Latvia: A Walk in the Forest

On a recent trip to the Baltic, I had the chance to visit the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia, one of the oldest and largest open-air museums in Europe. It’s located on the banks of Lake Jugla and just 30-minutes drive from downtown Riga. The museum was established in 1924 and had collected 118 historical buildings from all over Latvia. Information as to when and where the building was built and when it was added to the museum is posted on each building.

On a beautiful clear day, with blue skies and fresh air in abundance with temperature in the mid-60s Fahrenheit, I expected a few visitors around, but there seemed to be no other visitors but our group. Which is strange since there were lots of tourists in the Old Town, Riga about eighteen kilometers away.

After the museum entrance, we entered the first building - a barn with a collection of ancient wooden carriages on display. But the information posted on the building describes it as Roadhouse Pub built in the district of Bauska in 1841 and exhibited since 1938. Its design reflects typical features of feudalism. As soon as we emerged from the Roadhouse Pub, I smelled a delicious aroma of food. The whiff of a baking bread came from the building next door that happened to be a restaurant and a gift shop combined. There was a couple of artisans and a display of working tools and furnishing which characterized the time period and the region as well.

Past the restaurant/gift shop, we walked deep into the forest. It was like walking into a fairy-tale landscape. It was so lovely, green and peaceful. The peace was broken only by the chirping birds. The chirping turned into a screeching as we reached the circular ground with a statue in the middle. As our guide started to talk about the statue and what we're about to see, I caught a glimpse of the screeching jay as it flew from tree to tree.  So, I pulled my camera out and tried to capture the moment, but even as I touched the camera icon I knew I had missed it. The bird was gone and I missed our guide's narration about the statue.

A few steps from the statue stood a small wooden church that seemed to breathe among the towering pine trees. It was a thing of unadorned pastoral beauty and rustic craftsmanship. The church interior consists of six areas - the nave, three vestries for clergymen, anteroom and a porch. The pews were honey-colored pine and very few religious icons could be found on the altar. The church ceiling was covered with decorative paintings, painted by a third-grade teacher.

The church exterior

The church interior

Next, we visited a fisherman’s house. Our guide showed us every room and described how people lived their everyday life in ancient Latvia. It had a very low ceiling and each item has been kept exactly as it was in its original.

We visited a collection of buildings; wooden houses with straw roofs, artisans and fisherman’s farms, windmills, churches, homesteads among the stands of pine trees. The buildings have been set up to give us a sense of Latvia’s rural landscape – farmsteads of Latvian farmers, craftsmen, and fishermen. Each structure has been kept exactly as it was in its original setting. 

Our guide offered us the chance to walk around the forest and explore the 88 hectares ground on our own.  I joined four people in my group to walk to the lake. But in looking for a restroom facility along the way, we round a bend and the green plains gave way to the rolling forest-covered hills. We ended up walking the wooded hillside and reached yet another windmill.

There was a fence behind the windmill so we could not go any farther.  We saw a trail on the other side of the windmill and continued walking through the wooded hillside.  After half a mile, we saw a tiny restroom sign and finally found our way back to the main entrance. It was a great cultural experience to have a glimpse of how people lived in ancient Latvia through their dwellings, but the natural setting was even more impressive. Getting lost in the forest was the most fun.

PRESS PLAY to take a walk with me.



All photos by the author



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