Saturday, August 03, 2019

Don't Miss Riga's Art Nouveau District!

Sunday, August 4th, 2019 - Another Tragic Day for America – A Mass Shooting in El Paso Texas.

Art wakes and checks his I Phone and our morning begins with news of a mass shooting in El Paso Texas. A week ago today, there was a mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, an event that I have attended for nearly 40 years. I did not attend this year because of a scheduling conflict and instead of experiencing horror I am traveling in the Baltic’s and writing this travel blog.

We walk the two blocks from our shabby overpriced Hotel Elizabeth to the elegant hotel where we wish we were staying and indulge in another of their wonderful buffet breakfasts. We pay our 20 Euro breakfast bill and leave with intentions to return to our hotel and take the trolley straight to the bus station where we will spend an hour wandering the old town. Instead we bump into a hoard of tourists all following guides like lemmings and looking upward. Busloads of tourists with guides all speaking different languages are funneling down the side street of our hotel. Curious we follow and realize that we are in the heart of Riga’s Art Nouveau district. The facades of the buildings backing our hotel are all Art Nouveau masterpieces and we are both giddy with delight and dismayed that we might have missed a highlight of Riga that was right under our noses.

Tours in the Art Nouveau district
Ornate facade detail

Dragon door guardians in Riga's Art Nouveau district
Detail of lion facade
Remarkable griffin and grill work

We piggyback on the English speaking tour and are delighted by the ornate facades, whimsical turrets and elegant architecture. We marvel at fabulous bas reliefs of griffins and whimsical dragons, owls and green men. The tours disperse and we retrace the path only to see another flood of tour busses regurgitating more tourists into this Riga Art Nouveau district.

Gorgeous Griffin Basrelief
Sphynx Guardian 

Art Nouveau style doorway
Owl motif

Greenman motif

Amsterdam style Art Nouveau facade

Facade detail #11

Returning to the hotel, we pack quickly and roll our suitcases to the trolley stop. Within minutes we are deposited close to the bus station and roll our luggage over cobblestones and into the central market where we buy a few provisions for our 4 ½ hour bus trip to Tallinn, Estonia. 20 minutes to boarding we fall in line to show our passports, tickets and to stow our luggage. Our seats are at the very back of the bus topside but we have an extra 10” of leg room than the other rows. Although not quite as luxurious as the Lux business class line, each seat has its own entertainment screen. Art settles in and watches two movies and I spend the travel time writing this blog.

We buy bus snacks at the adjacent food market
The Riga bus terminal

A canal divides the food market from the bus terminal
Our bus to Tallinn Estonia

We make one 5 minute stop half way into the trip. Although there is a bathroom onboard, I choose to use the terminal restroom. I am quick about it but when I exit the bathroom, Art is panicked that the bus is leaving and we dash the 100 meters to our bus that departs 15 seconds after we are onboard.

We arrive in Tallinn at 4:30 and Art spends a few minutes on his phone getting us oriented.  He calls for an Uber and we are soon dropped off at the Kreutzwald Hotel. Although on the outskirts of Old Town, the hotel is lovely and our room is large and luxurious. We are given a voucher for a bottle of sparkling wine because we booked directly with the hotel. We take a few minutes to settle in and to check e-mail and Art tells me that there has been a second shooting today in Dayton Ohio. We watch the unfolding news on his phone. We are still reeling from the Garlic Festival shooting a week ago, the El Paso shooting this morning and now it’s Dayton Ohio.

The walk from our hotel to Old Town Tallinn is 20 minutes. Tallinn is another almost too picturesque to be real type of town. 
The less touristy upper end of Tallinn Old City
Tallinn back street

We locate the four star My City Hotel that we will move to tomorrow for our Rick Steve’s tour. It is 6:30 P.M. on a Sunday night and the town is relatively quiet and seemingly free of tourists. We want to sit for a drink and we wander downhill along quiet cobblestone streets towards the heart of the Old City and there they all are!  The sidewalk cafes are overflowing with tourists and I feel as if I have stepped into a Renaissance Festival. Waiters at several of the outdoor patios are dressed in medieval tunics and we step into a gift shop and are greeted by a women also wearing medieval clothing. She greets us in the “lilting” voice that we use at the Renaissance festivals and tells us that everything is handmade in Estonia. Candles flicker and the shop smells of a mixture of spices, leather and candle wax. There are shelves of leather shoes, all with turned up toes suitable for court jesters and medieval dresses hang from the roughly hewn beams. Rustic mugs and hand blown glasses, pewter jewelry, candles and animal skins are all for sale. We leave and take a few steps along the street when a darling young man, dressed in tunic and turned up toed shoes approaches us with a menu in hand. He asks us where we are from and tells us that we are the first Americans today who are not visiting from a cruise ship. I cannot be rude and listen to his spiel about the fine meaty fare that awaits us should we step inside his fine establishment. He suggests that we could dine on bear, wild boar or roasted duck, meats suitable for the upper class only and not for the peasant. For a moment he is taken aback when we tell him we are not looking for meat and he quickly regroups and points out vegetarian options. I dare not tell him that if I ate bear, I might not be able to show my face in California ever again.

Throngs of tourists in Old City Tallinn
A Medieval Restaurant

The Olde Hamsa where you can dine on bear?
Back door of Olde Hamsa

We head back to the upper edge of the old town where there are fewer tourists and enter a stylish restaurant without bear meat and costumed greeters. They are fully booked until 9:00 P.M. and we leave disappointed. Art questions if we are turned away because of how we were dressed but just then another younger and stylish couple enter and are turned away as well. We head down the narrowest of cobblestone streets to a more casual restaurant.

Pasta and beet salad

A back street bistro is our choice for dinner tonight.

Art is not thrilled with my choice but we choose a table in a back dining room. The patrons are mostly young and hipster looking. Once our wine and cider are delivered, Art relaxes and our dinners are excellent. We share a beet salad and Art orders the grilled halibut with mashed peas and potatoes. I order the pancetta pasta with cream and sun-dried tomatoes. Everything is delicious. Back at our hotel, I redeem our free voucher for a bottle of sparkling wine and and we drink about half the bottle before calling it a night.

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