Riga’s Motor Museum

Though there are other museums that have opened in Riga this year, it was the newly refurbished Rīgas Motormuzejs, about 20 minutes outside of town, that I made time to visit.

 

Historic Vehicle at Riga Motor Museum
Alfa Romeo at Riga Motor Museum

 

Housed in a new and modern three-story building, it has interactive exhibits, historical information and, of course, an enormous collection of vintage vehicles.  The exhibits collude together to capture the mood and culture of the 20thcentury.  More than that, it is a mini history of human kind’s technology under one roof.  And, with Latvia being a former Soviet country, it is uniquely placed to give an up-close perspective on Soviet life and the conflict and confluence between eastern and western societies.

 

Riga Motor Museum

The beginning of the tour features videos and displays about the invention of the wheel, progressing on to the first prototype vehicle produced by Karl Benz in 1886.  There are model T cars and an Overland sedan from the U.S.A. as well as Krastin cars, built in Latvia, from the beginning of the century.

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G.M. Cars were built in Latvia

 

The most critical piece of the collection on show is the 1930s mountain racing Auto Union V16.  Apparently, it symbolises the “Silver Arrow” era in the history of global automotive industry. In fact, this important vehicle was the impetus for creating the museum.

1930s mountain racing Auto Union V1
1930s mountain racing Auto Union V1

 

The Kremlin Collection, vintage Soviet cars which were collected by enthusiasts in Riga before the fall of the USSR, is truly the highlight of the museum.  These unique and, at the time, incredibly expensive vehicles were the preserve of Soviet officials only.  The proletariat could be on waiting lists for years to acquire even a modest vehicle.

 

Cars for the proletariat
Cars for the proletariat

 

The 1966 Silver Shadow Rolls Royce, mangled in an accident when Leonid Brezhnev was driving, has been acquired and is on display with a reconstruction of the accident to boot.

Breshnev's Silver Shadow Rolls Royce
Breshnev’s Silver Shadow Rolls Royce

 

There is a very popular interactive exhibit in the Kremlin section. Here a projector is used to transport the participant (waving required) into a Stalinesque parade travelling through the streets of Moscow in an open top sedan.

Yasmen Kaner-White accepts the crowds adulation!
Yasemen Kaner-White accepts the crowds adulation!

By the 1930’s, there were 90 makes of automobile on the streets of Riga.  However, they were few vehicles and these were very expensive.  The President of Latvia then decided to get into bed with the U.S. car manufacturers and this all changed.  In 1936, a license to build Ford vehicles was acquired and the Vairogs factory born. The first Ford Vairogs vehicle was finished in 1937, a truck with a V8 engine and 85 horsepower.

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The Krastin Automobile Company in the U.S. founded by a Latvian.

 

When Latvia lost her independence in 1940, the factory was nationalised, and production stopped. Up to that point, however, they had produced 300 cars and 1000 trucks.

An original fire engine
An original fire engine

There are other utility vehicles in the part of the museum including two fully refurbished fire engines, a raft of bicycles, vans and buses.

 

Open every day of the year from 10:00 to 18:00.
Eizenšteina iela 6, Riga, LV – 1079
info@motormuzejs.lv

Zimbabwe: A Journey of Revelation

On approach by plane to the Kigali Airport in Rwanda, I see the familiar red soil, green trees and clear skies of Africa and my fatigue quickly disappears.  There is a magic to this land that can be hard to describe but tugs at my heart strings every time I visit.

 

Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe

Our group is on a connecting flight and so it is on to Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport to begin our adventure.

 

This is my first trip to Zimbabwe.  Due to the sanctions and hostilities directed at the former President, Robert Mugabe, I had wondered whether this was a place I would ever get to visit.  But now that Mr. Mugabe has been ‘escorted’ out of his post and a new President has stepped in, things are rapidly changing.  Mr. Mnangagwa, known as the crocodile, does not have the best reputation and there are still democratic elections to be held, but the feeling of optimism among the general populace is palpable…electric even, and it gives me a real sense of the hopefulness for the future of this country.

Mr. Kaseke, CEO of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, puts it most succinctly when he says his country’s USP is its warm and welcoming people. 

Pool at Elephant Eye Lodge

Pool at Elephant Eye Lodge

In Harare, I notice currency from the old regime being sold. I learn later there are denominations of a million and even billion Zimbabwean dollars on a single bill. I need to learn more about what previously happened with the economy. But, what I mainly notice, are the beautiful veg for sale on every street corner, and, of course, the friendly outgoing people.

Beautiful Fruit for sale in Harare
Beautiful Fruit for sale in Harare

But soon we leave Harare and are out exploring the countryside and nature.

Giraffes in Hwange National Park
Giraffes in Hwange National Park

 

And speaking of nature, it seems that at the end of the rainy season one can still expect changeable weather.  Much like the mid-west of the U.S., land-locked Zimbabwe can experience tropical storms during its shoulder seasons which may mean lightning strikes.  Quite exciting.

World View
World View

 

After an overnight stop in Bulawayo, where one of my cousins was born, we head for the Matopo Hills and the Matopo National Park.  It is when entering vast tracts of the African veld, full of kopje (granite exposed hill tops), that one starts getting a feel for the Zimbabwe of old. Here, there are ancient rock paintings of the San peoples who would have been migrating possibly to the coast.  In days gone by, there were no roads crossing this land, only foot paths.

There are also black and white rhino in the park.  Being taken on safari with Norman and his side-kick, also named Norman blackrhinosafaris.com, to trek rhino on foot is a, frankly, gratifying experience as we are able to get so close to these rare and beautiful animals.

White Rhino in the Matopo Hills National Park
White Rhino in the Matopo Hills National Park

 

This area is also famous for a hilly granite outcrop known as World’s View.  Rather bizarrely and controversially, this is where Cecil Rhodes was buried after his death at the age of 48.  He had spent a great deal of his life in South Africa but wanted to be interred in the hills of Matabeleland.

 

San People Rock Art
San People Rock Art

But now another animal adventure awaits us deep in the middle of the country: the Hwange National Park. The park covers 14,651 km²and with 40,000 elephants, lion and giraffe and herd animals all roaming about, this is a truly exciting place for a game drive. If viewing is difficult due to overgrown vegetation, then theNyamandhlovu Pan with its elevated viewing platform solves this problem.  We saw crocodiles, Zebra, Waterbuck, Wildebeest and more all converging in and around the water hole.

 

The Nyamandhlovu Pan
The Nyamandhlovu Pan

 

Being able to stay at the Elephant Eye Safari Lodge and have a glamping type experience is awesome. Here, the swimming pool has no chemicals as elephants come and drink nearly every night.  Also, at night, a lit section on the grassy plain with its own tiny waterhole, is a feast for the eyes as we watch impala at play.

 

Our guide, Lovemore, in Great Zimbabwe
Our guide, Lovemore, in Great Zimbabwe

Another place we visit which is of great importance is Great Zimbabwe.  The medieval hill complex feels more like a pre-historic site. Climbing up the ancient stairs surrounded by stone masonry is a bit reminiscent of Sri Lanka’s Sigiriya.  The structure of the complex is built into the granite and the views from the top are well worth the effort getting up there.

 

Great Zimbabwe Rocks
Great Zimbabwe Rocks

 

A stay at the nearby Ancient City’s Lodge (which is built from stone in the style of Great Zimbabwe) will mean you have easy access to Great Zimbabwe, a short drive away.

The Victoria Falls from a helicopter
The Victoria Falls from a helicopter

But it is the Victoria Falls which go the farthest to capture the magic of this country.  5,633 ft. wide and 343 ft. tall and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, this is the planet’s greatest mass of falling water.  The first European to see the falls was missionary Dr. David Livingstone in the mid 19thcentury.  He wrote that, “scenes so lovely that it must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

 

The magnificent Victoria Falls
The magnificent Victoria Falls

 

The Zimbabwean side is packed with viewpoints including one above the Devil’s Cataract and four facing Main Falls, where at peak season more than 27 million cubic feet of water fall per minute. Walk the trail along the Rain Forest Walk and you will surely be drenched before the end of it.

Flights on Rwandair from London Gatwick cost from GBP 390 in economy (low season) Premium Economy from GBP 900 and Business class from GBP 1300.