EXPLORING THE BALTICS (GALLERY) PART 2
Image: The view from the tower of St. Olaf church, Tallinn, Estonia
Source: Travel Market Report
In our last issue we talked about some of the Russian gems and visited Estonia; and today we are completing our two-part journey with two more fascinating bucket list destinations.
Latvia and Poland are one of these countries that were submerged in mystery and are now opened for the world to explore. And what a wonder it is to venture through the Baltic world.
Latvia might be small, but the amount of personal space it provides is enormous. You can always secure a chunk of pristine nature all for yourself, be it for trekking, cycling or dreaming away on a white-sand beach amid pine-covered dunes. This Baltic nation has more than a few surprises hidden amidst its lush pine forests and architecturally rich cities and towns. And today's Poland has a vibrant urbanity, enticing food and design culture, dynamic history, and kindhearted natives. Historically rich nation, it also offers many modern surprises to Australian travelers.
Gothic and Vibrant Riga, Latvia
Riga’s astonishing skyline tells the story, as the timeless Gothic spires in the Old Town mingle with the fantastic facades of one of the world’s richest collections of Art Nouveau on the grand boulevards.
Image: House of the Blackheads in Riga, Latvia
Source: Live Riga
House of the Blackheads was built in 1334 as a venue for meetings and banquets held by Riga’s various public organizations.
The building was destroyed by bombs in the Second World War but was fully rebuilt again in 1999. Historically, the building’s function was to promote business activities in the city – it was a place for gathering of traders and shippers for many centuries. And what a stunning piece of architecture!
Image: Riga Castle, Latvia
Source: Pedestrian TV
Built in 1330 as a base for the Livonian Order, the castle was destroyed several times during battles with the local townspeople. After the Order's destruction, the various occupiers of the city housed their governors inside. Latvia's first post-Cold War president Guntis Ulmanis made it his official office to continue the tradition begun by Latvia's interwar presidents in the 1920s and 1930s.
It also housed the National History Museum of Latvia, but tragically, a fire broke out during renovations on June 21, 2013 and parts of the interior were gutted. Priceless historical objects from the museum that were stored in the basement were also damaged or destroyed.
Image: Art Nouveau buildings in Riga, Latvia
Source: Travel Addicts
There are about 800 Art Nouveau buildings in Riga!
Art nouveau architecture is one of Riga’s claims to fame, and rightly so. When art nouveau was at the height of its popularity, Riga happened to be at the zenith of an unprecedented financial boom. This incredible wealth also coincided with an earlier lifting of a ban against erecting masonry buildings outside the city walls. In medieval times, all of the wooden buildings outside the ramparts would be razed to prevent an invading army from using them for shelter.
Image: Cat House in Riga, Latvia
Source: Mike Johnson
The Cat House is named for two black felines perched on the points of its towers. Not only did the beasts curse their first sculptor, he fatally fell while putting them up, but their purpose was to cause trouble.
Roughly 100 years ago, the Latvian owner of the building was excluded from the powerful Big Guild across the road by its ethnocentric German occupants. He ordered the cats to be turned around, backside up, as an insult to his enemies. They were turned around after a lengthy court battle and he was eventually admitted to the Guild.
Image: Riga’s Kalnciems Quarter, Latvia
Source: Edgars Blumbergs
The complex of renovated wooden buildings in Riga’s Kalnciems Quarter, on the corner of Kalnciems and Melnsils streets, is a 19th century wooden architectural landmark, which was built in the style of late western European Classicism. As much Latvians love their evenings out with the musicians, they love their relaxing time with a glass (or bottle) of wine. A must-do all year long, even when it gets cold - nice pop-up markets here, at Kalnciems Quarter.
Mighty Warsaw, Poland
In Poland’s largest city, restored Gothic, traditional communism, and modern glass structures are all nestled in side by side. Although the city saw destruction toward the end of World War II, it certainly preserved and expanded its historic offerings, providing travelers today with a fascinating mix of old and new.
Image: The Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland
More a palace than a castle, this building is the pride of Warsaw, reconstructed from a pile of rubble at a crazy cost between 1971 and 1984. Much of the furniture was donated by now deceased commie buddies such as the GDR and USSR, and much of the money for rebuilding came from generous donations from exiled Poles.
Dating back to the 14th century, the castle has been the residence of Polish kings, then of the president and then the seat of parliament. Today, we cannot be more grateful for this united effort to create this masterpiece. What a picturesque piece of history and stunning architecture!
Image: Warsaw Barbican, Poland
Source: In Your Pocket
Crowning the set of the medieval defensive walls which once protected the northern entrance to the city, this fearsome rotund structure dates from 1548, built by architect Giovanni Battista Venetian on the site of an earlier gate. Despite its intended use, the Barbican was only ever used in one fighting action when on June 30, 1656, during the Swedish deluge, Polish troops attacked to retake the city. In the 18th century, the Barbican was partially demolished with the remains being incorporated into new apartment buildings.
This is a truly fascinating destination for any history buff.
Image: Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland
Source: In Your Pocket
The highest and most recognisable building in Warsaw can be seen from almost every part of the capital. Built by Russian workers, for a long time, it was considered to be a symbol of socialist power and the pride of People’s Poland – it was where conventions of the Polish United Workers’ Party took place. Since its very beginning, its monumental interiors have hosted numerous concerts, exhibitions, fairs and shows. Currently, the palace is home to theatres, a cinema, museums, trendy pubs and the main Warsaw Tourist Information office.
Image: Łazienki Park in Warsaw, Poland
Source: Warsaw Tour
One of the most beautiful palace and park complexes in Europe is Łazienki, which was established in the 17th century. It was originally designed as a bath park and then converted into a royal summer residence by King Stanisław August.
Today, it is the largest public park in Warsaw, an important venue for music and culture and a must-see for architecture and nature lovers.
Image: Museum of King Jan III's Palace at Wilanów in Warsaw, Poland
Wilanów Palace is a true pearl of Baroque architecture in Warsaw. Here, you can learn about King Jan III Sobieski who successfully fended off the Turks in the battle of Vienna and who lived in Wilanów with his beloved Marysieńka. You’ll really love a walk in the park and the palace interiors tours, where you can find the portrait gallery and listen to stories of great romances. The building and the park have both kept their original form, despite the partition, war, and occupation.
Image: Polish Army Museum in Warsaw, Poland
Source: Fighter Control
Whether you are a history buff or just really want a different experience in Poland, when walking around the corner of the Polish National Museum, it’s hard to miss the square filled with army vehicles, airplanes, helicopters, missile launchers, cannons, tanks, and even amphibious vehicles. The vehicles are parked all over the place, almost as if they’re in a parade of some sorts. This is a fascinating Museum to visit in Warsaw - its extensive collection covers thousands of years of Polish military history.
Medieval Old Krakow, Poland
Poland's former royal capital effortlessly fuses medieval pomp and pageantry with modern-day, student-fuelled fun into a harmonious whole.
Image: Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow, Poland
The glorious ensemble that is Wawel, perched on top of the hill of the same name immediately south of the Old Town, is by far the most important collection of buildings in Poland. A symbol of national pride, hope, self-rule and not least of all fierce patriotism, Wawel offers a uniquely Polish version of the British Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey rolled into one.
Image: Krakow Cloth Hall, Poland
Standing tall and firm in the very middle of the Krakow Old Town, the Cloth Hall unravels a history that goes back all the way to the 14th century – it’s not called Europe’s oldest shopping centre for nothing! By the start of the 1300s, Krakow was already a bustling, major trade hub of eastern Europe. Merchants came from all over the region, from the lands of Kievan Rus in the east, the duchies of Lithuania on the Baltic, Hungary, Germany and beyond, to trade their wares in the sprawling Main Market Square that sat right in the middle of the city centre, now known as Cloth Hall.
Image: St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow, Poland
The Barbican was the northernmost part of Kraków’s fortifications, built with the aim of defending the city from Turk and Tartar attacks, which reached as far as the region around Kraków. The Florian Gate is where the Royal Route ran, used by the rulers’ processions, in the presence of thousands of citizens and guests.
The building performed wonderfully when repelling an attack by the armies of Maximilian Habsburg in 1587. It was only surrendered once, during the Swedish Deluge, when supplies of ammunition and food ran out. Currently, The Barbican is an exceptional tourist attraction, which hosts jousting tournaments, feasts and displays of period dancing.
Image: Ojcowski National Park in Krakow, Poland
Source: Cracow City Tours
Image: Piłsudski's Mound in Krakow, Poland
Source: In Your Pocket
This mound-based memorial was erected in honour of Marshal Józef Piłsudski after his death in 1935; it was formed from soil taken from WWI Polish battle sites. The views of the city are excellent.
If you want more help planning your Baltic trip, just reach out to our team on 1800 242 373.