Sunday, April 26, 2009

A beautiful Spring Day in Olde Towne

The weather was perfect yesterday and we went to Olde Towne. I took pictures of TGIFriday's and of McDonald's that are located in Olde Towne Riga. The McDonald's is two stories --much larger than any I've seen in America.

The flower stands are common throughout Riga and these were so beautiful. It's a common practice for people to buy a bunch of flowers to take to a friend's home when they visit. It's common to see people on the bus or tram with a wrapped bouquet.

The other picture is of the Blackhead's house. It was built in the 1300's I believe and destroyed in the war and then rebuilt in 1999. It's quite the building. I'm sorry I don't remember the history behind the building or it's name.

I'll share more pictures another time.

A visit to the Occupation Museum

We had heard from a couple of people that we should visit the Occupation Museum in Olde Towne Riga. Yesterday was a perfect day to be out and about so we boarded the number 9 trolley buss and were happy to be dropped off right in front of the museum (we knew it would be in the vicinity but thought we might have to search a little). You climb several steps to reach, and walk beneath, this dark grey "wall." Underneath is the entrance to the museum and you may not be able to tell, but the doors are very heavy, metal. The museum is free, but there is a donation container inside the door.

It was quite an eye-opening and, in some respects, troubling thing to read of the history of the Baltics and how they were invaded and occupied by Russia, then Germany, then Russia, beginning in 1920 and ending in 1991. The borders of the countries in that part of the world changed several times over that period of time.

It was amazing to read of the "secret combination" entered into by Russia and Germany, to take over the Baltic States. Other countries were also subject to their invasions and occupations.

One of the most troubling things to me was that much of it took place during my lifetime and I was completely unaware of the Baltics. I knew of Poland and Czechloslavakia, but I didn't know about the Baltics.

And the people in the Baltics suffered the same inhumane tortures and pogrammes and suffering and loss of family, of religious freedom, indoctrination, etc., as those in Poland and other countries.

Perhaps the most troubling thing was what I am (was until I came here) seeing in America. The acceptance of socialism and the Government programs being the answer to everyone's problems. I talked with a woman at Church today who has been a member of the Church for 17 years--she and her husband were two of the first members in the Baltics. She talked of her parents (her mother is 2 years older than I am) and her own growing up years as a teen, joining the youth groups. They went about their lives and even now I'm not sure she sees the Russian/Communist occupation as oppressive and evil as it was.

This is a picture of the interior of the museum and the picture on the bottom, that I can't seem to get to with the cursor, is a replica of the cells in which prisoners were kept. (my pictures have jumped around again.) The written description was enough to make me ill. The conditions were reprehensible. One single incident will give you a small idea. The men slept crammed together on the planks and if one got up to relieve himself, the others "spread out" and filled in his place, so he had no place to return to. So, many would not bother to get up to relieve themselves.
Anyway, we spent a couple of hours going through the museum and it was worthwhile. I pray we as human beings can learn from history so we don't repeat it.

Tallinn, again

Last Tuesday, we made another trip to Tallinn, Estonia, so Sister Humphrey could do her visa/living permit work. The trip was pleasant and we accomplished what we set out to do. I'll describe the pictures. The woodsy one is to show how they build houses in amongst the trees in Tallinn, giving it a feel of the mountains, even though some of the homes are large and very nice. But you don't see lawns like the States, just lots of tall trees and the kind of grass that grows in the woods.

The gas price looks pretty high, right? But this is Estonia where the Kroon is the form of currency, and it's liters, not gallons. So, the price is roughly $2-$3 USD per liter. Another example of the Kroon price is the picture of sets of silverware. Yes, that's 329 Kroons for the nicer silverware and 149 for the "picnic" type. It would take awhile for me to get used to paying that many anythings. That's a lot of paper money to pack around.

We had dinner at the same pizza place and I took the picture to show that it looks just like Pizza Hut (I think that's the American brand it looks like). They have the ingredients in Estonian and English. I have always enjoyed pepperoni pizza but their pepperoni isn't like the States and I don't like it as well.

The last picture, of the building, is one I tried to take last trip. The bottom portion of the building is very old and they have added the glass top and it just looks silly and unstable to me. The building is so tall and narrow anyway.

That should have been my last trip to Estonia. It was a beautiful day and we did a lot of walking. We ended up having Elder Long traveling with us for his permit. Turns out his father served a mission in Washington and spent 9 months in Walla Walla! I don't remember him--it was in 1968-70. Such a small world. His Dad loves Walla Walla so they have visited several times but I've been gone from Walla Walla almost as long as young Elder Long has been alive.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A concert at the mission home

The night before the Friday concert at Guilde Hall, we were treated to a wonderful violin/viola concert in the mission home.

Two young missionaries were leaving and one, Sister Burton, plays the violin beautifully. Her mother came to pick her up and she plays the viola in the Orchestra at Temple Square.

Following the dinner and testimony sharing with the two missionaries, several invited guests arrived for the concert. Sister Burton served as a Russian-speaking missionary and she introduced the program in Russian. Her mother had just arrived from Utah 15 minutes before the concert began, and watching her face as her daughter spoke in Russian, brought back to my mind the first time I heard Scott speak Korean, and Keith speak Japanese, after their missions. The last time you saw your child they spoke English and then you hear them speaking this very foreign language, and you just marvel.

Sister Burton and her mother played for about an hour, often accompanied on the piano by a very talented Elder Eddington. It was just such a lovely treat.

Dinner and a concert

Friday evening the Gublers, Sister Humphrey and I went to dinner--at McDonalds in Olde Towne Riga. I had planned to go someplace else, but got away late from the office.
The McDonalds is very much larger than at home (and no play area for kids). It was packed, mostly with teenagers. We had to wait in line to order but the young girl understood and spoke enough English for us to do so.
I don't know that I will go to McDonalds again--it never has been my favorite place and Friday's dinner didn't change my mind. On our way to the concert, we passed the Cat House (if you look closely at the very top of the roof, you will see a large sculpted cat. There are more on other peaks. It's not a "cat house" of the same kind as in the States, but it is called the Cat House because of the cats on the roof and other locations on the building.
We then walked to the large Guilde Hall. I didn't get a picture of it, but the one that looks like a castle above, is the small Guilde Hall. The large one is to the right, kind of behind the small one.

The large Guilde Hall was perhaps a Church at some point--at least the beautiful windows inside reminded me of a church. The hall was beautiful and the seats unique. Very straight backs, but cushioned backs and seats. The were comfortable--not too deep or tall for my short legs, and lots of room for those who might have longer legs.
We were in the 2nd row on one side. The concert lasted one hour and was called Karls Orfs Carmina Burana. There was a full orchestra, a large choir and a male and a female soloists. All were very good. The conductor was fun to watch--very animated and almost like he was pulling the music out of the instruments and choir. The concert hall probably holds a few hundred people and it was packed. I would have taken pictures but it wasn't allowed. We had to walk up 4 flights of stairs to get to the hall. There didn't seem to be an elevator anywhere.
The concert was, of course, in Latvian, but the music transcended the language barrier. It was a very enjoyable concert.

Before arriving at McDonalds, we passed a bridge where couples leave padlocks with their names engraved (or scratched) on them. I guess they leave the padlocks on this bridge but on some of the other bridges, they remove them.
The other picture is in Olde Towne next to the small Guilde Hall. They look like store fronts on a movie set, but they are real. Very picturesque.

White Lions, Chocolate Lions and Peanut Lions

Have any of you heard of Nestle's candy bars? I was introduced to the White Lion when we went to Tallin in February. I hadn't seen any of the "Lions" here but have since found all 3. Of course, the white ones are the only ones I'm interested in and, of course, they are the most scarce. But they are made by Nestle's so I'm hoping they are available back home in another year.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The view from my apartment building

Below is a little flower garden that someone has planted, with bulbs and other perennials. It's been wonderful to see things coming to life. I think there are some peonies and I'm very excited to see them. This is right outside of the door to our building.

In the center is the view across the road as we exit the building. It's a very nice playground and, in this Spring weather, there are lots of kids taking advantage of it. Beyond it is a new last year, skateboarding place.
Well, the pictures have jumped around on me again, but I trust you can figure out what I'm describing. There are 160 apartments in our building (and half a dozen other buildings) and people just park their cars wherever they find a place, including right outside our door. I'm actually surprised how many have cars, and pretty new/nice ones, given the apartments in which they live.
We can always recognize our door--it's the one with the orange square painted on it. Otherwise, we would have to count the doors to know which one is ours.
Next time I need to share pictures of the road--and the potholes. It can't be good for the cars.

Eleven weeks since my last haircut

I'm not sure how much you can tell from this picture. If nothing else, you can get a sense of how very short the haircut was.

I am letting it just grow out. Sister Gubler has trimmed the neckline a couple of times. It's completely straight, but I have enough hair that it isn't laying flat. I'm not sure what the final style will be. Any thoughts and suggestions are welcome.

The Riga Imanta Church--and Pussy willows

This is where I attend Church each Sunday. It's the only Church-owned meetinghouse in Riga.
L-R is Sister Humphrey, Sister Gubler and Elder Gubler, entering the Church for a baptism.
The story of the pussy willow is this: Last Sunday "Grandma" Senkans (I had trouble with names when I first came. We had a Velma, a Velta and a Velga. So, the mother/grandmother in the Senkans family because "Grandma Senkans" to me, even though she's a few years younger than I am.) Anyway she came with a couple of branches of pussy willows and was "switching" the legs of each person (as we gathered outside waiting for someone to bring a key). We learned that on Easter morning (she was a week early), the first one awake in the home, takes a branch of pussy willows and goes throughout the house, "hitting" each person with the branch to awaken them. The first one so awakened, joins in as they go the 2nd one, and so on, until every one is awakened. That brings good health for the year. (There are a lot of superstititions here in the Baltics.) If you swing in a swing in the Spring, the mosquitoes won't bother you that year. I need to find a swing!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lieldiena in Riga

I've learned that Easter is called Lieldiena, which simply means "big day." From all I can discern, it's not really a religious holiday. Although, one man told the elders it was a day to go to church. The grocery ads are much like in the US, lots of ham, Easter eggs and candies.

I'm so thankful for the knowledge of my Savior Jesus Christ and His Atoning Sacrifice. I'm thankful to know that He was resurrected and that each of us will be, also. I'm thankful to know of His creations, so observable this time of year, with things coming to life where it was so dead.

Having witnessed two baptisms this weekend, one in Latvian and one in Russian, makes me so grateful that others are turning their hearts to the Savior and desiring to follow Him.

I pray that each of you will have a joyous and blessed Easter.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Spring has arrived!!

I really had begun to question whether Spring came to Riga, but this week--on April 1 (and it wasn't an April Fools' Day joke). The sun shown all day long, and has done so each day since. It's warm enough that I have quit wearing my boots and today went on our errands without scarf or gloves. It feels so great!!!

And yesterday I saw my first flower. A little tiny, tiny tulip or lily of the valley type of flower. The people who take care of the grounds around the apartment, and around other buildings, use stick brooms to sweep and to rake the dirt. They also pick up all the alcohol bottles thrown on the ground, as well as any other trash. And the grass is coming up in some places. I'm told they only mow the lawns a couple of times a year. The grass is more a wild grass like you see in a forest area.

A couple came to the office on Wednesday from Moscow. American missionaries serving in Russia have to leave the country every 3 months for visa purposes. They don't all come to Riga, but we've had a few. This couple said Moscow is so dreary, with very tall apartment buildings everywhere and not so many trees as we have. They also talked about the lack of food, at least varieties of food. Sister Gubler took her to Rimi's and she loaded up on soup packets and other things she can't get there. She said she's fixed spaghetti 26 different ways. We decided Riga isn't so dreary and that we are blessed to have the variety of food that we do have.