Today we gathered early outside our hotel for a guided tour of Riga Old Town. Our local guide is very good but it is clear that he does not like the Russians who have invaded his country in prior years.
We start off near the hotel where there were some beautiful buildings from some centuries past.
And along the way there were musicians randomly playing on the streets. Music seems to be an important part of life here–and I”m not talking about rock and roll.
The Baltics apparantly have access to large quantities of AMBER. Many of the stores as we saw in Vilnius, Lithuania, carry beautiful works of amber jewelry and other creations. At one store I saw this piece which is a tree with Amber leaves. Quite amazing.
After our tour of Old Town Riga, we saddled up for the 30km ride to Jurmala Beach, one of the most popular resorts in Latvia. Our route started with a crossing of the river and then was generally on a bike trail through a forest of trees.
Along the way we passed this water park. Looked like fun.
After a bus ride back to Riga, we encountered this bridal group making a special offer to those they encountered. The bride-to-be was offering shots of vodka for 5 euro to help support the cost of her wedding. Her bride’s maid helped to encourage the tourist to donate to the bride-fund. So we did.
We finished this busy day with an Indian food dinner. Yeah! I love Indian food and who would have thought that we’d find a good restaurant offering my favorite foods here in Riga. And you can tell Georgie is happy too. She doesn’t have to cook tonight.
Thus ends another adventurous day in the Baltics. Tomorrow is Sunday and Georgie and I have decided to take the day off and just tour Riga. Tune in. I might even get the blog written in the next few days.
Thanks to my friend, Beth, I was reminded to finish the blogs on my Baltic trip. So I am once again posting. Since we returned from the Baltics in mid-August, we have had a steady stream of house guests. The last couple left yesterday and we have no confirmed reservations for the Farmer B&B for the rest of the year. But if you come this way, we will welcome you with great joy.
So when we last talked we were at the Hill of Crosses, a most amazing place in Lithuania. Now we are heading by bike and bus to Riga, the capital of Latvia. We are all very excited when we cross the border from Lithuania into Latvia. We have to stop and take everyone’s picture, of course. This is us as we left the Lithuania Republic. And us as we crossed into Latvia.
Once in Riga, we were dropped off by our bus in front of a very old church. We have to walk about two blocks to our hotel. The architecture in this area is beautiful.
Once settled in our room we begin to think about dinner. When we get to the lobby several of our fellow travelers are milling around with the same thought but with questions on their faces–”Where to go?”. Finally someone says “Lets go this way” and of course we all follow. We end up at a brightly lite plaza with restaurants and bars and music playing. We chose one of the open-air restaurants and ordered a “tasty beverage”.
After a delicious dinner we did a little night walking around the plaza. One of the cafes was named Rock-a-Billy Cafe and there was rich American country music eminating from the musical group on the inside. Riga is really a beautiful city at night and except for the architecture you would think that you were in any upscale city in the USA. We headed for the hotel and looked forward to a good night’s sleep and an exciting Day 7.
While we were on the Curonian Spit we got some good views of the Baltic Sea. Curiously, the coast looks alot like the west coast of the US. But how many of us have ever had the chance to see for ourselves. Well here it is–The beautiful Baltic Sea.
And then there is the beach on a nice sunny day.
Kind of makes you want to ditch the bike and take the plunge.
We spent the night in Klaipeda and had a good evening walking around town and the harbor. This morning we biked 25 miles to Palanga then transferred on to our bus and headed for Riga, Latvia. But on the way we visited one of the truely interesting sites that we saw along the way. The Hill of Crosses located outside of the town of Siauliai, Lithuania, has a very unique history and its future looks to be the same.
After the third partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire. Poles and Lithuanians unsuccessfully rebelled against Russian authorities in 1831 and 1863. These two uprisings are connected with the beginnings of the hill, as families could not locate bodies of perished rebels, they started putting up symbolic crosses in place of a former hill fort.
Most recently, the site took on a special significance during the years 1944-1990 when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. Continuing to travel to the Hill, Lithuanians left their tributes of crosses to demonstrate their alligiance to their original identity, religion and heritage. The Soviets worked hard to remove new crosses and bulldozed the site at least three times including as recently as 1963 and 1973.
In 1993 Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses, declaring it a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice. In 2000 a Franciscan hermitage was opened nearby. The hill remains under nobody’s jurisdiction; therefore people are free to build crosses as they see fit.
In the 1800′s there were over 3000 crosses on the Hill. In 1922 there were only 50. When destroyed by the Russians in the 60′s and 70′s there were several thousand. After a count in 2006, over 400,000 crosses were found. Today hundreds of visitors come to the site and plant crosses each day. I’m sure there are over 500,000 there today. It is a truely unique place. Enjoy your tour.
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This morning we awoke to a beautiful day. Our ride today would cover 38 miles along the coast of the Curonian Spit which separated the Lagoon from the Baltic Sea (see route map). The start of the route was on a bike path that hugged the coast line.
Our first stop was a hill along the coast. We climbed to the top to get a beautiful view of the Baltic.
This sign showed where we were. Our location on the hill is the red area in the lower right-hand corner. This was the Parnidis Landscape Reserve.
Georgie told our guide, Romas, what a good time she was having. She’s so cute.
As we continued our biking we started to ride on a bike path through the woods. It was beautiful and refreshing. After several miles we stopped at another site to view the Baltic. In the parking lot there was a girl who had backed her car up and was offering various coffee blends to the tourists. Very unusual but an interesting idea.
After a little hot coffee we climbed up the dunes to a viewing point on top.
We biked a few more miles through the woods and it was time for lunch. Oh, yeah, dessert too. Yummm!. Must maintain your strength when biking.
We ate outside at this restaurant. The surroundings were quite beautiful.
After lunch we biked to the harbor at the end of the Spit and borded a ferry to take us across the Lagoon to Klaipeda, the main seaport of Lithuania. At our hotel, Georgie put together another great Happy Hour.
And after another great dinner we turned in for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we head for Latvia.
After a 25 mile bike ride to Vente Horn, we headed to the coast to board a boat for Nida.
The shuttle to the boat took about three trips, so some of the ladies took the free time to practice their Rockette routine. Kick it girls.
Once on the boat, Our Lady of the Happy Hour fired up the tastey beverages and snacks.
When we reached Nida, we were once again greeted with young musicians playing on the street. These kids are really talented.
After a relaxed afternoon in Nida, we enjoyed just strolling around the city and turning in early.
We left Vilnius in the morning by bus to Trakai. From there we off loaded our bikes and began to bike. Weather was good. At some point along the way we stopped to tour one of the old forts that were resident along our path. As we walked to the fort we encounter these two lovely young ladies playing music. We later learned that this was a custom that we would see frequently on our travels. Boys and girls of all ages were playing various instruments and looking for donations for their efforts.
After pausing to enjoy their music, we continued on to the fort. Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about it cause I didn’t take notes. But it was rather cool inside and it looked like it could keep out the barbarians. Here, judge for your self:
Back on the road we continued to pedal toward Kaunas along the Nemunas River.
At one point we stopped by the river side and a few of our group went for a swim. Entering the town of Pastrevys, I was amazed to see that it looked very much like any other small American city. Who would have thought?
We pedaled a bit further down the road and came upon this old fort. There was an interesting sculpture set in front of the fort. It resembled the face of a man with a watchful stone eye on all comers.
As we continued to follow the flow of the river, our guide, Romas, veered off and took a road that lead down to the river. We all dismounted and followed him down the road to the river. We then realized that we were getting our first view of Russia. If you look back on the Route Map, you’ll see that Russia ended up with a small section of land on the Baltic adjacent to the southwestern tip of Lithuania. And here we stood looking at what appeared to be a nice town with a bridge and buildings. Could have been St. Louis. Interesting.
As we made our way toward Kaunas again, I was struck by the fact that the country side here in Lithuania could be anywhere in the midwestern United Stated. I saw these same plots of land and waterways when riding across country last year. This was clearly not Burma or Cuba or Turkey. On the other hand it was comforting to see that this land was not dissimilar to ours. And so far, there people do not seem to be much different than us. Maybe younger and more fit.
Finally we reached Kaunas and after a very nice dinner we turned in for a good night’s sleep.
Tomorrow we take a ferry and ride to Nida on the Curonian Spit.
If you didn’t get the picture I posted, here it is.
In August 1989, the people of the Baltics staged a peaceful political demonstration. This demonstration marked the 50th anniversary of the pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The pact and its secret protocols divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence and led to the occupation of the Baltic states in 1940. The protest was designed to draw global attention by demonstrating a popular desire for independence for each of the countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. It also illustrated solidatity among the three nations.
The Soviet authorities in Moscow responded to the event with intense rhetoric but failed to take any constructive action that could bridge the widening gap between the Baltic states and the Soviet Union. Within seven months of the protest, Lithuania became the first of the Republics of the Soviet Union to declare independence.
After the Fall of Communism, August 23 has become an official remembrance day both in the Baltic countries, in the European Union and in other countries.
The Baltic Way or Baltic Chain was formed by over two million people who joined their hands to form a human chain spanning over 370 miles across the three Baltic States. People carried with them portable radios to be able to tell the exact time when to form the human chain from Tallin through Riga to Vilnius.
Below is a picture of footprints in Vilnius,Lithuania, that we believe was the start/end of the Baltic Chain. It is amazing the courage of these people to stand up peacefully in their efforts to claim independence from the Soviet Union.