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Monday, February 5, 2018

Review of Latvia

By Andy

Latvia is an amazing country. It is one of my favorite places to visit. I was very impressed with this country during my first visit. I was so impressed that the day I arrived there, I already wanted to come back. Latvia, at least for me, has that unique charm that keeps people coming back.

Where is Latvia, you ask? Well, I'm glad you asked because most people in the U.S. don't know where it us. I myself, had never even heard of it until the early 2000's. Latvia is in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, and yes, it is a sovereign nation. It's not a big tourist destination, at least historically due to being a former Soviet State, so it's not as popular, and is very underrated.

This is unfair to Latvia and it's people, because I don't think it gets the attention and respect that it deserves. Firstly, Latvians are generally kind, nice, and reserved people. They are down-to-earth, and not really confrontational. At the same they are rather sociable. Winston was right when he stated this on the HA site when he said they don't have resentful looks on their faces. 

I visited right in the middle of the autumn, so the weather was mostly cold, windy, and rainy during my stay. You would think that the people there would be depressed and dour, but on the contrary, they generally are not this way. There is no Seattle Freeze in Latvia as Winston proved in one of his videos. Check out the Happier Abroad website or just go to Latvia yourself, if you don't believe me. You know, if the people in Latvia are approachable and friendly in such gloomy weather, just imagine what they are like during the warmer months. On that note, whenever I go back (duh), it's likely going to be in the spring or the summer.

-        You'd think, also, that, due to Latvia's history that its people would be cold and unwelcoming towards foreigners. Fortunately, this is not the case. I learned that Latvians have been able to preserve many of their traditions, so there is a great deal of respect towards self and others in this country. I think this, combined with the fact that Latvia is not a tourist hotspot, results in good hospitality.  So, this attributes to the fact that apartment/hotel managers, store clerks, taxi drivers, waiters, and people there in general, go to great lengths to put their best foot forward and create a good first impression. 


g   Secondly, Latvia is clean because there really isn't a lot of trash lying around as the Latvians take pride in their communities. Any construction is minimal and organized; there isn't much clutter. There are only pockets of run-down places, but you really can't find a bad neighborhood. In my opinion, only Switzerland is cleaner.

a   To me this means a lot because it shows that Latvians care about their country. How often have we seen the opposite in the U.S. where there is trash in not only run-down neighborhoods, but all over town and even in rural areas because of transients, and people who just don't care? Of course, there are exceptions with very affluent American neighborhoods, but in addition to the insanely expensive costs to live there, there exists an air of arrogance so much that the residents there aren't even happy with clean streets. It's like there is a vibe where they are just waiting for someone to litter just so they can complain. You just don't get that in Latvia, because its citizens have gone to great lengths to make their cities and towns neat and presentable to visitors and each other.

Thirdly, Latvia is expensive, but not as expensive as other, more popular places in Europe. In Riga, it's going to cost you a little more for things than what you would pay in other Eastern European cities, but it's not even that much of a difference, and won't break your bank. Groceries were incredibly cheap, and for a few day's visit, I bought quite a few food items at a grocery store for just over $10. Buy a few items in a grocery store in the U.S. and the cost will be easily double the price, at least. Also, a one-way train ticket from Riga's central station to the beach resort town of Jurmala, only 20 minutes away, costs just under $2.
a   How amazing and convenient is that? For the same price, a bus ride between two American cities of similar distance can last anywhere between an hour and a half to three hours! But, let's not beat a dead horse about America being eons behind the times in public transportation. What is also convenient is that Latvia is one of the most Wi-Fi connected places in Europe. One of my tour guides told me that this is true not only in Riga, but in the countryside, and that only Estonia (at least in all the Baltic states) is more connected.
a   Now, I'm sure you fellas have undoubtedly been wondering about the women situation in Latvia. Well, allow me to be the bearer of good news. Latvian women are hot, classy and educated. Even better, they seem to be everywhere you look, and generally are not taken. Granted, there are more women than men in Latvia, and as with other former Soviet Republics, there is a lack of good men, primarily due to alcoholism.

a    The key here is common sense. Don't be an asshole American tourist, and don't dress like Matt Patricia. Besides,outside of New England, nobody gives a flying fuck about the Patriots, anyway. Leave your Warriors gear and your Chicago Cubs satin jacket at home, douchebag. The women in Latvia dress so respectable, they look like super models, just like other cities in Eastern Europe.

a    Anyway, the situation with Latvian women is astounding. When you don't see them while walking around the City Center and the Old Town, they are spending time and/or working in cafes, day spas, hotels, museums, restaurants, shops, stores, you name it. In the work sense, they have definitely mastered customer service, because of their kind and receptive nature, but it's not canned or fake like in the U.S. Now, just like in Central and Eastern Europe, be careful not to break your neck, because beautiful women will be everywhere, in every direction, even the moment you walk out of your apartment or hotel. I actually did have some back and neck pain that was not entirely attributed to riding economy class on the plane, but rather was exacerbated by the beauty everywhere I looked.

I caught some glances from the local women, and responded with a smile. Some smiled back, and some didn't, but hey, that's a lot better than back home where I would be treated as if I never existed. Understand that there is a shortage of (good) men in Latvia. Yes, it is a largely homogeneous country, and the fact that I stood out as a foreigner (I don't have any Latvian features) made me stand out. Hence, I could sense some "novelty item" vibe, but at the same time, if they are slow to trust and take the time to get to know someone; well, I'm all for that.

I found it rather easy to talk to Latvian women. You might even be in stunned silence, or at a loss for words initially because of their model and wholesome looks. For example, I unexpectedly found myself in a conversation with a hot, and I mean, hot Latvian girl in a gift shop in which she worked. I get the novelty thing that Winston mentioned about the Latvian women treating foreigners with, and the fact that it's just good customer service, but she really came off as kind and sweet; not fake. This was awkward at first, because of my excellent bullshit detection system, and the fact that back home I would not get the time of day and just a soulless, cookie cutter attitude.

a    Another local woman I met, I not only was able to find a lot of common ground on interests, but we conversed with in English, Russian, Ukrainian, and a few words of Latvian. So, that's another thing about learning the local language; it's the key to the city no matter where you go. I heard both Latvian and Russian while I was in Riga. While only Latvian is the official language, it helps to know both languages to not only get by, but show respect to the locals and their culture. It also will show that you're not some dumb American tourist. 

     For a guy like me who has common sense, I was able to have some intellectual conversations with the locals regardless of their level of proficiency in English. Compare that to back home, and I would get looked at like I was some creep for not being assholish or douchebaggy. To sum up, do your homework/research, don't be a jerk, and use common sense.

I     Although I only visitied the cities of Jurmala and Riga, I highly recommend you take your next trip to Latvia. From having a coffee in a lounge at the top of the clock tower, overlooking the city skyline to seeing the architecture and museums, there is much to see and do. By the way, if you visit the Riga Radio and TV Tower, go on a clear day. You won't get bored; there is something for everyone. Latvia is an amazing country with great people.