Latvian Lats and Money Exchange
The local currency in Latvia is the Latvian Lats (Ls). Cash can be exchanged at banks and exchange offices. Before exchanging money, I recommend you to check the rates and fees of a few offices. There are often differences in the rates.
The sign "0 % COMMISSION" does mostly refer only to "SELL" and not to "BUY" transactions. So don't hesitate to ask, how much you really get for your money.
Don't change your money on the street; these people usually cheat you with other foreign currencies.
- Budget Travel
Dumplings and pancakes
Dumplings and pancakes are very popular dish in Latvia.
You will see a lot of places that offer pancakes filled with different stuff starts from the sweet things like strawberries, till salted ones like minced meet with onions.
The same with dumplings, they can be filled with different kind of meet or sweet stuff- jams for example.
- Food and Dining
Latvian language is a bit similar to German, at least during my trips when I was talking Latvian, people was asking am i from Germany.
As in Latvia lives just a bit over 2,5 million people and only half of them are Latvians, our language can be considered as not very popular.
It is quiet complicated to learn it, because even you speak Latvian but are traveling
around Latvia, you can hear some dialects which might sound very different. And not
always u will understand what people are trying to tell you.
Some most needed words:
Hello - Labdien!
Thank you - Paldies
How are you? - Ka tev iet?
Good bye - Uz redzesanos!
My name is___ - Mani sauc____
- Family Travel
After visiting the castles of Sigulda and Turaida it was time for us to enjoy together what Rita described to us as a very typical Latvian form of entertainment – a barbeque and sauna (optional) near the coast.
We drove to Lilaste, north of the city, where a local family rents out space for such an activity. There was a log cabin which held the sauna, space to change if needed and a sitting area which was later to become a cosy refuge from the cool night air and the rather pesky midges (tiny biting flies). There was a barbeque, of course, a table and benches, and even a grown-up sized swing. I thoroughly enjoyed my brief go on the latter – a recaptured joy from my childhood, swinging high and seemingly leaving the world below!
The host family provide the meat (pork and chicken) which had been marinating for some time judging by the great flavours, but everything else must be brought by the visiting party. So an essential stop was made at the supermarket where we bought beer, wine, juice, water, more beer, salad vegetables, cheese, more beer, bread, tea and coffee – and more beer! On arrival some of us helped with washing and cutting the vegetables and a few others with table rearrangement and assisting at the barbeque, while others unpacked and set out the drinks. Most though helped simply by getting stuck into the beer – we had a lot to get through!
After enjoying the food we relaxed in the summer evening light, while a few ventured into the sauna. The sun sets very late here in May (it was still light well after 10.00 PM) and although cool enough by now to need a thin jumper, it was very pleasant. But as dusk fell those biting insects arrived and as always seemed to target some individuals more than others, myself among them. So we beat a hasty retreat to the little cabin, and while some set off on a walk to the beach the rest of us settled in for a cosy chat by the stove and a few more beers.
At midnight we set off back to the city after a very pleasant evening with friends, giving a big “thumbs up” to this traditional Latvian entertainment. But next time I will bring the insect repellent!
Next tip: leaving Riga for Tallinn
One thing I like to do wherever I travel is to try the local spirit, however potent and unusual it may be, so when I read about Riga’s famous Black Balsam I was determined to sample it as soon as possible. I had my first on our very first evening in the city and also ended my time there with one in the pub where we had our farewell meal. I also had one at the Pharmacy Museum, where a shot was included in our tour price (see previous tip). And on all three occasions I liked it! So you can imagine that a small bottle also accompanied me home (it would have been larger had I not been travelling on to Tallinn first).
Black Balsam is a herbal liqueur made with a number of natural ingredients that are combined with vodka. It is pretty strong stuff - 45% abv. To me the taste was something like Jaegermeister or the Austrian Rossbacher, but with a hint of chilli perhaps. Very warming on a cold evening, and apparently considered good for colds and for digestive problems. There is also a blackcurrant version. Rita, our VT host in Riga, gave us all a small bottle of that to bring home and I enjoyed it too, though maybe slightly less than the original as it is a little sweeter. And there is Black Balsam Element, based on rum, which I also brought home in a small sample but am yet to taste.
Next tip: a good gift shop
Thing about Orthodox churches
It is as interesting to me as in other towns I see much different religion churches in old town. In Riga old town there are mostly Lutheran and some Catholic churches. The main Orthodox Russian Cathedral is in centre, Brivibas iela.
Surely, in Riga much Russians by percents live (about 35%), but I haven’t had that feeling as I heard mostly Latvian language around, only in old town some English, German...
So many cats!
With the Cat House such a prominent and popular landmark in the city, perhaps it is not surprising that cats have become something of an emblem for Riga. You see them everywhere, and especially on souvenirs! Tea towels with cats, fridge magnets, sweets – I even spotted a giant cat outside one souvenir shop (see photo two).
We came across another “cat house” in the Art Nouveau district in Antonijas iela (see photo five). And of course, there are even some real cats! So if like me you are a cat lover, you will be happy in Riga.
Next tip: the Powder Tower
So many snails!
On my first afternoon in Riga, as I sat with a coffee in the Livu Laukums, my eye was naturally drawn to the large bright yellow snail in one corner. Later that day I spotted a green one in the Ratslaukums and I was to come across several more during the course of my stay (apparently there were 14 in total). What is more, these snails were on the move – slowly (as is normal for snails) they made their way around the city, each day a little further from their original starting place.
These snails, I learned, were installed around Riga as a form of artists' protest, by an organisation known as “Art Needs Space”. Many of the city's artists feel that not enough attention is given to contemporary art and it has no place in the city's galleries. There has been talk of a dedicated contemporary art museum but little or no progress made on this – in fact, you could say that discussions have moved at snails’ pace! These colourful snails are the artists’ way of drawing attention to this fact. They certainly drew my attention, but it is a somewhat subtle form of protest and I wonder if it will have the desired effect? However, it was certainly true that the general public engaged with the project, posing for photos with the snails, stroking and hugging them, and even trying to speed up their progress with a shove.
Next tip: the so-called Cat House
- Arts and Culture
Smoking and drinking
It's not allowed to smoke in public places and public transport. If it's necessity to smoke better to check whether there are special signs which allowing to do that. Mostly in all restaurants and bars nowadays smoking is prohibited, you can smoke only outside.
It's not allowed to drink alcohol in public places, except restaurants and bars where it is served. It also isn't allowed to walk with open bottle. With alcohol I mean also beer.
I'm not sure if this should be in the customs or the warnings and dangers section to be honest!
In Latvia they have symbols for Gents and Ladies toilets, in the shape of upwards or inverted triangles. This may seem really clever and logical to Latvians, but it totally confused me, and even after reading and re-checking my guide book, I still got it wrong and used the wrong loos in the hotel lobby almost the whole weekend.
This culminated in me hiding away in what had turned out to be the ladies loos for a good 15 minutes when I heard a group of women entering, all chatting away and doing whatever a gaggle of women do in the loo. I had to wait until I could hear no more noise and then make a dash for the door.
Thing was the staff had seen me go in there before and hadn't said anything, so either they were being polite or having a laugh. So perhaps best to ask if you're unsure, and don't always trust your guidebook!
Photo attached is important if you want to avoid the hazards of being trapped a cubicle by your shame at using the wrong facilities!
- Gay and Lesbian
- Arts and Culture
- Budget Travel
This place was the best thing with whole our trip, the park is so beautiful and peaceful. The Pilsetas kanal runns right through and there is a small bridge in the park (look at the pictures) on this bridge it´s tradition to hang a padlock there with the names of those in love. It means that the love of the people who hang their padlocks there will last for ever, and the couple throw the key in the kanal when they locked the padlock.
This is one of the most beautiful parks I´v seen. It´s definatly worth a trip just to go to the park.
This bridge is located in Bastejkalns park just besides Freedom Statue.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Lock your Love
In the park next to the Freedom Column there is a small bridge. This bridge is full of padlocks. Young couples put a lock right there to evidence their never ending feelings! What a wonderful idea! Well, Heinz and I felt that after 8 years of marriage it would be a great thing to more or less renew our vows by putting up our own padlock there - and that was what we did first thing in the morning! What a fantastic feeling!
The titular nation - the Latvians - are in Riga still heavily outnumbered by the Russians. Latvia’s autochthonous population suffered most of the 3 Baltic states of the 45 years Soviet rule. The result of deportation, genocide and emigration of Latvians and mass immigration of Soviet occupants resulted in only 51.7 % of Latvia’s population being ethnic Latvians at the beginning of independence. This has now slightly changed in favour of the Latvians because most of the Latvians who survived the deportations came back as did quite many who emigrated overseas. At the other hand some Russians etc. emigrated after independence, but mostly not to the neighbouring former homeland Russia. But the number of non-autochthonous residents (legal and illegal ones) is still by far the highest in Europe.
As a means to integrate the non-autochthonus residents the Baltic countries offer now the easiest way of access to citizenship of all civilized countries (in Switzerland for example fulfillment of these conditions would not even be enough for a permanent residence as a foreign citizen). It is more than generous and quite unique that citizenship is offered to occupants and this seems still not to be enough for the former occupants as the cases at the European Court of Justice show.
But nevertheless the integration seems partially to be successful, other than in 1992 I found in 2002 that many of the ethnic Russians living in Latvia today appear quite assimilated and far less “Russian” than the “Germans” from Russia who emigrated under the last two decades to Germany and are there living often in some sorts of ghettos and are still speaking Russian.
Some Soviet relicts left
Not much soviet relicts left in Riga till this time. Even pavement from Soviet Union times is removed and new put in the central part of the city. But some things left and it is because (I guess) that Latvia was a part of Soviet Union and you can’t change it, it is a part of history. Near the Daugava river you can see old sculpture from Soviet Era.
A tradition for newly married couples in Riga (I also saw it in Sigulda) is to put a padlock on a bridge railing and then throw the key in to the water below. Many of the padlocks are engraved with the names of the couple. It is a way of declaring the bond between them forever. The bridges are cleared now and then though to give space for new padlocks. Footbridges over the Pilsetas canal are popular places to put the padlocks.
This custom is done in other cities as well, for example in Rome, Tokyo and Pécs. The custom is believed to have begun in Pécs in the 1980s.
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