2013 0808 Riga, Latvia: Got up at 7:00, breakfast at 8:00, assembled in Nautica Lounge at 9:00, and out to our bus (along with 34 others and the guide) for our Jewish Heritage Tour of Riga.

We rated the overall experience a 3 out of 5. Bus was hot (and this was the hottest day here in 50 years – upper 80s) and the guide, while knowledgeable (and this is going to sound familiar) sometimes when on too long. Also she was way too close to the mic while we were on the bus so her voice was distorted. And with 36 people (some of whom were not exactly agile), it took time to get off and on the bus. Now the good parts.

First stop was site of the Choral Synagogue (same name at one in St. P) that had been built in 1870 and burned down by the Nazis (with people inside) in 1941. So the ruins have been turned into a memorial and there is also a big white sculpture with the names of the righteous … Latvians who had saved Jews.

Next we drove through the area that had been the Jewish ghetto. Lots of wooden buildings, many still in use, outsides in need of repair/staining. From here we went to the site of the original Jewish cemetery. There are no stones there (Nazis took them all down), so it’s park like with some monuments, although the bodies are still buried here, now totally unmarked. The hard part of the morning was ahead.

From here, we went to the forest where the Nazis shot 25,000 Jews over two days (11/29/41 and 12/8/41) … Rumbula Forest. It was Latvians with Russian submachine guns that did most of the shooting. The Jews were told they were being relocated to a new area since the ghetto was overcrowded especially since some German Jews had been transferred there. They walked 3 hours in freezing November or December weather, suitcases in hand. Like many other stories we’ve heard, they had no clue what was going to happen to them. 1,000 at a time were the groups and they killed people from 9 am to 6 pm. The Nazis were here only three years, but eradicated all but a handful of Jews over that time period. Even with the monuments that are there in the forest (which are beautiful), there are waves of negative energy all around. Tough place to be.

So, if this wasn’t enough to break your heart, we went to the newly built New Ghetto Museum. It’s all outside except for a small museum building (which we didn’t go to). The atmosphere (building walls, barbed wired fences, gates) is to replicate the feeling of being inside the ghetto. And there is a long white wall with most, if not all, of the names of those murdered in the forest and at the camps inscribed, pictures of some. Lots of people with Hirsch as their last name. Roll of the dice we’re here and they’re not. Very moving … the whole busload was Jewish, I think, except for maybe one or two.

Our final stop was the synagogue in the old part of the city. Built in 1905, it was spared by the Nazis since blowing it up would have ruined a whole block of historical buildings. Interior has been restored and the décor/theme is almost like it’s Egyptian. Interesting especially when comparing it to the Choral Synagogue in St. Petersburg where the interior is of Moorish design.

Then back to the ship and a buffet lunch in the Terrace Café around 1:45 and to our suite to unwind. And Marian took a nap … and we skipped tea! About three hours later, we headed to the dining room for another lovely dinner. In many ways, the Grand Dining Room is a better choice than the two premium restaurants. While the food in all the venues is really good (Terrace buffet included), the portions in the premium restaurants are really too big to eat and there is no way to take home leftovers for the next day’s lunch. For example, in the Polo Grill they offer a 32 oz. bone-in prime rib. And the smaller cut is 16 oz. I had a double Iberico pork chop and it was huge. In Toscana earlier, I had the veal chop and it was huge. In the Grand Dining Room, the portions are of a good size so that you can have a starter, salad, man course, and dessert and are not stuffed. We had prime rib tonight, at it was a perfect portion size.

I was a bit bombed after dinner having had some of the white wine we had bought at lunch and some red from last night. We went into the Nautica Lounge and sat waiting for the show to begin. I napped. When the show started, I was awake for its hour-long duration. Tonight was Nolan Dean, who does all the public address work onboard. He’s a wonderful singer and had a really funny comedy routine that had the crowd all laughing hard. Then up to the suite and to bed.


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