After the Shutdown

When we can once again join other fellow Christians in worship, St. John's in Riga will be our home church because this is the one congregation that will have English worship services. We were invited into the church last week to speak to the pastors about the possibility of doing online services even before we can gather there.

St. John's dates back to 1297 when it was built as a chapel for the Dominican cloister nearby. The chapel was destroyed in a fire in the 1400s and then rebuilt as a much larger church.

When the Lutheran Reformation came to Riga in the early 1500s, the church building changed from Catholic worship to Lutheran worship. The chancel area was added soon after, almost doubling the size of the worship space.

The vaulted ceiling of the church is decorated with a magnificent webbed pattern. This is a unique feature of this building, making this a must-see spot for tourists.

The church is filled with typical Lutheran fixtures from the crucifix-adorned altar to …

A Lavtian or Soviet Monument?

When I first saw this monument standing in a square in Riga, I thought it was a left-over of the Soviet era when Russia ruled the Latvians. I was actually surprised that the Latvians hadn't torn it down after the occupation was over in 1991. I now admit that I was wrong.

This monument, labelled The Freedom Monument, was built in 1935 by the Latvians to commemorate the freedom that they won in 1920. Before that, Latvia was ruled by Russia, Poland, Finland, or Germany in different periods of time. Finally, after World War I, the Latvians managed to throw out the foreign armies and gain independence.

Two years later they wrote and adopted their constitution. The people of Latvia collected donations to build this monument as a remembrance of the people who died in the battles of 1919 and 1920 to gain the freedom. The 42 meter tall monument is inscribed with the words "For Fatherland and Freedom" on the pedestal.

The base of the statue is surrounded by 56 large sculptures sho…

Dining in Medieval History

When we moved to Riga, we knew that we were going to be living in a much older city than St. Petersburg, but we had no idea that we'd be able to experience the history first-hand. A couple weeks ago, we went to a restaurant that took us back to Medieval times.

When we first walked in the door, a banner with a knight greeted us. Other ancient artifacts from Medieval Times decorated the area. How would you like to wear one of the helmets on the left?

We found out that this basement restaurant was first a wine cellar built in 1293. Today it's a restaurant named Rosengrals.

The low arched ceilings and squat stone pillars attested to the history of the building. The lighting in the restaurant was mainly candles which caused a  dark, mysterious atmosphere.

In the middle of the restaurant was an original well, built to help in the wine-making process. Used as a wishing-well today, it adds to the ancient ambience.

Everything on the menu was described as ancient cuisine from around the …

Europe's Solution to Toilet Paper Shortage

We've been hearing about the toilet paper shortage in the US and other countries over the last week. I must say that here in Latvia, we don't have that problem at all. Maybe it's because of the prevalent use of bidets here in Europe.

When we were searching Riga for our apartment in January, we noticed that all bathrooms looked like they had two toilets in them. On further research, we saw that the two weren't alike at all. The smaller one was a bidet (pronounced bi-day).

While we were in Italy over Christmas last year, we also noticed that every flat that we stayed in had a bidet, although I never saw one of these while we lived in Russia.

So, the question that we're left with is just what is a bidet and how is it used? After spending some time on the internet, I can explain that bidets are hard to explain. They are used for a purpose that people usually don't want to talk about - at least Americans.

To put it briefly, if people in the US used bidets, the dail…

Theorbo? I Learn Something New Everyday

We attended a Baroque concert a couple weeks ago in the Dom Cathedral very close to our house. The concert was located in a small room off to the right of the main worship area.

The room was packed with people who came to hear the music of a cello, violin, and organ from the Baroque era 1600s - 1700s. The other instrument was a surprise for me. It was called a theorbo, which is a lute-type instrument from that era.

The uniqueness of the instrument is the length of the neck. It's a fourteen stringed instrument that looks similar to a guitar. Because of the length of the neck, the theorbo has two distinct length of strings attached to it. The higher notes are plucked from one pegbox in the middle of the neck. The second pegbox at the end of the long neck allows for the low notes to be played along with the higher notes that a normal lute can play.

As you can see from the picture on the right, the theorbo was as tall as the man who played the instrument. I'd never seen one befor…

Majestic Churches in Riga

The two largest churches in Old Town Riga are both part of the Latvian Lutheran Evangelical Church.  Both of these churches have history back to the 13th Century. Of course, they were part of the Catholic Church when they were built.

The tallest spire in Old Riga belongs to St. Peter's Lutheran Church, started in the early-1200s. It was the main house of worship, or city church, for the residents of the city back then.

Many changes and additions have taken place since the original building, including a baroque-style facade added in 1692. The massive red brick interior is shown below. Pictures can't do justice to the enormous size of this church.

The other large church in Riga is the Riga Cathedral also known as Dom Church. It sits in a large empty square a ten-minute walk from St. Peter's.

Built in early 1200s, the Dom Church was originally built as part of a Catholic monastery. Today it is the church of the archbishop of the Latvian Lutheran Church.

Since the Dom Church…

Riga's White House

The president of the country of Latvia lives about three blocks from our house in a castle that doesn't look anything like the US White House. His house is called Riga Castle or RÄ«gas pils in Latvian. The castle is located on Pils Iela - Castle Street which runs past our street.

The Riga Castle is a bit older than the White House in Washington. In 1515, the current castle was finished being built. It had another part added to it in 1641. The previous castle was burned down in the late 1400s. The castle today also holds a museum of Latvian history.

Riga has been governed by several countries during these centuries: including the Lithuanians, Poles, Swedes, Russians and Latvians while this castle stood. It has seen many changes as the rulers changed from one country to the next.

The president of Latvia has lived in the castle since 1922. Of course, during the Soviet era, the government administration was located here, but there was no president then. When independence returned to La…