Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Riga, Latvia

Rob and I went on vacation / holiday to Latvia a few weeks ago. Most people have heard of Latvia, but are not certain where it is. Latvia is a country in the north east of Europe and is on the western boarder of Russia. It is one of the Baltic nations that was once part of the the Soviet Union. Not knowing much about the country, our expectations were somewhat low; however, we soon fell in love with the capital, Riga. Our good friend, Dave, moved from Canada to Riga a few years ago to work with the YWAM base there. He soon met Santa, a Latvian Christian pop star, who also works with YWAM and they married last year. We were able to stay with them in their city centre apartment and spend some much needed quality time with an old friend.

After our arrival, Dave and Santa walked us around the city centre of Riga pointing our various highlights of the city. Riga is about 800 years old with amazing pre-Soviet architecture, parks, cobble-stoned streets, and is very clean. We were surprised to see lots of 'super model'-type women walking about the city centre in high heels. These were not the stereotypical eastern European women, but I didn't quite understand why they were walking on cobblestone streets in high heels. After having a drink at a high-rise bar that had an amazing view of the city, we soon found out why all the women were wearing high heels: apparently there is an annual race of the young workers (mostly females) around the streets of Riga and the women must wear high heels. I'm not sure what the point of this is, but we managed to see it and take some pictures. I hope no one twisted an ankle. We had dinner at a great Japanese place and hung out at their place that night. Friday we slept in, had some yummy pastries, walked around the city, went to the occupation museum, and then to this huge traditional Latvian resturaunt for dinner. After dinner, while Dave was at a previous engagement, Santa took us to a wine studio that just opened down the street from their apartment. It was a very cool place with good wine and appetizers. Dave joined us later and we had a great time chatting about how Santa and her friend, who was with us, had grown up under the Soviet occupation and how different things were now. On our third day in Latvia we went to a resort town on the coast of the Baltic Sea where we walked around and hung out on the beach. That night we asked Dave and Santa what was their favorite resturaunt and took them out to dinner there. We went to this great Indian place that had, not only great food, but great atmosphere. For our final day in Latvia, we took a drive into the countryside and stopped at: the YWAM camp, a town that is trying to maintain it's historic atmosphere and is used to shoot old Soviet and German-era movies, Europe's widest waterfall, and lastly we went to Santa's parent's apartment on the coast and her mom cooked a traditional Latvian meal for us .

The following day we left Latvia for London by air and had about five hours to kill before our train left for Sheffield. During those five hours we went to the British Museum and saw the Egypt, Assyrian, Greek, and Roman galleries. The Holy Land gallery was closed, unfortuneatly; but I was able to see the Rosetta Stone and the black obelisk of Shalmanasser, which talks about and depicts King Jehu of Israel bowing before the Assyrian king. I was so happy to finally see these artifacts I've studied about for so long.

We had such a wonderful time in Lativa and highly recommend Riga as a vacation / holiday destination. We learned from an American friend at the end of our travels that Riga is considered the Paris of the North. I'm not sure I would put it in the same category as Paris, but it is a beautiful hidden gem.

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