Our Baltic Trip 2016, Part 8 - Liepāja Posted on 18 Mar 17:38 , 0 comments
We awakened the next morning to find that Liepāja was setting up for its annual Sea Days festival on the promenade along the waterway. Our hotel (called the Promenade Hotel, and built in an old grain warehouse) was located right there on the Trade Channel. The Trade Channel was excavated when the previous harbor silted up. Today the main port is elsewhere, but the channel is used by pleasure boats, smaller fishing boats, and the Latvian Navy. For Sea Days, the promenade was filled with market stalls selling “Saturday Market” sorts of goods. Local smoked fish were particularly in evidence, as well as home-baked goods, homemade cheeses, honey, and many craft items and food and beer stalls for lunch. Mike bought a new belt, embossed with symbols of the ancient Latvian gods, hopefully thereby gaining their protection. Ilga was thrilled to find a window sticker with her name on it. She had always pined for something with “Ilga” on it….not a likely occurrence in the USA!
After strolling the market, we went into the center of the old town. The architecture of central Liepāja is quite striking; a wide diversity of building styles all jumbled together. Antique wooden houses stand next to grand early 20th century mansions next to Soviet-era concrete boxes. During the 19th century, the city had been a seaside resort town with “wood lace” ornamented grand homes, and some of the remains of that time are still in evidence. Unfortunately, damage during the two world wars opened up vacancies that have been filled in with less graceful structures. The mix of styles gave us a sense of discovery as we turned each new corner. We were also amazed to find an ancient building right in the middle of town. This building illustrated an interesting old metal reinforcement to the dovetailed building construction.
Unique metal bracing on old wooden building
We strolled through Rose Square, the town's central plaza, and watched the buskers. The city, as nearly everyplace we went in the Baltics, was filled with flowers, including a topiary butterfly in front of the university.
Street flowers in the Liepāja town center
Topiary butterfly in front of Liepāja University
After a stop at the tourist information office, we wandered down the pedestrian-only shopping street, spotting among other things in the shop windows a tee shirt celebrating Chikago. We were headed to St. Anne's Church, the major Lutheran church in Liepaja, and the site of Ilga's mother's baptism. The helpful attendant gave us a little history of the church. The church has a grand 16th century wooden altarpiece, unfortunately in need of restoration and protection for termites for which, alas, there isn’t enough money.
St. Anne's Church
We ran across the Liepāja gymnasium and wondered if, perhaps, Ilga’s mother had gone there.
The grand gymnasium building in Liepāja
A few blocks away was our next stop. Peter's Market, an Art Nouveau building erected in 1910, is considered one of the most beautiful market buildings in Europe. Inside were vendors selling meat, cheese, honey and other produce, while the fruit and vegetable vendors were in the outdoor stalls. We sampled unfamiliar varieties of cherries, and examined the many types of potatoes on offer. Inside, we purchased some pirogi (bacon and onion stuffed rolls) and a jar of honey. Seeing our purchases, one of the market ladies laughed and said that we had “the essence of Latvia” in our hands.
Liepāja is particularly proud of its efforts to make the city accessible to the disabled. On both the waterfront promenade and in the downtown, we saw lovely three-dimensional bronze maps, accompanied by Braille keys, to help the blind navigate the area.
3-dimensional town center map with Braille captions, for the blind
We returned to the hotel, and were fortunate to find a parking spot right in front of the hotel. A feat, considering all the confusion of the festival. We had missed the Viking boat races, but the children's games were still going. Ilga particularly liked the plunger races -- kids lay down on boards fitted with skateboard wheels, and propelled themselves along by “walking” the toilet plungers like oars through a winding course. We were also amused by the seller of spiral cut potatoes. He placed a whole potato on a skewer, fitted the skewer to a hand held drill, then held it against a homemade jig that made a continuous spiral as the drill spun. He then dropped the skewer into hot oil, and in a few seconds the whole potato had been rendered into a single spiral potato chip.
The craft market was winding down by this time, but the festivities were not over. Mike took the offered tour of the Latvian Navy's minesweepers, docked on the channel for the festival. A couple of outdoor stages featured a variety of acts throughout the day. In the market stalls on the perimeter of this venue, we found a fellow Etsy seller and her booth. Sandra of SandrasMagic hand-knits shawls and sweaters, using both traditional Latvian designs and techniques, as well as more modern approaches. Ilga found a shawl she liked, adding to her collection of authentic Baltic knitwear.
We walked through the town's new Great Amber concert hall across the street from the Promenade. This striking building, clad in amber colored glass, is one of Latvia's three regional concert halls, each dedicated to supporting the unique cultures of Latvia's different sections.
The Great Amber Concert Hall. Photo by Aigars Prūsis.
The festival continued into the night with more music. Liepāja is known as the center of Latvian rock music, so local bands were featured well into the night. But, after dinner in the hotel’s beautiful restaurant with amazingly HUGE rose murals, we retired to our room, having already had a really full day of exploration.
Part of the mural in the Promenade Hotel restaurant
Detail of the restaurant mural