Showing posts from 2020

Experiencing a Cold War Soviet Bunker

Have you ever felt as if you were living in a Cold War era spy novel? We visited the perfect location for one last month during our exploration of Latvia. This location was filled with telephone and communications equipment from the 1980s.

Deep in a bunker below this building in central Latvia, we had the chance to visit the actual headquarters of the Soviet leaders during the height of the Cold War. This 2000 square foot bunker was built in case of nuclear war as a place where the USSR Latvian leaders would gather during an attack. This would enable the Soviet government of Latvia to keep functioning even if the US sent a nuclear missile in the direction of their country.

Besides the communication rooms, the bunker held everything that was needed to exist for 40 days which included beds, kitchen and dining areas, map rooms, and meeting rooms. The bunker was maintained around the clock by minimal staff monitoring phones and news feeds in preparation of an attack.

It was never actuall…

Hill of Crosses

The country of Lithuania has an interesting place to visit near the border with Latvia. We had previously heard about this site and wanted to check it out.

It's a small hill where a Latvian fort had been built in the early 1800s. When Lithuania lost a war to the Russians, the families of the dead soldiers placed crosses on the hill near the fort. It brought comfort to the Catholic families.

From there, the tradition of believers coming to the hill to leave a memorial cross for loved ones grew. The Lithuanian people prayed for peace, for their country, and for their loved ones as they planted these crosses.

Today there are estimated to be more than 200,000 crosses of every size imaginable on the hill. Rosaries are hung by the handful on some of the crosses.

During the Soviet occupation from 1944 to 1990, this small hill drew the ire of the USSR rulers. On at least three occasions, the Soviets took bulldozers up the small hill and pushed down every single cross. They wanted to rid …

A Capital City

We had a chance to visit Tallinn on our Estonian trip two weeks ago. As the capital of Estonia, it is one of the oldest and most preserved cities in Europe. Today the wall around the city has almost 30 of its towers still standing. When you visit Tallinn, you almost feel like you're stepping back into history since the wall was first erected in the 13th Century.

Tallinn is divided into two distinct areas, the upper city and the lower city. Historically, lower Tallinn was the site for merchants to live and work. Today it is the hub of tourism with shops and restaurants filling the cobbled streets.

The upper city is the site of the government buildings, the Orthodox Church and Lutheran Cathedral. Historically, the ruling class lived up here - the governor, archbishops and city councilors. During the night, the gates between the upper and lower areas were closed to prevent any lower class citizens from entering the upper area. However, more than once, a nobleman, who was out at a ta…

A Visit to Saaremaa Island

Last week we took some time for R & R in the country of Estonia. The first thing we noticed upon entering Estonia was the language difference with Latvia. Estonian has so many vowels in the words, as you can see by the name of the island. We sometimes saw four vowels together such as "hoiuala." We, of course, didn't know what the words mean, but couldn't even figure out how to pronounce them.

We spent some time on Saaremaa to the west of Estonia. Our main focus was on Kuressaare, the largest city on the island. The most important site to see here was the castle which was first built in early 14th Century. It was built for the protection of the bishops and monks living on the island. Later it became important to the government that was ruling over Saaremaa. With the surrounding walls and bastions, it was a remarkable structure. Today it is a museum. 

We also saw several old buildings including a Lutheran church built in the 17th Century. By far, the churches we v…

A Taste of Riga

Last fall when we visited Riga, we ate dinner at this restaurant. The interesting thing is that we now live across the street from this same restaurant. I wrote last week about the facelift of the building holding this place. Unfortunately, most of the painted murals were covered over by the new paint.

We loved this restaurant last fall, so I'll reintroduce you to a gem from here. Tucked into a small alley in Riga, we discovered a tiny restaurant called Lasite.

 The building housing the restaurant was actually build in 1454 as part of the ancient fortification of the Medieval city of Riga.

In 1975, while Latvia was still under Soviet rule, the building was turned into a cafe. The architect tried to maintain the spirit of the Middle Ages with its arches and stained-glass windows.

The paintings on the outside walls made the quaint cafe very eye-appealing and inviting. But once we entered the restaurant, we were transported back in time.

People have to stoop through the low arched doo…

A Facelift for a Building

Across the street from our apartment, we have witnessed the restoration of a building during the last several months. It's been interesting to see the process used in renewing the exterior plaster on it. 

The picture below shows what a deteriorated exterior looks like. This picture was taken out of our back window of the courtyard surrounding our house. It's in very bad shape because of the age. Street-side walls don't look this bad, but it shows how the plaster chips away in old age. I'm sure that during Soviet times most exterior walls resembled this picture. 

We knew that the building across from us was going to be repaired when we heard the noise of the scaffolding being erected around it. We were amazed how fast the men threw that scaffolding together - three or four tiers tall. They handed up piece after piece from one tier to the next as if they were handling pencils. 

The next step was removing the old plaster with a power washer or something like that. It took da…

Midsummer Festival

In Latvia, June 23 -24 are national holidays where the people of the country celebrate the longest days of the year. Because we're so far north, the sun doesn't set until until 10:30 and rises again at 4:30. The hours between are twilight - never getting totally dark. The Latvians use these long days to celebrate.

Traditionally, Latvian citizens gather together with family and friends and sing Latvian folk songs around bonfires that go all night. The women weave flowers and boughs into a crown that they wear for the occasion. They also wear long flowing dresses with sashes.

Of course, this is usually done out in the woods or in parks. We didn't witness any of these parties because all the city festivities were cancelled due to the epidemic. The celebrations last all night during the twilight hours between 11:30 and 3:30. They wait for the sun to rise again before the party breaks up and everyone gets some sleep.

Old Riga was very quiet those days because everyone was out …