When one thinks of Eastern Europe it is of the slaughter of its peoples from the time of last war to 1960s by Russian over lords. Baltic take over was planed before the war and Stalin the butcher led havoc here sending children to salt mines and shooting all that objected in their own gardens. Churchill was right an iron curtain had fallen over this part of Europe. Now free of the yoke around Latvians necks they struggle to build a republic after rape and robbery took all heritage that they had.
Long before that Pussia had ruled most of Baltic and Poland. My story now must fast move back in time to a more peaceful Latvia. The 18th Century brought a young German noble lady into marriage with the Russian Tzar Peter and became to all nations the Great Catherine, Empress of the Russians. To us at school in 1950s England ,she was Catherine the Great.
This is the about the palace built in Latvia for her Royal visit to Riga in 1744
It is a massive grand summer palace as you can see. It lands vast and spreading as that of Versailles.Which in France was perhaps the model for some of the garden effects but its rose garden includes thousands of world class roses including modern day David Austin English roses too. The designs made to delight. A garden for interest of those who wish to walk the mile around it.
That is a potted history of facts but really the Great Empress Catherine decided to turn down the Latvian invite and so a great Palace built as home for A Baron was finished as he wished
My take on this is first and foremost the Baron built it for himself and wanted more power by inviting the most powerful Queen of Russia to his table and maybe she thought why should it happen. She was no ones fool so perhaps it is so.
How ever it did not stop the ambitions of said Baron as one can see in photos. Here we see a rescued palace and gardens. One man had vision to do all of this at his own pace. It is a great achievement indeed. The restoration is ongoing but really its nearly as it was in its heyday now.
One can walk around the vast palace that have slowly been set up each room over many years. When first I went to see such it was rather primitive and empty of all furnishings. Paintings on the walls looked as if children had painted them all. More likely they had or a visit by Rowan Atkinson character of Mister Bean had penned noses on faces of framed art.
However as time marched on my next visit 8 years later saw such advanced skill in decor that a walk into the past is possible today. Such a palace is worth a visit and costs are fair.
Now the gardens exist and no expense has been spared on the many parts. Takes a few hours to walk and view .Benches at intervals help. June is the month to see old roses in full bloom and the sent from some 6000 types of roses is intoxicating. Not all is before the eye at once; one has to move about to find what magic is there. Paths are wide and easy walking .Wheel chairs have no problem to progress. Ponds, water features and lake to see. Tall hedges and vistas to witness.
In winter all is covered over to save plants stress of heavy frosts and deep snow. It echoes as a visit to the power of another world in Europe that in the past had history and might to build a place like this. Some30 grand bedrooms line the mid floor with fireplaces of artful craft adorning each room and passage way for servants between . Vast windows light the main walkway across front of house and from here a view to lawns and gardens that seem to have no end.
Outside of Russia this palace is a rare site and the pancake flat lands of Latvia with its many coaching roads of the past but with us now convey the way things went in 1700s up to today. Slow is the code word for developing a nation as most Latvian born natives no longer live here. Some 18 million of them left to find fortune in England, Ireland, Scotland and even New York and places beyond . Being white and like us you would never know as they can speak our English as we can. Only a very few pronounced words give the game away. So for us 60 odd English over here it is home from home.
The Empress Catherine the Great may have boycotted Latvia or just ignored it on political interest as this great mighty palace may have created a situation in the province but Baron Byrone a German noble made his mark on Latvian soil that stands as testament to his will to build a stately home fit for a great Empress to live within. That fact she may have hated the thought was besides the point to the Baron himself. We cannot know what went on but the palace is here to see and enjoy as the Great and mighty are not.
I think Rundale Palace near Bauska outside of the city of Riga can be reached by public transport from Riga main bus station easily and cheaply . Make sure you tell the ticket office that runs across the hall that you want Rundale Palace gate stop. Pay and they tell you bus number and time of bus. Do not forget it .Walk to side alley and see so many buses lined up down the ranks it is easy to make a mistake. Bus drivers rarely help as they do not speak English . The many ticket office staff do . It is a well run system trust it and take the bus number and time as some buses come in with one number and go for break you get on as I did and number changed as driver returns and I ended up on Russian border ..Only that a kind lady gave me a lift back I would have had a problem unthinkable.The lady turned out to be a ticket inspector for that service and spoke good English to hear my problem of wrong bus 23 miles out of city and other side on country lost . I had gone in on bus to buy a part for my car. Not the bus fault as it happened it was my fault. So stick to what the ticket office tell you please.
They may have the cafe open which is often a place to stop as Latvians know what cakes are and can make coffee better than we. Latvian cakes are delicious so are the meals worth trying. I like the many soups that come from Russia and Latvia. Try Solanka a good soup to fill you up. Russian Borsps soup to. All soup is served with fresh cream so if not your taste tell no cream thank you .All meals come with salads .Latvians cut fine all greens and beans and some hundreds of types of salads. to choose from. You pick your own. Or can leave salads out.So cheap I take salads too.
Love this dish, they hammer pork into flat cakes and dip into flour, herbs and egg mix and fry .Served with boiled salted potato and a creamy mustard sauce. Fritai is the name. Latvian food is mainly excellent. Water here can be consumed too. Milk is not pasturized and tastes like milk from a real cow should ,full of cream. Only warning is roads outside cities and towns are dust bowls made of sand, clay, stones and potholes . Rural lands are lovely forest lakes and farms but rural is not served well by Government allowance to councils so roads are the last thing on list .
Driving here is an art fast learned and not for the faint hearted in the main. So base your visit around public services that abound here. Trains are fast and average priced related to length of journey. Some rural taxis are cheap but one never knows until the bill. The thought is the English are rich and some will take a small advantage of that .
Beers are many and Im told are very good. Cheap and around 80 cents a litre the youth come from England and are drunk on 6 quid at Riga prices .They have insulted the Latvians by peeing on the national monument of State Freedom from Russia. I blame bars that keep tills full and not telling the drinkers enough now thank you. They can see the kids are drunk and get them into trouble easily to show Britain as wild. So dont join that side of things. We must show that Britain is an educated civil nation when abroad as we are the visitor that represents the nation where ever we go be the gentleman and ladies we are known as.
The Armistead family with pet dog that was always with them in live.
In Riga park a statue of an English man and his wife and pet dog was opened by Queen Elizabeth 11 in 1960s to celebrate the man who became Major of Riga and three times in office.He built Elizabeth street houses now used as British Embassy. He was so successful that even the Russian Tzar wanted him to run Moscow for him. His name was Amistead and he hailed from Yorkshire. His family silk traders from wool to silks and riches they came to Riga as base. One of them born here loved the city so well he made it great.
A much longer read for you. Last blog until after Christmas is a rest for all. Latvia is a big story to tell so forgive my humble account.
Yours Sir Kevin with love and best wishes to all no matter where you are.
Happy Christmas to to you and all whom you love.
Copyright Kevin James Parr Bt 2020 December 20th.