As you may recall, a few months ago I mentioned that we would be heading overseas again later this year. Well, I just can’t keep the secret to myself any longer. We are moving to Riga, Latvia in June!
You might be wondering where Latvia is. That’s the first question most people ask when they hear my news. The largest of the three Baltic countries, Latvia sits between Estonia and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. It also shares borders with Russia and Belarus to the east and south, respectively. Ferry service runs between Riga and Stockholm, and cheap Air Baltic flights should make it easy to travel around Europe!
Why move to Latvia?
Though we thoroughly enjoyed our two years in Shanghai and Asia, we were eager to explore another part of the world. Well, it doesn’t get much more different than Latvia! The country’s population is around 2.1 million, which is a drop in the bucket compared to China’s 1.35 billion. Trees will outnumber people and Baltic sea breezes will replace China’s pollution. Blending in with the locals will be a refreshing change. Plus, the Latvian language uses a Latin alphabet and should hopefully be more intelligible than Chinese characters. If that’s not enough, Riga is the European Capital of Culture for 2014 and is hosting hundreds of unique events and festivals this year!
What am I most excited about?
Old Riga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its well-preserved medieval buildings and large collection of Art Nouveau architecture. I can’t wait to wander the cobblestone streets in search of cool and creepy facades! Riga is also home to a 600-year-old castle, an 800-year-old cathedral, numerous museums and a brand-new public library. The city, which straddles the Daugava River, is dotted with parks and cafe-lined squares.
One of the things I most enjoy about being an expat is the opportunity to explore the food and culture of my temporary home. In China, this manifested itself as a love for dumplings and fiery Sichuan dishes. I know little about Latvian cuisine, but I’m expecting an array of local treats with some Scandinavian, Russian and German influences. I hear Latvia has rye breads, salmon, pickles and beets, not to mention pierogi and cheese – music to my ears and a death knell for my waistline!
Popular Latvian activities that I’m keen to try include picking mushrooms and berries, birdwatching and cross-country skiing. An artistic friend has introduced me to Latvian mittens, while my guidebook has extolled the benefits of Latvian saunas. Apparently you get whacked with birch branches (to enhance circulation) while partaking of the traditional steam bath, and then jump into some freezing water to cool down. THAT should make for an interesting blog post!
The resort town of Jurmala is located just 25 kilometers from Riga so white sand beaches are under thirty minutes away! The arctic water may be too cold for me to dip a toe in, but the sound of crashing waves should be relaxing all the same.
Germany is famous for its extravagant Christmas markets, but I’ve learned that all the Baltic countries have them too! Did you know that Riga is credited with the creation of the Christmas tree? Germany might dispute this, but there’s a plaque in Old Riga marking the spot where the original tree allegedly stood. I’m guessing that means Christmas is a pretty big deal in Latvia. I’m hoping for lots of decorations around town, oven-fresh gingerbread and handmade ornaments to hang on my tree.
What I’m most apprehensive about:
As much as I’m looking forward to celebrating Christmas in Latvia, thoughts of a long Baltic winter have me a bit worried. With only seven hours of daylight during the winter months, how does everyone not come down with Seasonal Affective Disorder? I’ll just have to nurture a penchant for snow sports and be sure to get outside every single day. Or maybe I’ll sit by the fire and learn to knit while mulling my own wine. Whatever it takes to chase away the winter blues! And, of course, the 16 hours of daily sunshine during the summer should more than make up for any lost vitamin D.
Have you been to Riga? Do you have any tips or recommendations on what to do/see/eat? What should I pack to survive the winter?