Rundāle Palace, Latvia

Rundāle Palace, LatviaRundāle Palace is a baroque and rococo masterwork of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the same architect who built the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. Rundāle Palace was built for the Dukes of Courland, the Biron family who were favourites of Tsarina Anna. It was constructed in two phases, in the 1730s and in the 1760s. The Palace’s baroque exterior houses interior decorations that reflect the fashion-of-the-day, up until the time of the First World War: baroque, rococo, neo-classical, neo-rococo. To find such a reflection of Versailles seemingly in the middle of nowhere in southern Latvia was stunning.

Storks atop Rundāle PalaceStorks are impressive to me because I see them in Central and Eastern Europe but they are uncommon in Canada. This pair of storks have built their nest atop one of the chimneys of Rundāle Palace. I was told that the male came a couple of weeks in advance of the female to repair the nest, and now she will brood with her eggs until they hatch in June. These storks are the only residents of Rundāle Palace now — we humans are merely visitors.

National Library of Latvia

National Library of LatviaLatvia puts Canada to shame. This is the magnificent National Library of Latvia, on the left bank of the Daugava River in Riga. This “Castle of Light” officially opened last year.

While Latvia engages in serious nation-building, Canada has let its National Library fall into a ruinous state. It is housed in a building in Ottawa that was opened in 1967, has been made to merge with the National Archives, and is no longer a Library of Record. Contrast that with Latvia, which has built an architectural jewel, a treasure-house for Latvian history and literature, as well as a prestige venue for public functions. Would that Canada had the wisdom to engage in sound nation-building, as Latvia has done.

Turaida Castle

Turaida Castle, Latvia

Turaida Castle sits on the east bank of the river Gauja in Sigulda, Latvia. It was built by the Archbishop of Riga in 1214, at a time when the country was called Livonia. It was manned by one of the crusading orders of knights, the Brotherhood of the Sword, which thereafter merged with the Teutonic Order.

Taraida Castle suffered many seiges and instigated many battles. Eventually the Livs lost power and influence, as did the German knights, against foreign invaders from Poland-Lithuania, Sweden, and finally Russia. Turaida Castle was abandoned as a fortification in 1776, and work to get it to its partially restored state began in the 20th century.

On a bright but cool April day in Latvia, it was a a delight to get a private tour of Turaida Museum Reserve. Thank you, Inge!

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine flagsWheels up today, for a trip of a lifetime to the Baltic countries, Poland, and Ukraine. Tallinn is first, then Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Krakow, and Lviv. A very emotional reunion will happen in Lviv region, as the descendants of Ivan Taras and Maria Kulyk meet for the first time after having been divided by immigration for almost 90 years. I look forward to seeing a bit of four fascinating countries which are new to me. Bon vol!