College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota
College of Science and Engineering

Day 5: Riga, Latvia - Culture Capitol of Europe... if not the World.

We got to Riga early this morning. We had a little scare at the airport, as one of us briefly lost their passport (but found it in a different pocket). We arrived in Riga during their marathon race and had to walk several blocks to the hotel since the road was closed. We art staying in the Albert Hotel (named after Albert Einstein, who was born here). After dropping off our suitcases and getting a quick lunch or nap, we went on a 3-hour guided walking tour of Riga and the "Old Town" of Riga from the 12th and 13th centuries. If you thought Copenhagen was amazing, seeing Riga might make your heart stop, as the antiquity, preservation, restoration, and modernization of the Old Town and the surrounding area of Riga have been done so well, despite the numerous wars, bombings, and occupations. National/Cultural pride here is so apparent and dedicated, it makes American patriotism look like an obvious "Made-in-China fake" (not that I am speaking poorly of American patriotism).
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Our local guide was very imformative, though she was clearly unimpressed by our need to take breaks to get off our feet and our slow speed. Had she known how much we walked the last 4 days, she might have been a little more understanding. Outside of the "Old Town" is Riga. Many of these buildings were built and designed by local and Finnish architects and represent romantic and art nouveau designs. Riga is also home to a very good Art University, pictured here:
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Inside the Old Town, which is surrounded by a canal/moat, is a mixture of restored wooden, stone, and brick buildings. They range from the 1100-1200 era, to the 1400-1600 era, to the 1800-2000 era. All of them have been integrally built such that is often difficult to tell the age of the building.
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Each road and cobblestone tells a story as to what is currently there, and what used to be there. Different colored/shaped cobblestones are oriented in certain ways to represent buildings that no longer stand.
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The original city wall has been integrated into the current shops. Churches have been rebuilt and restored using the original materials and techniques from hundreds of years ago. Buildings that have been completed destroyed from centuries of war have been rebuilt to the original design and specifications, though some have been repurposed to museums and other types of use. Some are now stores or government buildings or restaraunts.
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Outside the city are remnants of Soviet-occupation building styles. There is an abandoned Soviet Air-raid Shelter that has been converted to a shooting range, where you can fire retro Soviet-era weapons. There is a Car Museum that is currently featuring old Soviet motorcade cars that have been custom armored and owned by top officials. The old Nazi Zeppelin Hangers have now been converted into enclosures for the local markets.
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Latvia's progressive green building and city planning policies are apparent throughout, and they far surpass the standards of many advanced nations. They are truly dedicated to their culture, such that preservation, restoration, efficiency are built into law.
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Most things are closed on Mondays and Sundays, so we won't be able to do as much for the first two days. Tomorrow morning we go to the local university and then have some free time.


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