Friday, October 9, 2015

Riga from above - Skyline Bar

In the early 1960s the site of what is now Radisson Blu Hotel Latvia on Brīvības iela (then Ļeņina iela) was the chosen location of the proposed “Intourist” hotel. The 10-story design quickly became 23, and was intended to serve organized and Soviet foreign tourist groups. Completed in 1976, it first opened its doors in 1979. The USSR State Committee for Foreign Tourism rated it a category "B" hotel, which means that in addition to 680 rooms it was equipped with a conference room & the simultaneous translation booths, radio and video equipment needed to monitor all activity within the hotel. With an on-site 876-seat restaurant, souvenir and newspaper kiosks, a post office, municipal service center, and a currency exchange office, the Soviet government was putting forth a very specific image to foreign tourists. And, as self-guided tours of the region were near-impossible, Hotel Latvia was the face of the country shown to the West.

View from Skyline Bar towards the Supreme Court

Fast forward thirty years to a Latvia once again independant, and the building was due for renovations. Completed in two phases, the 25 million (US dollars) first phase of tower renovation was finished in a record 10 months in May of 2001. The second phase focused on the rest of the complex, with demolition work starting in 2003 and continuing until 2006 with the end result of 200 new hotel rooms, a glass arcade of shops and a conference hall that seats 1,000.

View from Skyline Bar towards the Daugava River

At almost 260,000 square feet, the Radisson Blu is one of the largest hotels in Latvia (although only 6th tallest, at 312 feet), and on the 26th of its 27 floors is the Skyline Bar. Self-billed as the “best view in the city,” the bar features totally Soviet-era décor with a pricey menu… but the view is grand.

In the shape of an elongated rectangle, tables stretch along the two long sides with views of Vecrīga to the southwest and the rest of the city to the northeast. Although there is seating in the middle section, the views are the reason you’ve come so make sure to get there early to snag a window seat. Or you can always do what we did – wait until someone is getting up to leave and quickly change tables.

Photo credit: Roberts - proof of a rare mom's night off!

The cocktail menu has options from 6.50 to 12 euro and the food section contains only several salads and desserts, but coffee can be had for under 4 euro so the fantastic views shouldn’t break the bank. If you linger for a while you might catch the sunset reflected in the windows of Gaismas Pils or the gold roof of the Nativity of Christ Cathedral. From the birds-eye perspective the Freedom monument looks rather tiny and you’ll notice that the observatory in St. Peter’s Church is not quite as high. But even if you’re just in for a quick look at the capital, the Skyline Bar will treat you to a completely different Rīga than the one you’ve seen on foot. 

The Nativity of Christ Cathedral and Brīvības Boulevard

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Chihuly comes to Greenville

The newest addition to Falls Park was unveiled yesterday, a sculpture by world-famous glass artist Dale Chihuly. The piece, which is titled “Rose Crystal Tower,” is located in the westernmost portion of the park behind the West End Market in Harriet’s Garden. The garden is named for Harriet Wyche, a lifelong Greenville resident and member of the Carolina Foothills Garden Club, who were together instrumental in the creation of Falls Park. Mrs. Wyche, who died in 2011, was fondly remembered during the dedication as a beautiful person who had an incredible vision – one she saw realized through her unwavering work in the development of Falls Park, the heart of modern-day Greenville.

The dedication ceremony included speakers Knox White (Mayor of Greenville), Brad Wyche (son of Harriet Wyche and founder of Upstate Forever), Anna Kate Hipp (former president of the Carolina Foothills Garden Club and co-chair of the Falls Park Endowment, Paul Ellis (former City of Greenville Parks & Recreation Department director) and Ed Zeigler (chair of the City’s Arts in Public Places Commission). Once everyone had their say the black cover was pulled off, revealing the 8-foot, rose-colored Polyvitro tower.

The pink crystals are attached to a central column of stainless steel and are installed on a precast concrete base designed to match the benches in Harriet’s Garden. I was quite surprised at the end result, being as every Chihuly piece I’ve ever seen, from the sculptures at the Chicago Botanical Gardens to the chandelier at the Las Vegas Bellagio Casino and hotel, all share similar color and shape characteristics – which are nothing like the Rose Crystal Tower.

After hearing about Mrs. Wyche’s passion for gardening and roses, and with the mention of a photo published in an old Greenville newspaper of Harriet weeding – in pearls – I was able to better understand the design. Chihuly’s pieces are often compared to plants or flowers, and the glass utilizes a wide range of natural colors. In contrast, the Rose Crystal Tower is composed of crystals, made of Polyvitro and is only pink. The sculpture is already growing on me, and although I imagine there will be plenty of comparisons to pink rock candy sticks, I like that it is as unique and bold as Falls Park,  Greenville and Mrs. Harriet Wyche.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Riga from above: St. Peter's Church

There aren’t many places in Rīga where you can get this view.

It was on my very first trip to Latvia ( the spring of 1995) that my grandmother, mother and I visited St. Peter’s Church in Vecrīga. Twenty years later I returned to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, two little boys in tow.

The vistas from that first trip were burned into my memory, the aerial perspective of the art nouveau historical buildings, the churches and red roofs of Vecrīga seeming so familiar, even though I couldn’t name more than a handful.

But there they were. The Rīga Market. The Rīga Cathedral (which just saw the restored rooster returned to the steeple on Tuesday). Egle. Kaķu nams. The radio tower. Pulvertornis. The Brīvības piemineklis.

In high school I painted a cityscape based on some of the photographs I took. And there it was, the church on 10 Mārstaļu St. which is far from one of Rīga’s best known, but was instantly recognizable, as it featured so prominently on my canvas along with the Rīgas central market. I wonder what my art teacher thought of the old architecture mixed in with the futuristic (in fact zeppelin hangar-like!) pavilions… Did my painting also have a river, a Daugava, running through its frame?

On our previous visit to Latvia we walked all the way to St. Peter’s massive wooden doors, only to find the tower was closed for the day. This time around it was open, only a short wait for the elevator standing between us and the view from 236 feet. We paid a small sum for the pleasure, the boys all smiles in anticipation, and then we emerged, to blue skies and fantastic sights.

The first mention of St. Peter's Church is in records dating to 1209, remaining undamaged in the large fire that year due to its stone construction. It was during the 13th century that the middle section of the church was built, the only remnants of which are located in the outer nave walls and inside a few nave pillars. A second period of construction began in the 1400s, interrupted by first the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War and then the plague. By 1500 it encompassed a basilica with three aisles and ornate vaulted ceilings, a bell tower and an octagonal steeple. The tower collapsed on March 11, 1666, burying not only a neighboring building but also eight people in its debris.

While up until this point the church had been constructed in Gothic and Romanesque building styles, the third period of construction was more along the lines of early Baroque. Between 1671 and 1692 a new tower, a western façade and three identical portals were built, the roof, vaulted ceilings and furnishings renovated partly due to another fire which destroyed the tower, roof, ceilings, windows and interior in 1677. At the time of its construction the new 212 foot copper-roofed steeple was the tallest of its kind in Europe at the time.

The brick facade of the west wall was covered with limestone from Salaspils and Koknese sometime in the 17th century. The church was decorated with volutes, pilasters, cornices, vases and borders made of Gotland stone, and a new tower clock with a glockenspiel from Amsterdam was installed in 1694.

Lightning struck and set fire to the tower and church May 10, 1721, but it was rebuilt. Then rebuilt again, after it burned down during World War II, destroyed by artillery fire on June 29, 1941. A reproduction of the previous rooster and #7 total was placed atop the steeple in 1970 and the renovated clock tower becoming operational five years later. The St. Peter's Latvian Lutheran congregation resumed services in the church in 1991 and the property returned to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia on April 4, 2006.

A rendition of what the city of Riga looked like centuries ago

Ticket prices are as follows: 9 euro/adult, 7 euro/university student, 3 euro/elementary student and children under 7 free. The fee covers the interior exhibits and the observation tower, with panoramic views of the medieval and modern capital city of Rīga including the its port, the Gulf and the Daugava River. The interior exhibits feature the history of the church as well as a look at a number of the original elements including the crypt, restored stone and wood epitaphs, and a menorah dating back to 1596. Hours are Tuesday - Saturday from 10am to 6pm & Sundays 12-6pm from September 1st to April 30th. Starting May 1st to August 31st the hours are prolonged from 10am to 7pm, Sundays 12-7pm. The church is closed on Mondays.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Your Upstate Fall Bucket List

Now that we’ve got that harvest moon eclipse fever behind us we can concentrate on autumn here in the Upstate – my favorite time of year in Greenville. The dogwoods and red maples have started turning here in town, although there is significantly more color up in the foothills. We’ve got a busy couple of months ahead of us and so I thought I would share some of our favorite things to do this time of year!

Fall color viewing

Greenville has made several top 10 lists for best autumn foliage viewing including Tripadvisor’s Top 10 Fall Foliage Destinations in the U.S. and USA Today Travel’s Autumn colors: Beautiful fall foliage around the USA. So where should you go to see the season in all her glory? Spots along the Blue Ridge Escarpment will offer the best views over the hardwoods of the Foothills. Within about an hour’s drive you’ll find Caesars Head State Park, Fred W. Symmes Chapel a.k.a. “Pretty Place,” Bald Rock and Jumping Off Rock. If you are up for a longer drive, try Dupont State Forest just across the NC state line. A shorter drive (only about 20-30 minutes) away is Paris Mountain State Park with dozens of trails to choose from. Campbell’s Covered Bridge, Stumphouse Tunnel, Lake Toxaway… I could keep going all day! Or if you want the color right here in town, Falls Park and the Swamp Rabbit Trail are two local options.

An autumn view from Jumping Off Rock

Fall for Greenville

A three day outdoor festival modeled after the likes of Taste of Chicago, Greenville’s “a taste of our town” is the largest food and music festival in the Upstate featuring over 40 restaurants and six stages of live entertainment – definitely something for everybody. Check out live music from local favorites such as Mountain Homes while sampling signature dishes from some of Greenville’s most popular restaurants this October 8th through 11th.  

Apple picking

A local favorite is Sky Top Orchard up in Flat Rock, North Carolina, and although it can get crowded on weekends this time of year, the panoramic views from the rows of apple trees can’t be beat – and neither can their apple cider donuts! If you’re looking for something a little closer to town try Niven’s, although this will be the last season for the Spartanburg county orchard after four decades in the business.

A weekend getaway to the Blue Ridge Parkway

Enjoy the chill in the mountain air while touring some of the most colorful fall foliage in the southeast along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Believe me, it’s hard not to stop at every single scenic vista!

RMSC Fall Harvest Festival

On November 14th the Roper Mountain Science Center is hosting their annual Second Saturday fall harvest festival from 9am-2:30pm. Or pick from one of these other 25 fall festivals from Kidding Around Greenville’s list such as the Spartanburg International Festival, Balloons Over Anderson, Art on the Trail or Oktoberfest in Greenville!

Swamp Rabbit Grocery & Cafe

Make a stop at this local treasure just off the Swamp Rabbit Trail for pastries fresh from the oven and hot coffee, perfect on a crisp fall morning. Fresh, seasonal produce and local goods round out the experience, and if you’ve got kids joining you I suggest a stop at the Swamp Garden – all the better for you to enjoy a special fall treat if the littles are busy at play.

Enjoy a concert at your local State Park

Catch a Music on the Mountain bluegrass jam session at Table Rock State Park Lodge or Music in the Woods at Paris Mountain State Park. The Table Rock SP dates are October 10th and November 14th from 2-6pm, and the concerts in the outdoor amphitheater at Paris Mountain SP are Saturdays from 2-4pm during October (a schedule of performers is available here).

The Falls Park beech tree dressed in gold

Your National Parks

Take advantage of the cooler weather to visit one of our nearby National Parks, Historic Sites or Battlefields such as the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, Congaree National Park, Kings Mountain National Military Park, Cowpens National Battlefield or Ninety Six National Historic Site. With smaller crowds and lower temperatures you’ll be able to really immerse yourself in the history of our region while enjoy the natural beauty of the Upstate. 

The Greenville Zoo

Popular Halloween event Boo in the Zoo notwithstanding, there is tons going on at your local zoo this fall! With a brand new baby red panda Willie (named after one of our fave musician’s ‘Red Headed Stranger’ album), baby siamang George and twin female ocelot kittens just a month old making their first outdoor appearances, there is plenty of motivation for a fall trip to the zoo. Exciting changes are on the horizon with a new mixed species South American exhibit, but the favorite programs such as Wild for Reading Wednesdays are still on weekly...

For the sports fan

Catch a football game at Clemson or University of South Carolina. (The Tigers face off against the Gamecocks this year on November 28th if you want to cross both teams off your list at once, and if you make it to Clemson, don't forget to stop at the South Carolina Botanical Gardens to see this local favorite decked out in its colorful fall garb…) If football isn’t your thing head to the Bon Secours Wellness Area (or ‘the well’ as it has been nicknamed) to see the recently rebranded Swamp Rabbits play hockey! Formerly known as the Road Warriors (who replaced the Greenville Grrrowl) and affiliated with the New York Rangers, the Swamp Rabbits start their season October 17th.

A new logo, source here

For the beer fan

Take a microbrewery tour here in the Upstate just in time to sample fall-inspired beer such as Swamp Rabbit Brewery’s Marzen, a German style Oktoberfest, or Quest Brewing’s Pecan Porter. A big event is Octoberfest @ Brewery 85 on Saturday, October 24th. And there’s always Dark Corner Distillery’s Moonshine to ward off that late fall chill!

Farmers markets

New farmers markets have popped up across the Upstate to give you plenty of opportunities to shop local seasonal goods. In addition to the State Farmers Market on Rutherford and the downtown Greenville market you have the Traveler’s Rest Thursday Market in Trailblazer Park and the brand new one in Greer. Grab some hot apple cider, buy a couple loaves of pumpkin bread and pick out the mums and gourds to decorate your home.

Wishing everyone a beautiful autumn in the Upstate!
x votre Femme au Foyer

 Thank you for the inspiration Daina!!!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Turaida - the ancient castle on the banks of the Gauja

The steep banks along the Gauja valley extend north to Turaida, and together with a large bend in the river provide the perfect point for yet another castle. Along with dozens of other historic buildings, the castle and several sculpture parks form the Turaida Museum Reserve,  a 108-acre historical, archaeological and architectural monument.

The sculpture "Dziedot dzimu, dziedot augu..."

Turaida means “the garden of God” in the ancient Liv language. Livs (Livonians) are one of the indigenous peoples of Latvia with an ancient and rich culture, the language belonging to the Finno-Ugric language family (along with Finnish and Estonian, among others). It was around the 11th century that the Livs were flourishing on the banks of the Gauja River in the Turaida, Sigulda and Krimulda areas, but the Crusades and the advance of Christianity saw the Livs lose power in the region. Today this aspect of Latvian history is reflected not only in artifacts and place names in the region, but also in the ornaments and color composition of the mittens and national costumes of Turaida.

Mikus with the sculpture "Neguli, saulīte, ābeļu dārzā", Lauris and "Bij' manam kumeļam" and Vilis with a view of the castle

We parked and entered the Museum Reserve, heading first towards the Tautasdziesmu parks and Dainu kalns, the Folk Song Gardens and Folk Song Hill. This portion of the Park was created in 1985 (before Latvia regained its independence from the Soviet Union) in honor of the 150th anniversary of the birth of folklorist Krišjānis Barons. When the first international folklore festival Baltica was held in Latvia in 1988, the Latvian flag was also raised on Folk Song Hill alongside the sculpture of the “Father of Song.” Turaida brought together increasingly larger numbers of folklore and ethnographic ensembles, helping to strengthen the Latvian people’s identity in a time of uncertainty.  As the 3rd Latvian Renaissance approached in the mid-1980s, Folk Song Hill was the place where the Latvian Singing Revolution emerged and continued until the restoration of Latvia’s independence in 1991. According to the website, “Today Folk Song Hill is a symbol for the Singing Revolution, sending an eternal message about the strength of song and the self-respect of the Latvian people.”

The gardens feature 26 sculptures made by Latvian artist Indulis Ranka, including the iconic Dziesmas Tēvs. On one side of the sculpture is the image of Krišjānis Barons, and on the other side are singers of three generations who are familiar with the songs he collected and documented.  Beside them is a powerful young man, representing a defender of culture.  The sculpture sits on a dowry chest which contains song, the symbolic dowry for the Latvian people.

From the hill of Dainas we headed to the Turaida stone castle, high on a ridge overlooking a bend in the Gauja River. Construction was started in 1214 at the command of Albert, the Bishop of Riga, on a site previously occupied by a Liv fort. The defensive walls were built in the 13th century, and over the following 300 years more towers added and defenses modified in correlation to improvements in weaponry and the development of firearms.  The castle reached its zenith in the 16th century, fortified by four defensive towers and three gate towers. However, by the 17th century the castle had lost its military significance and experienced gradual deterioration. A large part of the interior was destroyed in a fire in 1776, and by the beginning of the 20th century only fragments of the defensive wall, the west block and portions of the main & west towers remained.

1952-1963 saw the partial restoration of the castle, and the last quarter of the century saw numerous archaeological excavations and reconstruction & conservation of the exposed structures. Today those structures provide an exciting look at the Middle Ages, with the opportunity to see medieval cellars, the prison, the guard`s room and a cannon room.

Our main goal was to check out the view of the Gauja valley from the top floor of the main tower, and to accomplish this we took two shifts. Lauris, Mikus and Roberts climbed first, leaving Vilis and me to explore the courtyard. Once they came down I left Vilis with them and hurried up myself, eagerly taking in the bird’s eye view of the castle, river and surrounding countryside. I could have stayed for an hour or two, taking photographs of the river and sculpture park & watching the people traffic down below, but we had relatives waiting on us and so back down the tower I went, skipping the exhibits with hope I might return someday.

On our way out we passed a sign indicating the memorial to the Rose of Turaida, and while the boys proceeded I took the flight of stairs up for a moment in front of the linden tree. The tragic love story goes like this:

“After a battle at the foot of Turaida Castle in 1601, the castle clerk found a baby in the arms of its dead mother while searching for survivors. He called the child Maija and brought her up as his own. She grew up to be very beautiful and so was known as the Rose of Turaida. She fell in love with Viktor, the gardener at the castle of Sigulda (opposite Turaida over the Gauja River) and in the autumn of 1620 they prepared to be married. Shortly before the wedding Maija received a letter from Viktor asking her to meet him at the Gutmanis Cave (Gūtmaņala), their usual meeting place. She went to the cave with Lenta, the young daughter of her adoptive father. When she reached it, however, it was not Viktor she encountered but a Polish nobleman or soldier called Adam Jakubowski who was lying in wait for her with the intention of forcing her to be his wife. Maija promised to give him her magic scarf, that had the power to make the wearer immune from injury (in some versions the scarf is impossible to cut through), if he would let her go, and persuaded him to test its power on her. He struck her with an axe and she died, having thus saved her honour. In the evening Viktor came to the cave and found the body of his betrothed and was accused of the murder. But in court there appeared a witness called Peteris Skudritis, who testified that he had been commissioned by Jakubowski to deliver the fatal letter. Lenta confirmed the course of events. Viktor buried his betrothed near the castle, planted a linden tree on the grave and left the country forever. According to documents in Sigulda's archives the soldier was later caught, tried and hanged for his crime. From then on it has been customary for newlyweds to leave flowers on the grave of the Rose of Turaida in hopes of knowing the same eternal love and devotion.” Source here.

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