Thursday, September 19, 2013 – we are nearing the halfway point of our cruise, and our first “sea day” is tomorrow. Our cruise takes us to two of the three Baltic States, Estonia and Latvia. We will not be stopping to see Lithuania.
Riga is the capital, with a population of 700,000. Lithuania has a population of approximately 2.2 million; twice the size of Estonia, but still relatively small. Like the others, they were part of the Soviet Union from 1940 through 1981, when they gained their independence with the end of the USSR. They became a member of the European Union in 2004, and in January, 2014, will adopt the Euro as their currency. Timber is their primary exportable resource, with about half their land covered with trees. They also buy/sell coal, and any number of other resources from Russia to other countries; their ports being in a prime location. Tourism is also blossoming, and I can see why.
We spent our time in the Old City, which has a lot of character – and a lot of churches! They have been underneath the Swedes, the Polish, the Germans, the Russians, and, finally, independent. They have their own language, but at least half the population speaks Russian, too; although that is slowly fading as the Latvian schools gain prominence over the Russian schools.
The Marina came up river to Riga, and docked as far up river as physically possible – just short of a suspension bridge across the river. The port side of the ship is right along a grassy knoll, which Is right next to a busy expressway on the edge of town, which is on the other side of the roadway. It has the look and feel of parallel parking in downtown to go on a shopping trip. While coming up river, we passed a number of mercantile ports and beautiful shipping facilities – gorgeous, in fact. The new city is as new and modern as any modern city I’ve seen – largely the result of recovering from world wars and oppression under the Soviets, and undergoing significant economic recovery and expansion. The old city is gorgeous and full of character, squares, churches and shops. A number of buildings have been restored or reconstructed in the architecture of the original period.
The ship docked at 9, and we didn’t have to meet for our excursion until 9:30 – a mini-break! We were assigned to Bus #2 for the 20-30 minute bus tour around town, dropping us off in Old Town. Anna, our guide, did a good job of showing us around town and providing an informative background. The black cat is actually a lucky creature here in Latvia. Amber is very popular. Woolen goods are popular throughout the Nordic community. Parliament has 101 members that sit for 4 years, etc. etc.
We actually walked 15 minutes or so back to the ship. It turned out to be a wonderful day – sunny and relatively mild temperatures in the low sixties. A light lunch was had, and we met/chatted with a couple from Alberta; followed by naps, blogging and reading. Marion and Alison and Barry all have colds — and I’m fighting off a tickle in my throat. I’m doomed.