Saturday, May 28, 2011

Riga, Latvia on the Baltic Sea

We enjoyed a lovely trip to Riga, Latvia where we met with the Public Affairs directors for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Riga is a European city that reminded us of Stockholm with a variety of different European architectures. It is at the mouth of the Daugaua River as it opens to the Baltic Sea. With more than 700,000 people, it is the largets city in the Baltic countries. They speak Latvian with many who also speak Russian. Many also speak English and it seems to be used more as time as that is becoming the common language for the European Uniion, which. Their currency is LATs, but will eventually become the Euro.

Even though it was May, the Baltic Sea was quite inviting. There is a large Bay that enables the water to stay quite warm and less salty. We enjoyed walking on the beautiful sandy beaches.

During WWII, over 100,000 Jews were killed in a concentration camp on the outskirts of Riga. They now have a huge memorial park and museum to rememeber what took place.

We were treated to huge palaces built for royalty as summer palaces. They were gorgeous and the gruonds were spectacular. The lilacs were in full bloom and one did not want to leave the gardens tehy were so pretty.

Although small, Latvia was a very pleasant surprise on how modern it is, its beautiful and colorful architecture, how clean and upkept everything was, and what a great place to go as a tourist. We would go there in a heartbeat.

Our host was the Baltic Mission Public Affairs Director, Inara Jegina, who also runs a travel service. So we were well taken care of and saw lots of beautiful sites, including castles, restored palaces, new and renovated sity buildings and structures, and a gorgeous city. We even managed to obtain a Monopoly game in Latvian. Photos are of the city, the Russian palace built 200 years ago, a view of the old town.

Tom and Shauna

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sofia, Bulgaria

We made a short trip to Sofia, Bulgaria to obtain a new visa to complete our mission. While there we took in a few sights of the city. Bulgaria is in the European Union, and was more westward looking that what we have experienced in Ukraine. At the same time, that means things cost more ther than in Ukraine.

This is a picture of a square in downtown Sofia in which there were hundreds of bears, all the same size and shape, but painted to represent each country in the world. Altough we did not look too closely, we assumed the bear painted as the Statue of Liberty represented the USA.
There were many very colorful and artistically painted bear statues.

The biggest cathedral is known as the Gold Dome, which is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and represents SOfia as a substantial landmark.

One of our (my) highlights was a visit to the Bulgarian Military Museum. There were lots of military hardware that stems from the Soviet times.

One was the illusive Scud missile that was used by Iraq in the first Gulf war against Israel and the Allied forces.

Most impressive, however, was the lengthy history of Bulgaria and the excellent displays that were housed in a 4 story museum. Bulgaria was at the crossroads of many invaders and/or occupiers of their land. Located in the Balkins they have been subjected to the Russians, Ottoman Empire, Romans, Hungarians, Germans, etc., etc. They sided with Germany in WWI and WWII, but ended up on the Allied side in WWII. They were a satellite country in the Soviet Union days, but not part of the Soviet Union. They do claim that they protected all the Jews that lived in Bulgaria from the Nazi exterminations.

We enjoyed our brief visit to Bulgaria. We even found a Bulgarian Monopoly game and an Anti-Monopoly game. It will be fun to see what that means.

Bye for now.

Tom and Shauna