Sunday, August 12, 2012


Earlier this year, around spring time, I travelled to Riga, Latvia, to visit a good friend who happened to live there as part of her university semester abroad. I did not have a lot of expectations before I went – in fact, I did not have any, apart from maybe the odd Eastern European stereotype. I subconsciously prepared myself for the ever-present Communist past that I imagined to lie over the city like dew in the morning, a harshness of the people which would make me wince and the excruciating cold one could only bear if born in those latitudes.

Yet, Riga surprised me. It surely is easy to get caught up in the odd unavoidable Soviet element, but Riga is so much more than that, if only one takes the time to scratch on the surface. It is fascinating, modern (hey there, McDonalds pedestrian walk-through!) and stunningly beautiful. The city's large Russian influence is not only expressed in the variety of languages spoken, but has heavily impacted the townscape.

Although compared to other European capitals Riga is small, some would even say tiny, its size does not take away any of the busyness and diversity the place radiates. Especially the Old Town with its beautiful buildings housing cafés, bars, night clubs and museums marks the vibrant heart of Riga. The façades of the houses are brightly colored, intercepted by plazas where during the long summer days locals and tourists alike enjoy each other's company until late at night.

Latvians are incredibly warm and heartily people. The levels of hospitality I was met with were beyond anything I had expected and expanded the notion of mere helpfulness: On one of the days my friend and I decided to visit the ethnographical museum a little outside of Riga. Unknown to us, due to the cold the museum usually does not open entirely until April after the last wave of arctic winds has subsided. Yet, as we walked around we got talking to one of the employees of the museum, who then gave us a private tour of the museum grounds not yet open to the public. We were allowed to enter a couple of the original buildings and the employee was more than happy to explain the use and workings of various old machinery to us. Needless to say that it was extremely interesting and that – despite the language barrier – I learned a lot about the lifestyle in the Latvian countryside.

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