What we Learned in Latvia

La briet, Latvija! Good morning, Latvia!

Continuing on our journey through the Baltic States, we arrived in the capital city of Latvia… Riga!

Latvia currently has ~2 million people. Riga with a population of 640,000 people. Latvia’s flag represents a famous Latvian leader who died on the sheets. The red represents his blood, and the white is where his body laid.

The Latvian flag is depicted inside the country’s borders.

We visited Riga in early June so every day was filled with bright sun, crisp air, and plenty of movement.

The architecture was very old and very intricate like the Melngalvju nams (House of the Blackheads), built in 1334.

It was a privilege to explore yet another city and meander the streets with wonderful friends. We ate ice cream for dessert as often as we could. We soaked in the history of the city, talking extensively about the Baltic states, WWII, and the US over dinner.
Although Riga, Latvia is definitely not one of the must-see cities to visit in Europe, I thought it was still a beautiful city to explore. We got to learn about another part of the world, another culture, a different way of living — and that is priceless. I am so glad we were able to go and enjoy another beautiful and intricate city.

Here are…

7 Takeaways in Riga

1. The Latvian Academy of Science was Stalin’s birthday present!

Originally built as a birthday present for Stalin during Soviet times, was Latvia’s first skypscraper. This 354 ft high building definitely oozes a sense of some sort of ominous and powerful authority towering over you on the streets. The Academy was built by funds “from kolkhozes in Latvia and later from “voluntary donations”. Just for explanation, voluntary donations actually meant deduction from the salary of rural workers” (Source).

While it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the architecture in Riga, I personally loved the look of this mid 20th century concrete building. I’m a big fan of buildings that were built brick by brick from the ground up. It requires a lot of time, coordination, and planning to construct a building that will stand for many years to come.

Today, locals have nicknamed the building as “the Kremlin” or “Stalin’s birthday cake.” In addition to the Academy, Stalin also had more similar type buildings to be built in Moscow, which all encompass the “Stalinist architecture” criteria. If you’re looking to leave behind a legacy, getting an entire architectural style named after you ain’t too shabby!

2. How to distinguish between a Lutheran and Orthodox Church.

We visited countless churches and cathedrals. I fell in love with the architecture, the investment that was put into each building. This trip motivated me to learn more about religion. I’m also presently reading the Bible and supplementary books to gain a better understanding of Christianity and religion in general.

How do you tell the churches apart?

  • Rooster = Lutheran
  • Cross = Orthodox
Riga Nativity of Christ Cathedral. You can tell it is an Orthodox cathedral by the cross on top!

3. I was reminded that I am Chinese.

While walking on the streets, someone pointed at me and yelled out “Chinese.” It was interesting to be called out so abruptly. Perhaps this speaks to how often people in Riga might actually see a Chinese person. Apart from the tourists, there were many blonde, tall, and slim people. Riga could be aptly described as ethnically homogenous.

Look! Three more Asian people in Riga!

4. This is the Namejis ring.

The 2 braids twisted together is is a very famous Latvian ring style. Named after a famous crusader from the 13th century, this ring was abundant in many of the jewelry and souvenir shops.

There were also many reoccurring faces in the store shops as well…

like Sponge Bob! 😉

5. Riga Black Balsam is a Latvian chocolate drink made up of 24 ingredients and is 90 proof.



6. Here is some wise and sage life advice on eating food:

“If I don’t love it, I’m not eating it” — Aunt Karen

“Life is too short to eat something you don’t like” — Aunt Susan

They also educated me on the popular drinks when they were younger:

  • Singapore Sling
  • Old Fashioned
  • Pink Lady
  • Screwdriver
  • Sidecar
  • Manhattan
  • Zombie
  • Broilermaker
  • High Ball
  • Mai Tai
  • Harvey’s Bristol Creme
Enjoying a delicious dinner in Riga, Latvia

7. The capital of Riga is synonymous with “art nouveau” style architecture.

Walking amongst all of Riga’s beautiful architecture felt surreal, as if we were strolling through a movie set. Such detail and patience. The buildings almost looked fake, they were so breathtaking and clean. In one section of the city you can find the highest concentration of art nouveau architecture in the entire world. Most buildings were constructed in the early 1900s.

7. The Baltic States war was not recognized by the US.

We visited several museums and historical sites in Riga.

My mom who was born and raised in New York City even got a picture in front of the New Yorker store!

Here is a piece of the Berlin Wall, which was a gift from the Mayor of Berlin.

The moist poignant museum we visited was The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia (See Trip Advisor for more info). Not only was it free, but it was also informative, truthful, and frustrating to learn about how the US was relatively silent about what was happening in the Baltic States.

Here’s a few excerpts and pictures from the museum:

The entire museum was heavy and very raw. It left me wondering and questioning the role of the United States abroad…

Final thoughts:

I love traveling because of the inevitable sense of discovery. Sometimes it’s subtle, other times it is overwhelmingly obvious. When I travel, my entire purpose is to experience, immerse, connect, discover, understand, explore, enjoy. I am privileged to be a tourist, and relish each second of the adventure.

Posing inside the Musee Art Nouveau in Riga, Latvia!

I love that traveling has helped me connect the dots between the US and its relations with other countries. It’s brought history alive and I hope to continue nourishing this thirst for discovery.

Next up… Vilnius, Lithuania!

Taylor in Riga, Latvia

Originally published at tayzau.com on October 11, 2017.

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