This year the city of Riga celebrated its 813th birthday! Founded in 1201 by Albert von Buxthoeven, the German crusader who brought the Christian faith to the Baltics, this resilient capital has managed to maintain its unique Latvian culture while adapting to outside influences. This is evident by the remarkable mix of architectural styles, cuisines and languages found on its streets. As an American, I find Riga’s age incredible since North America wouldn’t even be “discovered” by the rest of the world for almost three centuries.
This August, I was lucky enough to celebrate Riga’s birthday with what seemed like half of Latvia at the 2014 Riga City Festival. Family-friendly events were held all over town. The Art Nouveau district adopted the theme “100 Years on Albert Street,” with costumed performers acting out scenes from daily life circa 1914. Musicians played in doorways, artists painted their muses, women sold flowers and salted fish, and couples danced on a bandstand while a military band played. As followers of my Facebook and Instagram accounts will attest, I love a good costume and enjoyed every minute of this charming display, despite intermittent rain.
A large craft market was set up in Dome Square, with vendors from all across the country selling their wares. There was beautifully-colored pottery, hand-knitted mittens and scarves, amber jewelry, woven baskets and rugs, and honey. The list easily goes on. I made the mistake of not buying everything I wanted on Saturday and turning up Sunday to find some stalls nearly sold out. But it was fun to take note of the regional specialties and mentally file things away for next time. Plus, there were costumed buskers on hand to entertain the crowds.
The banks of the Daugava River were the site for much of the festival’s entertainment. We caught a performance of the Australian acrobatic troupe Strange Fruit and marveled at how they could sway so gracefully above the crowds without once losing their balance. Saturday night, we stood on the Vansu Bridge to watch the city’s truly breathtaking fireworks display. On the other side of the bridge, carnival rides thrilled kids of all ages. Riga sure knows how to throw a party!
Sunday afternoon we were treated to a free performance by Latvian pop star Lauris Reiniks at the Riga Congress Center. The whole weekend was so much fun, I can’t wait for Riga’s 814th birthday next year!
What are some of the best festivals you’ve attended around the world?