Updated: Apr 13
Most American's dream of going to Europe or Hawaii for their vacation get-a-way. And where do the Europeans go? Latvia! I have seen the beauty of Latvia and all of it's charm... and FUN.
When you get into the city of Riga, it is beautiful. Cobblestone streets, flowered terraces, old
buildings, great food, history and the great Baltic Sea! If you can, get there during their Summer Solstice holiday; It is one of the biggest holiday's that they celebrate. What is Summer Solstice? It's the beginning where they farm their fields and celebrate their Pagan ways. Their bonfires are HUGE and the women and girls don their heads with flowers in their hair. The celebration drink is a Black Balsam. It comes in two different bottles, one with a purple label (more sweet) and a black/ brown label which is a traditional flavor which is comparable to a Jaegermeister. BEWARE: It goes down easy and may put you on your behind.
Here are a few things I've learned and a few that I recommend when exploring lovely Latvia. Number one thing, as an American, you do not need to apply for a Visa to visit there. You are allowed a tourist/ business stay for up to 90 days. So if you want, go enjoy yourself for all 90 days!
Did you know you can book a walking tour of the city? I would speak with the U.S. Embassy, they might offer this accommodation. The walking tour takes a few hours to complete but you can enjoy the sites of some of the oldest buildings there. Make sure you are wearing flat shoes that are comfortable and in good taste. Remember, it's European style so if you want to blend in, that means nice shoes! Or try a cool pair of kicks that are tennis shoe-like. The tour will be taking you around on cobblestone streets so don't try to get fancy, ladies! And make sure you bring a snack or some water. Depending on the time of day, this tour could wear you out. We were starving and thirsty because it took a little longer than
anticipated-- it was going on three hours & we decided to cut it short. Some of the buildings that will be shown is the late 15th century called "The Three Brothers" Buildings which are old Riga. They are ornate in shape, stucco front and each a different color. In the photo to the left, it shows 2 of the 3, the third one is peeking though in sky blue. You can check out these museums for a fee.
Just down the road there is an equally old church called St. Gertrude Old Church. It's a gothic building that give that creepy "Hotel Transylvania" look. These gothic style buildings are scattered throughout and so appealing.
A solid regret of mine: Not seeing one of the most prominent buildings, House of Blackheads. We learned that all sorts of single people went here to find love. Kings, Queens, merchants, you name it. Dancing in ballrooms with hope of finding love. We also hear that this is where the first Christmas tree was erected. If you look it up online, www.tourpoint.lv, will state that it was first brought in year 1510 adorned with roses. I think this is absolutely fascinating that the tradition has been spread all the way to the U.S.A. It's crazy how tradition lives on throughout the world. If you want to take a look, go to House of Blackheads website for more information (website below).
Many places in the town center are quite lovely. On the weekend, there is music playing, later dinner and drinks to be had and of course bars that line the streets. One thing we were briefed on is that any red door facilities usually belonged to the Russians. Let's just say that the Russian's are not partial to American's so it's best to avoid those places. Additionally, any bars that have stairs going down into a facility should also be avoided due to cunning late night lady workers.
STORY TIME: So after a long day at the beach, breathing in the salty Baltic air and enjoying the small town European ambiance, we went to a late night dinner in the square. It was electrifying and comfortable. My friend, “K”, and I decided that we were going to bar hop. Well, after a few shots from a few different bars, we walked to our next area and that was -- down the stairs-- to a karaoke bar where there were other people from our group. We know our group loves a good karaoke bar. BUT here is the thing, there was one female who added her bottle of wine to a male friend of ours for $180 (she was a call girl) and he got stuck paying for her "services" (basically sitting next to him) and the bartenders kept telling my friend, “K”, that she needed to buy the shot for the other bartender and tried charging her for it. Let me say, I've never seen “K” about to crawl over the bar! It was very entertaining to say the least. SO if you are in Riga, be very mindful of the company around you and where your money goes.
SECOND STORY TIME: If you are African American, Latvian's do not see your race often so it can come in stares of curiousity. My other girl friend, “V”, had a very large, drunk man make romantic passes at her. We all laughed but knew it was uncomfortable. He approached her three times! On the third time, the whole bar was staring in anticipation and HE WENT IN FOR A KISS. He was the potbelly of a man, red faced drunk and his tongue was coming out. Luckily, she turned just in time, everyone in the bar was standing up. Fortunately, no international bar fight came about. Just be mindful of these events.
Another site to see: The Baltic Sea beach! You can purchase a cheap train ticket and get off a couple stops later and you'll end up strolling about a mile to get to your destination. You'll find yourself wandering down a beautiful small town to end up on the endless sandy beaches. The town has great ice cream and cute little boutiques to explore. It was good for a nice relaxing day. ESPECIALLY after the walking tour. If you choose to not go to the beach, it just isn't your thing, walking around town is a nice easy stroll and not something that you would see in the walking tour. There is a wonderful little river, Daugava River, that has decorative wooden boats and a beautiful garden for a picnics. They also have some statues and monuments to visit on your stroll. There is a main mall there if you need to pick something up. To give the an opinionated review, I would say skip the mall; it's nothing great and you can find other interesting things in the local shops.
Overall, these were a couple of things that we had done over a long weekend. It was a great
experience and gave me the bug to come back when I could spend some more time over in this region. If you have ever been here, leave a comment below of your recommended places to eat, sites to see, activities to do and even hikes! I love hiking, it's usually the highlights of all my trips.
*** While I did not need a Visa to travel to Latvia and their country states you do not need one (2020), please ALWAYS verify this information prior to travel!***
Photo Credit: House of Blackheads, common.wikipedia.org
Editor: Bob Smith