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This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Heather who’s currently living in Latvia. If you’re an expat and interested in sharing the day-to-day details of your city, shoot me a message at thepaperplanesblog @ gmail.com.
I’ve been living in Riga for over six months and so far it’s been an incredible experience. I arrived in early summer, when the northern European sun was at its peak, shining nearly 17 hours a day. The endless rays were perfect for soaking up Riga’s charms, from festivals and craft fairs to sunset cruises on the Daugava River and lazy afternoons drinking pear cider in the park.
Many of Riga’s restaurants in the summer have outdoor patios for dining al fresco, and beer gardens occupy the public squares in the old town. At my favorite, Egle, I enjoyed listening to everything from jazz to folk and blues. One night, a Latvian version of Elvis even took the stage! Everyone warned me that it would be heartrending to see the patios dismantled for the season and, once it happened, I saw they were right. But there are so many fun goings-on in Riga year round that I couldn’t stay sad for long.
Riga was the European Capital of Culture for 2014 and I attended all sorts of interesting cultural events, from museum exhibitions and choir performances to a food fair and the Latvian National Opera. Hockey is the national sport and I’ve been cheering on the local team, the Riga Dinamos, from the stands. I had never been a hockey fan before, but when in Latvia..!
I usually wake up around 8 am and make a cup of tea with milk and honey to enjoy while catching up on the news and social media feeds. This is also when I take care of exciting chores around the apartment, like laundry and cleaning. I often make my own lunch, which can be anything from a poached salmon and quinoa salad to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Usually I eat in front of the computer, editing photos and working on my blog. And – let’s be honest – some online shopping happens as well.
But I don’t just sit around my apartment all day! I take weekly Zumba and yoga classes, a fun way to meet local Latvians and expats, and which also helps me work off the delicious things I’ve been eating here. I love to cook, but Latvian cuisine was totally new to me and I’ve been eager to learn more about it (i.e. sample all the restaurant food). Once a week, I take private lessons with a Latvian teacher in an effort to learn the confusing language, whose closest living relative is Lithuanian. I must be doing a decent job of it because I am often mistaken for a Latvian! I’ve also joined a local women’s group, a wonderful bunch of ladies from around the world focused on community building and charity work. I’m one of only a handful of Americans in the group and thoroughly enjoy the cultural exchange.
I also spend time exploring the city, camera in hand, trying (in vain) to capture Riga’s beauty in photos. The UNESCO-listed Old Town is a masterpiece of architectural styles, with Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque and Neoclassical structures standing side by side. We’ve already had two visitors from home and it was great fun showing them around the city and getting to know it better in the process.
I live outside of the Old Town in Central Riga, an area famous for its stunning collection of Art Nouveau architecture. The tourists come to snap photos of the eerie faces, menacing bears and medieval dragons that lurk atop the ornately carved buildings before hurrying back to lively Old Riga for the night.
Life here is great, but if I have any frustration, it’s that the service can be far slower than I’m accustomed to. In the United States, you get efficient service with a smile, but in Riga everything seems to take twice as long. In restaurants, nothing happens until you flag down a waiter to place an order or request the dessert menu/check, while a simple manicure takes an hour and a half (compared to 45 minutes tops back home). On the other hand, it forces me to slow down and really be present in the moment, savoring the last few bites of dinner or that second mug of beer. It also gives me plenty of time to practice my Latvian with the manicurist!
Putting aside a career in marketing, Heather moved with her husband to Shanghai in 2011 and spent two exciting years exploring the cultures and cuisines of Asia. After several months visiting family and friends at home in the United States, she is thrilled to be living in Riga, Latvia. Passionate about food, history and animals, Heather brings a curiosity and fun-loving attitude to most any experience that comes along. Read more about her adventures at Ferreting Out the Fun and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.