Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I don't know what this tower was designed for, or what it's used for now. It's in a fenced-off area belonging to the Latvian natural gas company, not too far from downtown. From its appearance, I hope it's haunted, though I haven't ever heard anything suggesting that might be the case.
Monday, September 28, 2009
All over Latvia in late summer and early fall, the above is a common sight: An ordinary Latvian who has gathered enough mushrooms (usually chanterelles) and berries (I think "bilberries" are the most common on the street, one of several Latvian berries that can nominally be translated into English, but your correspondent doesn't believe he's ever seen them before. Bilberries are like blueberries, but smaller and less tasty. However, Latvian strawberries are sweet and more tasty than the ones one often finds in the U.S.). The urban set-up, seen here, is somewhat less common than the folding table set up along a rural highway, which is so common one has to wonder how any of them makes any money with all the bilberry-selling competition out there.
Friday, September 25, 2009
This is the Agriculture Ministry. It is emblazoned with a sign that reads "Ed ar Karotiti!" (Eat with the teaspoon!) A little green logo with a spoon is the symbol that a product was produced entirely in Latvia, seen on everything from bread to honey to beer. The building itself has a nickname that translates as "The Rotten Feed Tower," I guess because of the odd musty smell that permeates it. However it may smell, the Minister's office on the top floor does have maybe the best view in the city.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
We are really quite busy with the day job, so we may be a little light on the words for the next few days or weeks. We'll try to keep a photo a day coming through. Most of them somewhat more illustrative of Latvia than this one, which was taken in western Latvia, but is a view the same moon as the one you have wherever you are.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Pretty self-explanatory here - we went up to the top of one of Riga's famous church steeples (there's an elevator). The view was nice, but the staff photographer only had the pocket camera with him, but it does just fine when it needs to.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Riga has some very cool Art Nouveau architecture, which is obvious to anyone wandering around the heart of the city. But a lot of the cool interiors are at best hard to see and at worst lost in renovations that preserve the facade and gut the interiors. One exception is this building in the old town, home to the Naturalization Board offices, where the internal stairway features three stained-glass windows with sort of Modernist motifs - I forget my art history but they strike me as sort of Futurist Lite, celebrating the speed and excitement of the electrical tram. But there are also some horses. Anyway, somehow they've survived the years intact, or been nicely restored.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
While wandering through Old Riga with a visiting friend, we were overrun by a stampeding horde of brides. Or at least happened upon the "bride parade." I never really understood the point of the bride parade, because the guy leading the parade with a megaphone was speaking Russian. I heard one theory that it was some sort of pro-family values demonstration. The logo-festooned banners being carried behind the brides seemed to suggest it was just advertising for Riga's bridal shops. Then again, there was also a guy carrying a sign that read "Elvis Presley is Alive!"
Anyway, Riga is not a big metropolis, but I am thankful every time it proves big enough to present a few of the random surprises that make cities so fun.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
This is picture of a tiny fish we found on a very secluded beach. It wass kind of surprising that no seagulls or other birds had found it yet, but we had no role in its demise. On the other hand... did you know that it is possible to kill a flying bird with a car? They always seem to swoop out of the way - possibly aided by the aerodynamics of the car itself. Well, on our way back from Saaremaa, we managed. There's not much to the story, but there is a picture. It's kind of gross, so if you don't want to see a seriously mangled innocent little birdie, don't click on this link. If your morbid curiosity has gotten the better of you, go for it. If you actually really want to see a seriously mangled little birdie, please seek help. Ok, you've been warned; here you go.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Once again, we are forced to bring to light yet another suspicious similarity in the world of snack-food marketing. We don't relish our role as defender of Mr. Peanut and Mr. Pringle, but we have to point out that there is no reason that you need a big handlebar mustache to sell stackable potato chips in a tube. So why does Mister Potato have to bite Mr. Pringle's style? Or more to the point, would you measure the amount of time that was put into developing the Mr. Potato logo in minutes, or in seconds? Anyway, if you ever want to discuss this with Mr. Potato, you can find him in the snack shop on the ferry from the mainland of Estonia to Saaremaa.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Saaremaa is peaceful and quiet and a lovely place for a long weekend. But there's not a lot more to say about it. They have a 100-meter-wide meteorite crater, which is interesting, but not so photogenic as the old rusty stuff you find by the seashore.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Lighthouses also feature prominently in Saaremaa. Your correspondents biked all over the island. (Well, drove almost all over by car and then by bicycle the last few miles to any given destination, since we were at a spa hotel that featured massages that took up some portion of our days. We will endure anything to ferret out the truth about the Baltic for our loyal readers.) In any case, this is Kiipsaare Light, as seen from some crumbling building nearby. The lighthouse actually leans at a pretty severe angle toward the sea, but during high tide it's tough to get a good shot of it because it's out in the water and leaning straight away from the shore. But we were there in person, between massages, so you'll have to trust us.
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Many colleagues have joked about the Baltic countryside being kind of a Tolkienesque land, with lots of pleasant countrysides with ridiculously charming old barns and stone houses and tiny villages with a pub and people dutifully minding their flower gardens. Not that the Latvians are short, but there is a Hobbit-shire quality to a lot of it. But Saaremaa beats it all. It has all of the above, but the centerpiece of the main city of Kuressaare is this castle. Germany may have castles that look more like the kind of place a Disney princess might live, but Kuressaare features this stout looking fortress, original from the mid-1300's, has a cool portcullis and a moat and looks like the kind of place that would be easy to defend against orc attacks.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Your intrepid correspondents spent the Labor Day Weekend in our northerly neighbor and The Lovely Katherine's secondary base of operations, Estonia. But not just boring old Tallinn -- we went to Estonia's largest island, Saaremaa. Yes, that is how it is spelled. The Estonians love nothing more than double letters. In fact, they call their own country Eesti, just to start things off with an appropriately double-voweled touch. Other Estonian place names that we passed through that I am not making up: Muhu, Sääre, Uulu.
Saaremaa is sort of famous for, among other things, its windmills. Unfortunately there aren't too many windmills surviving out in the wild, so most tourists have to settle for the windmill petting zoo of sorts, where they have relocated several old windmills into one fenced enclosure, for their own protection and yours.
Friday, September 04, 2009
So we saw a bunch of fun stuff in Ventspils at their town fair. But the funnest was maybe the Melo M concert. They are three Latvian cello players, who do all-cello covers of your favorite pop hits, while wearing airline pilot outfits. It's maybe a little over-the-top on the irony for our day and age, but they put on a goofy fun show. Highlights included Dick Dale's Miserlou:
... and some other ones that we recorded snippets of but didn't get up on YouTube yet. I can't say there's anything uniquely Latvian about the combo of kitsch/whimsy/high art/low art/etc. But this particular mix of those elements is uniquely Latvian, and it was a lot of fun. The vaguely punk highlight was when the crowd was going wild as they walked off the stage, cheering for an encore; the band consulting with the festival director; him clearly saying "no you can't do an encore;" and the band then pointing to the crowd and walking out for an encore anyway.
Yeah! Fight the man! Punk's not dead! Be sure to catch them when they come to your town!
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
It was not long after our trip to Cape Kolka that we visited Ventspils. And the big crazy concrete blocks in Kolka have nothing on these big crazy concrete things. They built a big long breakwater by the port and mouth of the Venta river out of them, with a long path and a lighthouse at the end. The lesson, as always, is that the Soviets apparently never met a problem they couldn't solve with creatively used concrete.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Your correspondents went to Ventspils for the annual Ventspils City Festival. (Once again, this was a couple weeks ago - we reject the blog medium's obsession with timeliness and immediacy.) Not unlike many cities around the world, Ventspils started a public art project based on variations of an animal sculpture - in Ventspils' case, they chose the humble cow. Now there are several well-known and permanent cow-themed sculptures in town, including this blue sailor cow on a breakwater near the port. Latvia does actually claim to have honest-to-goodness blue cows. And they are vaguely, sorta blueish. They only rarely wear orange stocking caps, though.