions and pay for every piece of your selection. Rock-bottom prices with top quality. Very big, clean and spacious seating area. There approx. 9 branches of Lido in Riga. We stuck with Lido during our 5 days of stay in Riga:

Outdoor exposition of Latvian Hi-Tech achievements and innovations in the Railway Station Square (Crawler 'Step by Step'):

Wood S4P Board - 'GG SUP Race 12.6':

Leaving the train complexes behind and heading north-west to the Old Town of Riga - you find Marijas iela on your right (north-east) and Satekles iela on your left (south-west). Turn left to the busy Satekles iela to find Forum Cinemas or  Kino Daile (Cinema Beauty) on your left. Generally spoken - a good experience. Average prices. Clean and comfy halls. Not packed with many spectators:

From the Forum Cinema centre we move to Tip 2, Part 2 our our 2nd day in Riga: several famous attractions like: The Dom Square, The Town Hall Square, The Blackheads building, St. John and St. Peter Churches and more. Move to Tip 2 below.

Riga - Day 1 - from the Freedom Monument to The Three Brothers

Guido Amberotti

Latvia

Our 1st day in Riga: from The Laima clock or Freedom Monument to The Three Brothers.

Main Attractions: The Laima Clock, The Freedom Monument, Bastion Park, Bastion Hill, Powder Tower, Latvian War Museum, Nouveau houses in Smilšu iela, Jacobs’ Barracks, Swedish Gate, Arsenāls museum, Riga Castle, The Three Brothers.

Distance: 4 km. Duration: 1/2 - 1 day. Weather: any weather.

Our Hotel (for 5 nights) was the Wellton Hotel and Spa, Vaļņu iela 49, Rīga. Although the hotel was fully-booked - it was very quiet. Good breakfast. The dining hall (floor -1) might be busy around 08.00 in the mornings (groups of tour companies). Rich variety of food. Coffee is average. Angela in the reception - was wonderful and very helpful. We LOVED the hotel. Location - optimal. The #22 bus to the airport is several steps from the hotel entrance (1.5 euro if you buy the ticket in advance in the Marvesen kiosks or 2 euros on board). The same holds for: the railway station (7 minutes walk), the central bus station (3 minutes walk), the central, famous market (5 minutes walk) and shopping malls (5 minutes walk. Supermarket (Idi) is also nearby. The room is comfortable. 2 or 3 foreign TV channels. AC is less than average.

Riga is a very pleasant city. Allow, at least, 3 days for exploring it. Most of the youngsters speak or understand English. Many people understand and communicate in Russian. There is a lot to see in this welcoming city. The roads, sidewalks, public transport and other services still suffer from the long effect of the Soviet era in Latvia. BUT, we were surprised to see how Latvia (which suffers from negative emigration - 3%-5% decrease in population every 5 years) develops very quickly and gives the tourist - a very comfortable, pleasant and valuable experience during his or her stay in Riga). Riga still owns the charm of the old world. The Art Nouveau buildings are magnificent. Every tourist, still has space and feels relaxed. No pressure. No noise. No place is packed with loads of visitors. No air pollution. The city is clean. We think the water is drinkable - but most of the people told us that is better to drink bottled water. Prices are reasonable. A bit more expensive than Lithuania and far less expensive than the Scandinavian countries. One of the highlights of staying in Riga is the experience of shopping in Supermarkets: a huge variety, quality of vegetables and fruits is high and prices are reasonable (not cheap...). Plenty of buses and trams. Public transport is efficient and cheap (1 euro or 1.5 euro with city lines 2-3 euros for short-distance railway rides). We didn't see smiling Latvians. But, they are polite, welcoming, honest and helpful. No problems in English with the young population. Riga offers many attractions. Plenty of museums, parks, magnificent buildings, canals and rivers and architectural highlights. From September to June you can enjoy the Ballet or Opera performances. During the summer months there are a few festivals and several organ concerts. Try to avoid stays in Riga when the temperature is above 30°. 

How to arrive: we took the Lux bus from Vilnius. 4 hours ride. Reliable, comfortable and reasonably-priced service. 

How to depart: take the #22 bus to the airport. Service every 15-20 minutes,starting at 05.30 and last bus at 23.15. It takes 25-30 minutes to arrive to the (small) airport of Riga. Taxis are 15-20 euros. Book your taxi from your hotel. Do not pick-up a cab from the city roads. 

Meals: Your breakfast in an average hotel in Riga will suffice for most of the day. For lunch or dinner - our suggestion is one word - LIDO. Search the nearby Lido restaurant. There are 8-9 branches of Lido in Riga. You choose your portions. Every portion has its own price tag. Overall, it is a delicious food, budget prices, generous portions in busy dining-halls and in central locations. The food is always fresh, typical east-European, attractive-looking, filling and tasty.

From Wellton Riga Hotel & SPA, Vaļņu iela 49, Centra rajons, Rīga - we headed north on Vaļņu iela toward Audēju iela, 450 m. Turn right onto Kaļķu iela, 70 m. Cross Zigfrīda Annas Meierovica bulvāris and the Laima Clock is on your right at Aspazijas bulvāris 20. The Laima Clock was completed in 1924 and is named after the Laima Chocolate company advertisement it first carried in 1936. "Laima" is one of the most important chocolate producers in the Baltics (their chocolates are quite tasty). Its location between the Old Town and the Centre commercial district has made it a landmark of the city. This clock near the Freedom monument used to be the favourite romantic meeting point for couples. The brown clock in front of the Freedom Monument is used very often as a meeting point in the centre of Riga since it was erected in 1924, so people wouldn't have an excuse for being late to work. After the Second World War the clock during long period of time was used as political information stand. In 1999 the clock has gone through the total reconstruction, brining back the looks it had in 1930s. The famous clock was renovated at the end of 2017 and now also includes a digital countdown clock to Latvia's centenary on November 18, 2018. It also plays one of Latvian maestro Raimonds Pauls' sugary tunes every hour.

We continue wa;lking north-east along Kaļķu iela (actually, a bridge over the river) to arrive to the Freedom Monument. The Freedom Monument is honouring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918–1920). It is considered an important symbol of the freedom, independence, and sovereignty of Latvia.[1] 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. The sculptures and bas-reliefs of the monument, arranged in thirteen groups, depict Latvian culture and history. The core of the monument is composed of tetragonal shapes on top of each other, decreasing in size towards the top, completed by a 19-metre high travertine column bearing the copper figure of Liberty lifting three gilded stars. Designed by Kārlis Zāle, the friezes around the base of the sculpture depict Latvians singing, working and fighting for their freedom. The motto "For the Fatherland and Freedom" is inscribed upon the base. At the top a young woman holding three stars above her head - representing the three historical regions of the country: Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale. The front of the monument features two travertine reliefs "Latvian Riflemen" and "Latvian People: the Singers"; the other groups depict the Latvian basic values — "Work", "Guards of the Fatherland", "Mother — Family Guard", and "Scholars". On the sides, the travertine panels bear reference to the Russian Revolution of 1905 and Latvian War of Independence. The middle block symbolises the nation's ideals and striving for freedom — "Latvia" is ready to defend the Motherland, "Chain Breakers" try to break free from their chains, "Lāčplēsis" (an epic Latvian folk hero) encourages to fight against evil powers, while "Vaidelotis" (a Baltic pagan priest) symbolises spiritual strength. Locals are always placing flowers at the base of the monument, an act for which people were deported to Siberia in Soviet times. A two-man honor guard stands at the base of the monument, symbolizing Latvia’s sovereignty. When the weather is favourable the honour guard changes every hour on the hour from 10.00 - 16.00. They also 'stretch their legs’ every half hour. The show lasts for 5 minutes only. We passed through the monument several times - The monument is stunning - at any time of day. The whole gorgeous surrounding, with its double-lined of trees avenue - reminds you of Paris:

Return and with your back to the monument (your face to the south-west) walk 60 m. along Kaļķu iela (crossing again the river over the bridge) and turn right (north) onto the the Bastion Park (Bastejkalna Park). A surprisingly pretty and well maintained park in the heart of Riga. This park right next to the Freedom Monument is named after the Bastion Hill. It is a peaceful park to visit and walk around. There are many lovely paths with small bridges, water cascades, fountains, colorful flowers, manicured flower beds, several sculptures, and benches to take a rest. It is your best bet in Riga summer hot days (shady, cool, quiet). In autumn, the colours of the trees are spectacular and a real treat to see. It is terrific to walk around even on a drizzly day. A very peaceful respite in the middle of the city - worth a stroll.

In the centre of the bastion Park - there is the Bridge of Love. Newly-weds place locks, most with their names and the date, on the metal rails of this bridge. The locks are the type that require two keys to open. Then the couple tosses one key into the canal. The idea is that just as the padlock cannot be unlocked, the couple cannot be separated. A guide said the city comes along every few years and cuts the locks off, to make room for more:

There is a canal going through the park, where you can see ducks and swans. At summertime, it is possible to take a river cruise from a dock located in the park. The canal boat tour which takes you down the City Canal and the Daugava River lasts 1 hour and costs 18€:

Sculpture of Alfrēds Bruno Jānis Kalniņš in the southern entrance of the park. Kalniņš was a Latvian composer, organist, pedagogue, music critic and conductor; the founder of national Latvian opera:

Your next destination would be the Bastion Hill at the western part of the bastion park. A steep hill in the middle of the park. It takes 5 minutes to walk up, but the view is not that great. We thought the park to be better than the hill. Starting to climb (first, you have several convenient stone steps) - you see this bronze horse on your right:

The highlight of this small hill - is the view over the park and the Freedom Monument (in the far south-east):

Bastion Hill was created from 1857 - 59. It is a pleasant hill with a small stream and waterfalls. But there is much more than a nice view to this park. on its top are memorial stones ("The Benches") to five people killed by Soviet bullets during the January 1991 disturbances, during the Latvian struggle for independence from the Soviet Union. Among the dead were two camera men documenting the events; they filmed their own deaths:

After visiting the Bastion Hill (which is, more or less, in the western part of the Bastion Park) - descend down and search, in the eastern part of the park (between the Pilsetas Canal and the Reina bulvaris) (cross the central stone bridge of the park) - a sculpture dedicated to Latvian playwright, poet, writer and journalist Rudolfs Blaumanisk. Designed by Teodors Zaļkalns (until 1930 Teodors Grīnbergs) , a Latvian sculptor. Blaumanis is sitting on a chair with a book in his lap:

A bit south (with your face to Blaumanis sclupture, on your right) - you see a sculpture of three dancing women:

We return to the western part of the Bastion Park and exit the park through one of two paths leading west or south-west to Smilšu iela. Immediately, after entering Smilšu iela - we see on our right a yellow, decorative wall  "The centenary of the Latvian city and region" with coats of arms of the Latvian counties. From January 3, 2011, Latvia is divided into 110 counties and nine republican cities as a result of the administrative territorial reform. It was painted by internationally renowned Latvian artist Leonards Laganovskis. The coat of arms of the composition is crowned with the coat of arms of the state capital, Riga, and the internationally recognized emblem of Jelgava, the capital of the Duchy of Courland. In the next line are the republican city coats of arms, followed by the coat of arms of the provinces in alphabetical order:

Several steps more westward you can see, on your right the Powder Tower and part of Riga walls. The Powder Tower (Pulvertornis) is part of the War Museum and originally a part of the defensive system of the town. The first tower on this place for protection of Riga has been constructed in 13th century. In documents for the first time this place has been mentioned in 14th century by the name of Sand tower. The modern tower has been constructed on a boundary of 15th and 16th centuries. in the 17th century it was named the Powder Tower due to gunpowder stored there. Its present appearance was set in 1650. Sometimes the tower collapsed and was restored. The height of the tower is 25.6 metres, diameter - 14.3 metres and wall thickness - 3 metres. The Powder Tower was restructured in the years 1937 to 1940 when it was included to the structure of the Latvian War Museum. The powder tower is the only preserved up to the present day, the fragment of the defense system of Riga. There were 11 cannons placed in the tower, and also a "cannon ball "catcher". You can see cannon balls in the tower that were walled in to remember the Second Northern War. Later, there was a prison and torture chamber in the tower, and weapons were stored there until 1883. When the War  Museum (see below) was opened in the tower, a museum’s wing was built where to display the exhibition. The tower is very impressive and your best bet for taking photos is during the morning or early evening hours:

The Latvian War Museum located in the Powder Tower in Old Riga is the biggest military history museum in Latvia with an extensive and impressive collection. In 1919 the War Museum was established into the Powder Tower. In 1937–1939, an annex building was added according to a project by an architect A. Galindoms. The museum’s collection has more than 25,400 items which are systematized in individual collections and chronological exhibitions, having a large number of documents, orders, weapons, photos, uniforms and other objects. FREE. Opening hours: MAY - SEP: 10.00 - 18.00 WED-SUN, OCT- APR: 10.00 - 17.00 WED-SUN. We did NOT visit the museum. Visitors had to be accompanied by a guide and the whole "Tour " lasts 2 hours. We did not have two hours to spare so we did not venture inside. Do NOT miss the outer (southern) wall of the museum with the soldiers' helmets:

With your face to the Powder Tower sharp left onto Torņa iela. The Old City Walls are visible on the left side

At this point of your route - you have the opportunity to sample several Art Nouveau houses in Smilšu iela. No less than 5 buildings, at numbers: 1,2,6,8 and 10. Note that we have a special blog (Day 3 in Riga) about Art Nouveau Riga. These houses are NOT covered in the Riga Art Nouveau blog.  Smilšu iela # 1  was designed by an architect from St Petersburg. The building has several asymmetrical towers and a bay window and balconies.  The corner façade is emphasized with a bay window and small tower. Under the bay window we see an allegorical representation of a woman bearing a shield decorated with the eight-point star of the morning. Sculptor Oswald Wassil produced the figure. The building is occupied by offices and a restaurant is on the first floor:

Smilšu Street 2 is made of red brick, plaster and colourful tiles. At the centre of the façade is a two-story bay window supported by figures of Atlas and an oak tree with a mighty system of roots. The structure under the bay window presents a beautiful image of a woman. At the centre of the bay window is the figure of a peacock. Above it is the winged head of a woman – a symbol of the sun. The corner pilasters of the bay window have reliefs showing an owl and a squirrel, along with the owner’s initials and the year of construction. The façade of the building has many ornamental Art Nouveau reliefs and sculptures, while the windows feature a stylized depiction of the sun:

Smilšu Street 6 is rather simplistic, non-brilliant example of Art Nouveau. It has decorations in the style of Neo-classicism, and the façade is decorated with gilded mosaics between the windows. The DnB Nord bank is now housed in the structure:

Smilšu Street 8 features a wealth of sculptures, by Sigismund Otto and Oswald Wassilon, its façades. Note the bay windows and balconies decorated with metal. Above the façade’s bay window, there are two female figures holding out a crown of flowers. They symbolize beauty and harmony. The entrance portals are decorated with female masks with closed eyes. There are shops on the first floor of the building today, along with a candies' shop and small café where visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee in a restored Art Nouveau interiors:

Smilšu Street 10 is a building from the period of late Art Nouveau and elements of Neo-classicism are seen in its decorations. The façade features decorative reliefs with medallions. The upper floor of the building includes Egyptian motifs:

If you turn left at Trokšņu iela and, again, left (east) along the walls (on your left) - you see some excavations done around

and the "Ghost" opposite the old walls:

Further west along Torna iela are  Jacobs’ Barracks (Jēkaba kazarmas) on the right. Just opposite the Swedish Gate and the largest fragment of the old city walls you’ll see three long yellow buildings with orange tile roofs that are collectively known as James’ Barracks (or Jacob's Barracks). The barracks were built in the 18th century at the base of the city fortifications and since then they were restored several times. The Great Northern War saw Latvia moving from occupation by Sweden to occupation by Russia in 1710 and resulted in Riga’s fortifications and barracks being severely damaged. In 1739 the RigANS obtained permission from Russia to build a military barracks that would house one thousand men on this site along Torna Street. Four wooden barracks were soon constructed. By 1772 the wooden structures had been replaced by the stone structure of the present day Jacob’s Barracks. In addition to housing troops, over the years Jacob’s Barracks have been home to various government agencies, schools and stores and in the 1920/30s there were unfulfilled plans to convert them into a hotel and theatre. During the subsequent Soviet occupations of Latvia the Barracks housed the Nahimova War School and the Supreme Command Centre of the Soviet Army’s Construction Department for the Baltic States.  They stretch for roughly 230m from the Powder Tower until Jēkaba iela. Now it's a long street full of atmospheric, posh restaurants and reasonably-priced souvenir shops but it's worth a stroll and appreciate the fact that Latvia is now a country very much at peace with its neighbours and with itself:

Walk left through the Swedish Gate, Atgriežu iela. The Swedish Gate (Zviedru vārti) was erected 1698 as a part of the Riga Wall to provide access to barracks outside the city wall. The Swedish Gate was also as one of the few entrances to the town, providing access to barracks outside the city wall and was built in 1698 after the Polish-Swedish War was over and Swedish Kingdom took over the city, starting a reign which was called as the Swedish Times (“Zviedru Laiki“) over 1629-1721. This gate has a legend too: "Back in the days in the place of the Swedish Gate, there was a house that belonged to a rich merchant. Like any other merchant at that time he had to pay a tax to bring goods into the town of Riga. As he was a clever merchant, he thought 'instead of paying, I’d rather get rid of the house and build a gate'. And so he did. And that’s how the Swedish Gate got erected…". Since the wall has been gradually falling apart, several restoration works took place over 1980s and 1990s. This is visible by the colour of the bricks that you can easily notice. However, the Swedish Gate is the only structure in the Old Town of Riga that preserved its original look. The Swedish Gate is one of the most popular places where tourists are going for a genuine experience of the old Europe and is, frequently, packed - making it difficult to take photos. We liked the atmosphere, music and energy around:

The Swedish Gate from Torna iela:

The Swedish Gate from Atgriežu iela:

Do not miss the souvenirs shop adjacent to the gate (with your back to the gate - on your left). In the shopping hours - note its magnificently decorated wooden doors:

Return to Torna iela. If you continue to walk more westward along this road, crossing Jēkaba iela on your right and left - you'll see the northern facade of the Izstāžu zāle "Arsenāls", Torņa iela 1 -  exhibition hall of national art museum, featuring modern Latvian artwork & cultural events.  There is no permanent display. there are regular exhibitions on the ground floor of works from the museum. The hall also hosts exhibitions of conceptual art, international projects and solo exhibitions by Latvian and foreign artists. The Arsenals museum is located in a customs warehouse or arsenal built at the beginning of the 19th century in the late Russian Classicism style. It was adapted for museum use in the second half of the 1980s. Opening hours: MON- closed, TUE-WED: 11.00-18.00, THU: 11.00-20.00, FRI: 11.00-18.00, SAT-SUN: 12.00-17.00. Prices: adult - 3 euros, stdents and seniors - 2 euros:

We walk along Torņa iela until its west end and turn left (south) to Pils laukums  (Castle Square) (partial restricted usage road). The church with the light blue colour is the Our Lady of Sorrows. We arrived to Riga Castle. Today it houses the residence of the President of Latvia. The formal Latvian brochures and web sites state that there is always an armed guard standing out front. We saw nothing. Riga Castle still stands on the right bank of the River Daugava for more than 700 years. Through the centuries, it has seen severe destruction, numerous rulers, and wars. The foundation stone was laid in 1330. The castle was destroyed several times. The last major reconstruction took place in 1515. From 1330 to 1562, the castle served as the residence of Master of the Livonian Order. The Livonian War (1558–1583) was fought for control of Old Livonia (in the territory of present-day Estonia and Latvia), when the Tsar of Russia faced a varying coalition of Denmark–Norway, the Kingdom of Sweden, and the Union (later Commonwealth) of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland. The first Riga Order Castle, which once stood in the current territory of Convent Court in Riga Old City, was destroyed by citizens of Riga during the civil war against the Livonian Order. The city of Riga had to rebuild the caste under a peace treaty concluded after the Livonian civil war. The second Riga Order Castle was built in the 14th century on the bank of the River Daugava from where it was possible to control ship traffic in the river. In the 15th century, the second Riga Order Castle was completely ruined as a result infighting in the Livonian Confederation. The third Riga Order Castle was constructed on the old castle’s foundations at the beginning of the 16th century. The following centuries after dissolution of Livonian feudal states, Riga Castle was taken over by Polish, Swedish and Russian administrations and institutions. In 1922 it became the residence of the President of the Republic of Latvia; while during the Soviet Era the castle housed the Young Pioneer organisation and became known as Pioneer Castle. One of the largest medieval castles in Latvia with a long and exciting history. Riga Castle is a typical sample of late Classicism architecture. The building of the Riga Castle has been very plain from the very beginnings; this can be explained by the military nature of the castle and its frequent destructions/damages. Initially, Riga Castle featured regular planning and three small towers at the corners. In the 15th century, two round towers were added — the Tower of the Holy Ghost and the Lead Tower, which now hold the Flag of Latvia and the Standard of the President. The ground floor was used for household needs and the castle guard, the first floor accommodated apartments, and the second floor was the arms’ floor with narrow windows once used as cannon holes. The spacious basement features underground passageways. The last significant reconstruction took place in early 20th century under the direction of architect Eižens Laube. The entrance hall was updated, a spacious and splendid Festival Hall was built and the Three Star Tower was constructed. The President's apartments in the Riga Castle occupy most of the castle-front building constructed during the 16th century. The bay tower has been constructed in the Early Baroque style and several rooms in the castle have Art Deco style interiors. Today, the castle has six towers: the Holy Ghost Tower, the Lead Tower, the Piper Tower and the Northern Tower in the corners, as well as the Ecker Tower and the Tower of the Three Stars. The walls of the castle are approximately three meters thick. Underground passageways have been discovered leading in various directions from the castle. Artworks of the 1920s and 1930s, such as the painted ceiling of the Hall of the Ambassadors and the gate of the castle, are especially valuable features of Riga Castle. You may, probably, see the castle only from the outside as we did. Roof was damaged in a large fire in 2013 and the castle is closed to the public during repairs. We first saw part of the castle from its eastern side (the Castle Square or the old town side). Some sides of the castle look neglected. It is better seeing the 'castle' from the riverside. Go around to the side away from the river (through daugavas Gate) and, from there, you can appreciate the castle mighty appearance. The whole building is closed and there are no tourists around. its not worth spending to much time on it:

We continued south along Pils iela. The road turn to and continues south-east. On our right is the St. Saviour's Anglican Church. The neo-Gothic church was designed by Johann Felsko. The foundation stone was laid in 1857 and the church was dedicated on 26 July 1859. The church operates a soup kitchen for homeless people and supports a club for the elderly:

From Pils iela Turn left onto Mazā Miesnieku iela, 50 m. Turn right onto Mazā Pils iela, 10 m. and you arrive to the Three Brothers, Mazā Pils iela 17. The Three Brothers is a building complex consisting of three houses freely visible and open to the public. The houses together form the oldest complex of dwelling houses in Riga. The houses are situated at the addresses 17, 19 and 21 Maza Pils Street (Mazā Pils iela), and each represents various periods of development of dwelling house construction. The Three Brothers complex today houses the State Inspection for Heritage Protection and the Latvian Museum of Architecture. For visiting the Latvian Museum of Architecture, go to the backyard of the Three Brothers and the hall with a reconstructed model of a room from the 15th-18th century and a renovated fireplace with a chimney of the 15th-16th century. They have been called the Three Brothers for centuries stemming from a legend that they had been built by three men of one family. In the medieval times, Maza Pils Street was located in the outskirts of Riga and craftsmen lived there. FREE. Open 09:00-17:00, MON 09.00-18.00, FRI 09.00-16.00. Closed: SAT, SUN. Since, the main attraction are the houses' facades - you can visit this site every time of the day and year. 

Oldest brother: The building in 17 Maza Pils Street is the oldest, dating from the late 15th century. This building was built around 1490 – the time when Riga established close links with Dutch merchants and the city’s architecture showed influences of Dutch Renaissance architecture. The exterior of the building is characterised by crow-stepped gables, Gothic decorations and a few early Renaissance details. The building is decorated with Gothic niches and a stepped pediment, while the portal made in 1746 has been moved to the middle brother during restoration. The house had one big room where the work, trade and everyday life took place, and it has retained its original appearance. The house was restored in 1955–57 by architect P. Saulitis:


Middle brother: The next house, in 19 Maza Pils Street, has an exterior dating from 1646, with a stone portal added in 1746. The style of the building shows influences from Dutch Mannerism. The middle brother is the richest one of the three.It is one of the most typical, but also most modern dwelling houses of the 17th century. There is an inscription "Soli deo gloria!" (“Glory to God alone!”) above the entrance. In contrast to the oldest building, this one had a spacious room with large windows above the ground-floor hall, and there were special residential premises in the yard side of the building:

The young brother: The last house of the three, located in 21 Maza Pils Street, is the narrowest and the smallest one of the three brothers. It is a Baroque building which was built in the second half of the 17th century and had small apartments on each floor. The youngest building has a very interesting facade element - a mask, which, according to the owners of the building, protected its inhabitants from evil spirits:

during the day - expect to find masses of tourists in front of the Three Brothers. If you are lucky, you'll enjoy a concert of amateur players looking for your donation: