Monday, December 7, 2020

Latvian National Museum of Art - Symbolism


Almost everything in Riga is closed on the weekends while the pandemic continues. We were pleasantly surprised to see the art museums are one of the very few places allowed to open with masks and social distancing. The annual pass for the art museums is one of the many things we love about living in Riga.

We've been staying home a lot lately other than walks outside for fresh air. That's less appealing as it gets colder. I decided Sunday would be a good day to try a museum with the hope that it wouldn't be too crowded.

The basement exhibit hall has a limit of 16 people to spread everyone out. There was a short socially distanced waiting line to enter. The whole experience felt a little safer than visiting the grocery store, which is probably about as safe as it can get here with masks and social distancing.

Monday, November 2, 2020

4th Tour is... Algiers!

Next stop is Algiers, Algeria!

Algeria is a country in the North Africa region. The similarly named Algiers is their coastal capital on the Mediterranean Sea. A flight north to Barcelona, Spain is just 1 hour and 20 minutes, so it's very close to Europe.

Algeria is the tenth-largest country in the world, and the largest by area in the African Union and the Arab world. It's the eighth-most populous country in Africa with over 44 million people. Algeria appears to be rich in history and culture, so we're looking forward to living there and exploring it for a couple of years.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Mid-Level Bidding Again

I wrote about the Foreign Service assignment process in these blog entries from 3 years ago: Mid-Level Bidding Game and Mid-Level Bidding Continued. Now it's time to find a new place to work since my current tour ends next year. Yes, I'm tenured for this career through retirement, but we all have to compete for new assignments each time our tours end. It's the same crazy game as last time so I won't rehash the whole painful process.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Castles in Lielvārde Latvia


Lielvārde is a little town along the Daugava River about an hour drive southeast of Riga. They have a reconstruction of a wooden castle similar to the one in Tērvete. There's no need to choose a favorite between them since they're both fun to explore. There's a castle ruin on the other side of town in the manor complex. The nice park grounds around it with huge carved poles are a great place to stroll around. Finally, there's a named waterfall listed on their tourist board. If you're not interested in the castles then skip to the end to see that amazing wonder.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Castle Of The Livonian Order In Sigulda

Siguldas Viduslaiku pils (Castle Of The Livonian Order In Sigulda) is a great place to hang out. The castle compound has some interesting shops, food, and ice cream. It's about an hour away from Riga by car. We took the train to Sigulda last summer and explored Turaida Castle, so see that post for another Sigulda tourist spot.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Daugavgrīvas Cietoksnis - Star Fortress

Daugavgrīvas Cietoksnis is a fortress originally built in the Swedish Livonia in the 17th century. There's more history at the link but the current structure is newer.

"The fortifications of the fort were completely rebuilt before the outbreak of the First World War. During World War I, the fort was bombed by German air forces. Soon the Germans took over the fortress, and in 1917, the German Emperor Wilhelm II personally inspected it. In 1940, the Soviet navy took over the fortress."

It's only open on the weekends but it's an interesting space to walk around and explore in Riga. It's across the river from old town and near the mouth of the river.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Jelgava Latvia

Jelgava is a Latvian city about an hour from Riga. The nice place to hangout in Jelgava is an island named Pasta salā. No, this has nothing to do with Italy since pasta means postal in Latvian. The Postal Island is the site for their annual sand sculptures in summer and ice sculptures in winter. We haven't been in winter yet but we'll do that this winter. There's a sculpture garden, restaurant, and a cafe with great treats to sit by the river.

Tērvetes Dabas Parks

Tērvetes dabas parks is a nature park but there's some really cool stuff in it which fully justifies the drive there and small price of admission. It's almost like some sort of natural theme park.

There are zip lines and climbing areas which seem to be popular across Latvia. There's also a tall observation tower which is another thing they like to build here in various places. The park has large paths which are easy for all ages and strollers. There's smaller more natural paths winding between the main roads to get a little closer to nature and see less people. Those can be challenging for strollers but some people were doing that too with their families.

The really unique thing about this park are all of the carvings and little buildings on the trails and in the various Gnome or Dwarf villages. We didn't even get to the other side of the park for the Fairytale Forest so we'll have to go back someday.

Tērvete Wooden Castle

I love castles! This is a really cool reconstruction of a 12th century wooden castle. It's a unique experience to wander around inside what they believed to be the fortification style of the Semigallians with some artifacts and some recreations in the museum. They were the Viking Age people of the region before the Kingdom of Livonia. There's a long rich history of Latvia to explore. This timeline link covers prehistory to modern Latvia.

This is across a street from the park where the original castle stood on a hill. We also hiked over there through the nice park so the rest of the pictures are of that area.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Klaipėda Lithuania

The final day of our road trip along the Latvian coast was to a city in Lithuania. Klaipėda is another coastal port city not too far over the southern border of Latvia. It looked like there were a lot of things to do around here, but this was another quick day and one night's stay before heading home. A whirlwind tour lets us cover lots of ground but misses some details. We choose to savour what we experience and follow instinct a bit instead of hitting every attraction on a top 10 list.

We found a brochure map marking the sculptures of Klaipėda including a sculpture park. We took a long walk to explore and see what the map revealed as a way to explore this city. The park was interesting and the old town was kind of cool. Riga's old town and abundance of Art Nouveau architecture is hard to beat in my opinion, but it's always interesting seeing other old towns in the area for comparison.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Latvia Coast - Užava & Liepāja

Our third day of slowly exploring the Latvian coast had us staying in a riverside AirBnB in Užava. There's a beach there where the little river meets the sea, so that's a fun thing to see at the sea. We finished the day in Liepāja and stayed at a nice boutique hotel next to the big city park along the coast. We probably missed all sorts of things in this town because of our short stay. We followed the recommended walking tour on the map and that was it since we had one more destination on our agenda before heading home. We could see coming back here for a longer visit if we run out of other things to explore near us in Latvia.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Latvia Coast - Pēterezera dabas taka, Oviši, & Ventspils

We pulled off at random spots to check out the nature during our drive from Kolka to Ventspils. That tactic turned a one hour drive into a surprise adventure day since we didn't have a set itinerary. Pēterezera dabas taka (pic above) was a nice nature trail through the wooded hills and by a small lake or large pond. Oviši had many dunes and smooth rocks along what looked like a dried up riverbed next to the beach. This post ends with some pictures of Ventspils before we went a little more south to our riverside AirBnB in Užava.

Latvia Coast - Mērsraga bāka & Kolkasrags

You're probably not thinking about heading to the beach when you think of a Baltic Sea country like Latvia. However, you should think about it since there are some really nice sandy beaches here. The weather isn't hot and sunny for very long, but these beaches are also great for a stroll even when it gets cooler. I had a nice long midsummer break from work so we drove along the coast and checked out some of the different kinds of beaches.

We've had several days without any cases of COVID-19 and the national emergency is over here. There's still guidance to keep 2 meters apart from each other and restaurant tables inside are still spaced out. We didn't see too many people in our travels but it was easy enough to keep some distance and spend some good times outside in the fresh air. It was a wonderful break from the earlier lockdowns.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Cēsis Castle Latvia

We previously visited Turaida Castle in Sigulda so check out that post too if you like castles. That one has a really good museum, a great park area, and an interesting castle structure. However, if you want to see a more typical medieval castle, then the 13th century Cēsis Castle is better. The museum isn't as good and the park grounds are smaller, but the castle is really cool to see. Next to the castle is the old town area of Cēsis, which is another great place to hang out. Heck, go ahead and plan on visiting both towns because castles are really cool and Latvia is a great place to live or vacation.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Kuldīga Latvia

We can't travel outside Latvia during the COVID-19 restrictions, but we could maintain our social distancing while exploring the town of Kuldīga about 2 hours away. There were quite a few other people with the same idea, but we all tried to give each other extra room as we walked around. Here's a sign of the times about keeping the required 2 meter distance.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Archaeological Paphos Cyprus

The Paphos Archaeological Park and Tombs of the Kings are two great outdoor sites in Paphos that are definitely worth visiting if you're there. They're sizable park areas for walking around by the coast and checking out the ruins up close.

You can generally walk all over and even inside a lot of it including the tombs. The Archaeological Park has many preserved mosaics with a building built over them along with some that were left outside. I've seen such mosaics in museums but it's interesting to imagine the ancient houses over them in their original locations by the sea.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Paphos Cyprus

We continued the European winter escape plan to Paphos (Pafos) Cyprus. Many Europeans and some Americans like to vacation in one big 3-4 week break if they have that kind of vacation time available. I prefer taking a week here and there over a season or throughout the year. Summers in Latvia are the best time to be here so winter is the better time to plan vacations.

February is the off-season in Cyprus with some resorts and restaurants closed for the season and some places under renovation. Our hotel was mostly full of other northern Europeans seeking some sun so even the off-season is somewhat busy. Some parts of town felt closed, but overall it was bustling enough. It felt comfortable instead of crowded which is what I imagine the summer season is there.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Qasr Al Watan Presidential Palace UAE

Qasr Al Watan is the Presidential Palace in the United Arab Emirates. The palace was first opened to the public on 11 Mar 2019, so our visit was within their first year of public viewing. They were well organized for tourists with buses shuttling people from the visitor center to the palace.

It's a beautiful building still used for official purposes but you can peek in on some of these official rooms, such as the particularly impressive "Spirit of Collaboration" meeting room. Standing under the main dome is an awesome sight to see like many other domed capitals of the world.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi is a new art and civilization museum with more museums planned for the area so this will be an even better destination for museum lovers in the future. The building is amazing with a cool interlaced dome floating over it all and water around the buildings underneath. I took many pics of the building and some of the main exhibits showcasing art over time and around the world. It's an interesting concept and journey through the museum.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Al Ein UAE

The 5-day pass for Big Bus includes an all day bus tour to Al Ain near the Oman border. This day trip to the ‘Oasis City’ of Al Ain includes eight key landmarks such as Al Qattara, Al Hili Fort, Al Hili Tomb, Qasr Al Muwaiji, National Museum, Al Ain Palace and Al Jahili Fort. It was an interesting day exploring the earlier history of the emirates and how things were not that long ago before they became a rich oil country.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi

This is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. It's the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and fairly new with a completion in 2007. It's open to tourists and is one of the stops on the Big Bus tour. The mosque is a magnificent structure and well worth a visit since it's open to all visitors. If you don't have the right attire then you're loaned something to put over your clothes, so don't worry too much about being properly dressed for the visit.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Dubai - Burj Khalifa

We took a day trip to Dubai to see Burj Khalifa. We had high tea in the highest lounge at the top of the highest building in the world. It was impressive. We had a great mediterranean buffet dinner at the Armani hotel at the bottom of the tower. We were on the terrace overlooking the water fountains show which danced around to different songs every half hour.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Abu Dhabi

We had a great week away for the winter in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The whole week had highs in the low 70s F and wonderful sunny skies. The sun rose and set at normal times. I doubt I'd want to be there in the summer, but the winter weather makes it a great tourist destination if you're living somewhere towards the northern extreme. There's also plenty to see and do for a week if you want to do more than lounge in the sun.