Thursday, September 10, 2009

Riga, Latvia

Riga, the capital of Latvia, will always be a special place for me because that is where I celebrated my birthday with some CouchSurfers. This is the first time I have spent my birthday in a country outside of “home”. To celebrate, my CouchSurfer host Elvis, his friends and I first went to a Lido, a buffet-style Latvian restaurant. There, I sampled potato pancakes and pork and chicken kebabs. Then, we went to a round teahouse in a park overlooking the canal.

Riga has the largest old town in the Baltics. The one observation that surprised me the most was the quantity and quality of Art Nouveau buildings in the city. In fact, Riga is the Art Nouveau capital of Europe and an architectural open-air museum. It seems everywhere, not just in the old town, are buildings of aesthetic interest. These range from the Art Nouveau embassies, to the Soviet-style Academy of Science and to the Gothic St Peter’s Church. My favorite building is the House of Blackheads, a Medieval-style guild hall.

I was equally impressed with the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. This museum details the Soviet and Nazi occupations of Latvia from 1940-1991. I learned quite a bit about Latvia’s history and suffering through the exhibits and artifacts. This was a nation of occupants and I am glad that it is now prospering.

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