Latvia - My Fascinating Country

Hi everybody! My name is Gundega Vāvere- Mikute and I am a proud Latvian! We, Latvians, tend to think about Latvia as a small country, but no… from a statistical point of view it is a middle sized country with a territory of 64,589 km2 and around 2 million inhabitants. In comparison, Latvia’s territory is just a bit smaller than Austria but with four and a half times fewer inhabitants. As you can imagine, Latvians are used to a big personal space. 56% of the country’s territory is covered by forests and there is definitely lots of space to go and just be by yourself. Latvia has a land border with Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. Our capital city Riga, a former Hanseatic League member, was founded in 1201 and its historic centre “Old Riga” is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also recognized by UNESCO that Riga has the finest collections of Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) buildings in Europe. We call this part of city a “quiet centre”, because it is mostly a residential area with a lot of embassies.

2018 is a very important year for us since Latvia celebrates its 100-year anniversary! It was established as an independent country on 18 November, 1918 and, although there was Soviet occupation after the Second World War for several decades, all three Baltic States managed to keep their legitimate powers in exile. For us the Latvian language is important. Long ago there were many Baltic languages, for example, Old Prussian, Semigallian, Galindian and Selonian but only two of them exist today, Latvian and Lithuanian. Historians say that Baltic languages are one of the oldest of the remaining Indo-European languages and we feel responsible for keeping Latvian alive for many more centuries. There are many reasons why people like to go to Latvia. One in particular is Nature. There are many possibilities for recreation, bio/organic food, silence therapy, open-air sport activities and more! And don’t forget about the forests covering more than half of the territory, with over 12,500 rivers, 3,000 lakes and the Baltic Sea within the Gulf of Riga. Yes, we are rich with water. We are used to going swimming after a hot summer day, which literally means - every day. Many tourists, though, find our summers not very hot and the water colder than expected, but it is a northern country. Latvia has the widest waterfall in Europe – Venta Rapid in Kuldīga which has a free natural spa underneath, and 500 km of sandy seaside beaches to walk along or lie down on. You can easily find a place where nobody disturbs you – with just you, the sea and the sand. Very relaxing, believe me! When you are close to the Baltic Sea, look for freshly smoked local sea fish - definitely worth tasting. You may have heard of the Amber Road which passes through the Eastern edge of Austria but you may not realise that the Baltic Sea is called the Amber Sea. It is true – wait until a big wind blows and then go to the seaside and look around. Indeed, there it is - amber, sand and amber again! Feel free to collect it, it is our northern gold. I would say it is even more beautiful. Only amber from the Baltic Sea contains amber acid [called also succinic acid], which is really good for health. Already in ancient times people recognised it and it was transported to the Mediterranean on the Amber road.

Latvia’s flag is divided in three coloured stripes: carmine-red – white – carmine-red. The current flag design has been in use without any changes since 1280 and that makes it the second oldest in the world (only Denmark’s has been around for longer). Very often it is mixed up with an Austrian flag, but there are differences both in colours and proportions. The legend about the colours is the same – human blood on white background. Obviously, however, Latvians and Austrians have different colours of blood!!

If you look for official information about religion in Latvia, you would see that the majority of people are Christians. It is true but there is an interesting mixture with paganism. On Christmas Eve, for example, we go to church for religious rites and then come home and start to follow ancient traditions, wearing masks (budēļi) and eating grey peas to avoid tears of misery the following year. Our biggest festival is Midsummer Night which is connected with fertility. The whole country is preparing for several days before with green markets and concerts, special songs and dances, with people in national costume everywhere. During the actual Midsummer night everybody goes outdoors – into the countryside, in city centres, on top of hills singing and dancing next to bonfires. Hmm, and strangely enough, even nowadays, nine months after Midsummer night the biggest number of babies are born in Latvia…

All in all, I hope I managed to raise some interest about my country – Latvia. You are most welcome to visit! And an additional incentive for those male readers who will read this article - Latvia produces more female models per capita than almost any other country in the world.

Contributed by Gundega Vavere-Mikute