November 15, 2011

Lovin' Life in Latvia

Riga was ah-mah-zing (or should I go back to my 'amazeballs'  craze?!). A breathtaking city, with a long and complicated history and beautiful and friendly people.

But, it was pretty dang chilly there. Like cold enough for us to think that it was 'warm' when we got back to Finland. Hmmm, there is something that I never thought I would say. Warm(er) Finland ;)

Summer is probably the ideal time to visit the city of nearly one million residents, but cold weather just means that there are more chances for hot chocolate, dessert and red wine breaks. All of which are highly necessary when the weather is below freezing.

To be honest, we didn't know squat about Latvia before we got there. But in a way, I think that is by far the best way to go into a vacation. Know next to nothing about the city, let a tour guide or locals show you the way, and somehow get the most out of the 48 hours you are there. No itinerary to get in the way, no set plans that must be met. By doing so, we stumble into some of the neatest places, bars and restaurants in the city without previous knowledge that they even existed.

Well, I actually knew a little about the city. I knew that Riga is known for it's wild bachelor party scene and strip clubs. But, surprisingly enough, that was not going to be the highlight of our trip. Strip joints are sketchy enough in the U.S., and no way am I walking into one in a former Soviet state!

For the short weekend we were there for, we actually got to see most of the Old Town, the surrounding industrial areas and the newer commercial centers. Because of heavy bombing and destruction during various wars throughout the last 200 years, many of the buildings are restorations of the originals. They are gorgeous and you could spend hours just looking around at all the different structures.

One of the best things in town was the Museum of Latvian Occupation. Ok, yes, I know the name is deceivingly boring, but this museum was so interesting and so well done, especially for a place that was free of charge (a donation is appreciated).

I had no idea what the Latvians had been through in just the last 100 years. I'll give you a very short run down, so you can appreciate their perseverance as well. Latvia declared itself an independent country 1918, just after the end of WWI. They earned a few years of freedom, but the USSR made a move into the country at the beginnings of actions leading up to WWII and the people became powerless under the Soviet regime. The Latvians resisted for some time, but when the possibility of German forces crossing their borders became a real threat, they 'welcomed' the Soviet occupation, hoping that it would help their chances against the Germans. Not the case. This began the "Year of Horror". Many high ranking officers and public officials, along with their families, were deported to harsh Gulag camps. Most of them did not return.

After enduring what they thought was the worst of their trials, the Latvians openly welcomed Nazi soldiers into their country, hoping that they would bring some relief to the previous horrible year. Things seemed to get better at first, until the Nazi regime started targeting Jewish citizens, minorities and mentally handicapped people. Over 200,000 Latvians died in WWII, which for a country as small as theirs, is a huge percentage. Over 75,000 of those were Jews murdered by the Nazis.

Following WWII, Soviet forces reentered Latvia and took control of the government and its citizens once again. Talk about not catching any kind of break. History was repeating itself as high ranking patriots who did not seek refuge in other countries were forced to work in gulags. At first, over 43,000 higher society citizens were sent to Russia for manual labor. And then another wave of over 100,000 were packed up and imprisoned, repressed or sent to Soviet concentration camps. As you can imagine, many of the families never returned to Latvia.

Harsh times under soviet rule lasted until 1991. 1991, just 20 years ago. Although it was declared an independent country for over 70 years prior, it wasn't until the 90s that Latvia got to control itself.

I was amazed at their history, I honestly had no idea. It just goes to show the spirit and perseverance of the human race in times of hardship and oppression.

Anyways, you needed a history lesson for the day, so there you have it. I do highly recommend Riga. It was so gorgeous. And a very safe, clean and fun place to visit. But maybe go when it's warm, brrrr!

There is so much more funny things to tell about our trip, but, come on, I have to space it out so it at least lasts me more than one blog post ;)
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  1. About time this blog got some tourist shots. Beautiful!! I would even go in the winter. Looks like the crowds are pretty low. Oh wait. I'm from South Florida. I would be a popsicle in 5 minutes in my shorts and sunglasses.

  2. I'd love to just declare myself something like Latvia. So they went with independent...I think I'd go with coordinated though. Loving the pics on this post. While you were in Latvia we were freezing our asses off in London. Brrr....

  3. Sounds and looks like a good time. Color me jealous.

  4. I love living vicariously through you! Latvia sounds amazing and the history is incredible. You look so cute overlooking the city :)

  5. Ah wow! I had no idea. Sometimes in the US I think we (ok, maybe I should just speak for myself).. I become way to oblivious to the rest of the world while living the good life. Eastern Europe was definitely the most eye opening trip of my life and I definitely want to explore the Baltic states. Glad y'all had a great trip!

  6. Yep, I knew nothing about Latvia until this post! SO fun to see YOUR photos and learn from your point of view! Better than google for sure! ;)

  7. Yaaay. Thanks for all the info, Linds. And of course I love the pics!!! Thanks for letting me creep you again via blogger ;)

  8. Nice pics!!!I think that a lot of eastern european countries has really nice cities with a lot of history and beautiful buildings:)Glad that u had a good time there..maybe a boatride to Sweden next time;)Btw your coat looks great-love the color!

  9. Hello from Atlanta! Found your blog through Frau Dietz (who I found through Deutschland über Elvis). Love the pics and your fab green coat! And I can't believe people ask you what you do all day. Are they crazy? Clearly they don't get out much!

  10. I'm glad you had a great time..I love all the photos. Particularly the old lady dancing away to the classics :-) Also, thanks for the history!! How sad to let one lot of soldiers in only to think the Nazi's are better?! They've definitly been through a lot but it seems to have pulled trhough and become quite the gem of a place!!!

  11. @SFlaGuy - Haha, I know, right?! Not too many people during the day, but really came to life at night. Yes, and it was coooold! Shorts are a no go :)
    @Marie - Why not, let's just try to declare it and see what happens, lol. Hope ya'lls trip to London (besides the pukey ride) was great!
    @Lisa - thanks, they really turned out great ;)
    @Joshua - it was really nice, haha, don't be too jealous.
    @Meg O - Through all these random cities we get to visit! Glad you liked, and why thank you ma'am!
    @Alex - Seriously, it really makes you realize how much other people have been through. I consider myself very, very lucky. I think you would like it there. We have seen many Euro cities and yet this one still felt different
    @Kassi - well glad I could inform. Hey, at least you now know something before you ever visit, haha. Thanks girl!
    @KY - haha, like I said, whether you wanted it or not ;) You can creep all you want. And now TLC is stuck in my head, lol
    @Mrs K - thanks lady! They really do, that is for sure. I've heard the cruise to Stockholm is really fun, might just have to try it! And thanks, it is new this year and I am loving that it is something other than black :)
    @Leigh Anne - Hi Leigh Anne! Very cool, thanks for letting me know you stopped by. And thanks, I am loving that thing too. Haha, I'm glad you understand
    @Missy - She was awesome, and I am not sure if homeless or just knew she would clean up by dancing away. I know, it was a very sad museum, but really good to know their history.

  12. I see we both did informative history blogs this week. We should always give thanks to those who went before us and paid such a heavy price that we may walk among the rebuilt cities or ruins they left behind, enjoying our lives, and sharing our adventures with the world. Let's hope we can keep building and stop destroying so all of our decedents can live in peace.

  13. In Soviet Russia, strippers pay you!

    Man, that meme never gets old for me.

    Glad you had a good time and experienced continentality.

  14. ok. this is they way i want to learn all of my history lessons from now on! please keep traveling...

    (and, p.s. after adding up those numbers, how were there ANY people left in latvia to populate it?!)

  15. I am a history buff and a teacher. I would be really excited to go anywhere that was once a part of the Iron Curtain. The Soviets were just awful to everyone even there own people. Thank you for sharing now I will at Latvia to my list of places to go.

  16. Looks beautiful! Reminds me of my visit to Prague, which was a very very cold city! They had hot wine, hot cocoa, hot cider, hot whiskey... everything hot!

  17. @Sflaguy - here here!! It really makes you appreciate all of that stuff, doesn't it!
    @Mollie - hmmmm, how many times do you think we started the sentence with "In Russia..." never gets old! haha
    @Ali - well glad you liked it :) No kidding, hardly. There are about 2 million in the country now. About the same as there were in the late 1800s. And less than in the 80s. Go figure!
    @Lauren - Seriously, what do you gain out of treating your own people so horribly?! I'm really glad you liked it then! It is beautiful place!
    @Meri - so nice! It looks so much like pics I"ve seen of Prague, you are dead on. Haven't been there yet, but that is up there on my list! Haha. I really love the glögg or glühwein. Yummy!

  18. Whoa, that's a pretty impressive run of bad luck! There's something to be said for living downunder at the edge of the 'civilised' world!!

  19. Latvia - on my bucket list and a positive in warmer weather, although the cold does not bother me a bit, being one of those "Cold Spell" Canuks :)
    Sounds delightful and loved the history - now, Ltl Tex, you have out done yourself. I loved this post, especially the history and pics of everything.
    Thanks for sharing - we did Christmas Lights today - unreal to have balmy temps here on Nov 16th - shirtsleeve weather today???
    Take Care and "Swift Blades to the hub"

  20. So glad you did this post... I have been toying with the idea of heading over to Latvia... but always end up going to Looks amazing.. :-)

  21. Wow! Lativa looks gorgeous!!! I love the "stumble through vacation" vacations. So much better that way. The history was great, too! 1991? That is amazing! Can't wait to hear more!

  22. Wow, that is beautiful. I am glad you had a good time! And thanks for the history lesson!

  23. Hi! I found your blog through Expat Blog. We are Americans in Helsinki!
    Nice posting on Latvia.
    Look forward to getting to know you!

  24. @Red - yeah, all you criminals down there ;)
    @Lilly - what?! It has been that warm there?! Wow. I'm really glad you liked the post. About time I did a travel one, right?! Can't wait to see your lights. I bet you go all out!
    @American - they are in the same direction...right?! haha. Ireland is amazing too. But if you end up in Latvia, you won't be disappointed either!
    @Rachel - Aren't those the best?! They always make for the most random, therefore best, times! Thanks girl!
    @Kyria - haha, like I keep saying, whether you want it or not ;) Thanks!
    @A Happy - hi there! I am really glad you stopped by. I can't wait to check out your blog. Expat Blog is awesome, glad you joined that too

  25. It's amazing that they were all bombed. didn't know squat about a place before you got there? I find that hard to believe!!!

  26. Excellent! Looks like you guys had a blast. Red wine breaks are a must for any getaway. This was a nice little history lesson too, which I appreciate. The line about Soviet strip clubs killed me. Cheers!


Whoomp, there it is!