Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rainy Day in Riga

My first full day in Riga began at 4:30 AM with the scent of cigarette smoke wafting in my open window as two men carried on a conversation outside. Realizing I was not going to fall back to sleep, I gathered  my Magic Jack and my computer, quietly got dressed so as not wake Fran and went out into the lobby. With an eight hour time difference from home, I knew I could probably catch up with my fiancĂ© Marty. He and I had communicated electronically upon my arrival, but we still had yet to speak by phone. At home we had successfully experimented with chatting with a web cam, but we needed to replicate that effort from abroad. After a number of false starts, we finally got the audio working and were able to have a conversation complete with video. I even got a video hello from our cats. We used an Acrobat site that Marty located.  It is actually a meeting site, but worked well for the webcam. It also enabled me to allow him access to my screen or control of the screen. We’ve also been able to communicate on Google Chat with a web cam with slightly better reception. Through both of these vehicles we were able to converse on-line without a phone.

An alternative for phoning less technology savvy people is the Magic Jack which is a small device that plugs into a USB port. It has a US number and allows me to call the US as if it were a local call and without additional cost. I forwarded my cell phone to it so it alerts me by e-mail if I get any calls to my cell phone or Magic Jack number while I’m gone. I can then use it to check my voicemail. The only requirement is an Internet connection in order to work. Technology plays an important role in my travels, allowing me to easily stay in contact and share information.

When Fran awoke we went to the dining area, an arched brick room reminiscent of a wine cellar. The breakfast was sumptuous– fresh yogurt and honey, banana blintzes, baked eggs, ham and a Mediterranean vegetable salad. It lasted us until dinner. We then ventured out to explore Riga only to realize that it was cool and verging on rain. As we began to walk the skies opened up and torrents of rain descended. We walked in the rain and found St. Peter’s church where we saw a notice for a concert later in the day which we planned to attend.

We had set out for a walking tour until the rain deterred us. Our focused destination dissolved into a meandering walk through the city as we admired its architecture. Here are a few of the buildings in the streets close to our hotel.

Riga is known for its Art Nouveau buildings with the largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in all of Europe. .We found the Cats’ House, a yellow Art Nouveau building, atop of which stands a feline statue.

The story is that prior to WW I a merchant who owned the building was refused entry to the guild as he was Latvian and only Germans were admitted. In retaliation he put two statues of black cats, their backs arched and tails raised, on the roof and posed them so their backsides faced the guildhall. He finally was admitted to the guild and then turned the cats around.


As the rain intensified we sought shelter in a coffee shop as we watched the parade of umbrellas. When the rain finally ceased we wandered through the streets, taking pictures of the reflections of the buildings in the large puddles. I had done a series of paintings based on reflected images so am always looking for such source material as it allows for a collage-like effect in paintings.

When the rain began again we headed back to our hotel for a long nap. We ventured out in the evening to the concert at St. Peters. A lovely blond Latvian flautist together with several pianists performed the concert which was hauntingly beautiful. We have noticed the typical Latvian woman is rather Nordic, often statuesque and blonde.

We ended our evening with a delightful dinner at an elegant restaurant across from St. Peters. We are splitting meals so we can try a greater variety of foods. Duck seems to be plentiful and we’ve enjoyed it in several meals as well as seafood from the Baltic. The menu was in Latvian, English and Russian script which allowed me to practice reading Cyrillic script.I found that many words translate to English words if one can read the Cyrillic. My new Russian vocabulary includes such words as mozzarella, Rhubarb, Tagliatelli and Tiramisu. I am working on speaking fluent “Food” although I don’t think it will help me much in the Vilnius archives.

We’ve located where the synagogue and Jewish museum are and plan to visit them tomorrow. The main synagogue was destroyed in 1941 and the one we are going to visit is the only operating synagogue in the country.

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