Friday, October 31, 2008

Riga, Latvia

The Baltic countries weren’t a high priority for personal travels so I was very excited to learn I’d get to visit both Latvia and Lithuania for work this winter. To get the planning underway I visited the city of Riga in Latvia. After adjusting to the much colder climate, I noticed how modern, clean, and overall really nice the city seemed. I got in early evening so the first night was just an early dinner, where I tried a local dish of potato pancake, with our partner Juris. We talked about Latvia’s proximity to Russia and the various influences it brings, as well as those of Germany and Poland who also occupied Latvia at different points throughout history – all of which could be detected in Juris’s very unique accent. He explained that Latvians were very proud of their independence and such symbols of that freedom like their currency, the Lat. He went on to tell me that while each Baltic country has it’s own language; to communicate between they will often speak Russian, which was a requirement of all school curriculums for many years. Today children are taught English, another sign of the fall of the iron curtain.
The next day after our morning meeting, I had some time to explore the Old Town and some of the sights. The first stop on this exploration was a ceremonial changing of the guard by the Freedom Monument, where during the Soviet years it was a crime, punishable with deportation to Siberia, for people to leave flowers at the base. Today it’s littered with offerings, another symbol of the Latvian people’s triumph over oppression.
Afterwards I strolled around the cobbled stone streets enjoying the medieval architecture, and stopped at one of the many pastry and coffee nooks throughout the city for a warm up. Once suitably refreshed with some honeyed pastry and cappuccino, I went by the street vendors selling amber jewelry, a gem the country has been well known for across Europe since the 12th century. I then ventured past the House of Black Magic, or House of Rigas Black Balsams, a potent local liquor, to my final destination, the shopping mall! Happy to report that during my retail therapy session, I acquired a pair of fur lined black leather boots that should keep my treasured feet nice and toasty all winter long. I contemplated crashing the fashion week party in my hotel’s bar as my last bit of fun in the Baltic's, but opted for an early bedtime instead due to lack of appropriate wardrobe…despite the brand new boots in my happy possession, that is!

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