I seriously wish I had thought to start a blog BEFORE I went to Latvia in March. I got to visit the super cool, amazingly awesome M there for 10 days. I spent a lot of time googling Latvia before my trip, hoping to find some info that could help me, especially since I planned to travel alone. I really didn’t know how much time M would be able to spend with me and didn’t want to expect too much of him, mainly because he was still in a very challenging trade school at the time.
Long story still long, M spent almost every minute with me and even wanted to crash on my couch every night. I learned so much just hanging out with a real, live Latvian on his turf.
Here’s what I learned from my pre-Latvia research:
- Latvians are not nice (false)
- There’s a huge bar scene in Latvia (true)
- Public transportation is really good (true)
- Latvian women are beautiful (really really really true)
Here are some things I learned from actually being there:
- The most important thing is that M totally headed off potential trouble without me even realizing it. People say teens are trouble; clearly, they haven’t met M. I was around a lot of teen boys who are considered “at risk” and I felt just as safe there as I do in my own living room. There were a few different kids who really looked out for me as much as I looked out for them, and without their knowledge of Latvian culture, I would have been totally, completely lost multiple times. So if you are traveling to Latvia alone, it’s easier if you know a Latvian.
- Latvians wear their coats in the store, completely zipped up.
- Even when the weather is “nice,” like in the 50s, they wear coats completely zipped up, usually along with other gear like scarves, goves, and boots. M and I stuck out a little since #1, he forgot his coat on the day it snowed, and #2 I am cold always anyway so who cares.
- Cashiers don’t generally acknowledge your existence, but when they do, they are really friendly.
- Checking out of rented apartments is ridiculously easy. It’s mostly a matter of locking your door after you and leaving the key.
- There is a reason Latvians have a reputation for being unfriendly, and it’s that they don’t look at each other as they walk down the street. Even their happy faces are different. It seems like we Americans smile constantly. I could spot kiddos who have come to America just by their American-Latvian smiles.
- The food is totally delicious. I mean, I craved American food big time at some points, and everything is different. But completely delicious. I only tried 1 thing I didn’t like (Klavss) but everything else…o.m.g.
- There is very little signage in Latvia. In America, you get instructions about everything, whether verbal or written, usually both. Maybe it’s just that I don’t speak much Latvian or any Russian, but I pretty much didn’t understand the protocols for doing stuff (parking garages. nightmare!!) at any point. M totally saved me there multiple times.
- Latvian burgers…way messier than American, and also not as tasty.
- Latvian sour cream is also messier than American, but it’s way better!
- All of the buildings are old and super cool. I didn’t get to visit a castle on this trip, but will on the next one.
- As my dear friend Lindsay says… there is a bakery on every corner! And everything is delicious!
- As M says… there is a casino on every corner! Also true. Sometimes you can literally stand next to a casino and see another down the street.
- Latvians have a sense of beauty that is almost unreal. Even M, who by his own admission is crazy cool, says, “We like things what are pretty and nice.”
- Latvians also have an amazing culture of gift giving. I got to hang out a couple times with another “at risk” gal, “I,” and her foster mom sent me a beautiful, thoughtful gift without ever having met me. This has really inspired me to step it up a notch with the thought and attention I put into details when giving gifts.
- Latvian parents are gentle. There isn’t a lot of loud parenting. I could hear American parents a mile away.
- Actually, Latvia is crazy quiet in general. I think I raised the noise level in the whole country significantly, and I’m not necessarily even loud by American standards.
I’m sure there was a lot more, but off the top of my head, this is what stands out to me a few months after the fact!