Saturday, July 25, 2015

Trip to Riga, Latvia (July 2015)

Freedom Memorial Tower

Riga is the capital city of Latvia and the largest city of the three Baltic nations. Like its neighboring countries, Latvia also struggled from the foreign invasions and occupations, particularly and most recently in between the Nazis and the Russian Red Army before and during the World War II, until it finally obtained independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union demised. Prior to the struggle between these two invaders, it went through many other foreign invasions and occupations.

Latvia's population has been steadily declining after the peak at 2.7 million in 1989. Now it is estimated at 2.2 million and projected to decline further to 2.0 million eventually. This declining trend resulted directly from the country's intentional effort to keep its population pure from other unwanted foreign nationals.

When the Russian Red Army came, many Latvian people were sent to labor camps or executed, which reduced the Latvian population from 90% to 50% of the entire population. Instead, many Russians came to settle in the vacancies left by the reduced Latvian population. When Latvia became independent, the government chose not to issue citizenship to those who came from Russia and their descendants. This population who is still remaining in Latvia is estimated to be 200-250 thousands. Since they do not have the citizenship, hence no legal rights, they are expected to leave the country eventually.

Now, Latvia is thriving with strong eco-tourism. In fact, Latvia is known to be the second in the world in implementing and enforcing the eco-friendly policies, only after Switzerland. Also, the country has been promoting equal right between men and women as evidenced by its female prime minister.

Latvia is known to have 12,000 rivers and 2,000 lakes. Although the sizes may be small, these waterways provide the country with ample opportunity to develop and promote eco-friendly tourism.

Latvia joined EU in 2004 and adopted the Euro currency in 2014.

After we checked into a 4-star Radisson Blu Hotel, we did a walking tour of the city and saw the Freedom Memorial Tower and several old churches, such as Russian Orthodox Church, 800-years old St. James Cathedral and a Lutheran Church. The tower commemorates and honors those who perished during the struggles against the invaders to obtain the freedom for the nation and its people. The old town was covered with cobble stone roads and we could find plenty of fine restaurants and cafes. The overall ambiance was cozy and warm.

A statue of donkey, dog, cat and bird

We also took a canal cruise that went out to the Daugava River, Riga's main river connecting to the Baltic Sea. The scenery of the city after the rain, viewed from the boat in the Daugava River, was beautiful and fabulous with white clouds and crispy blue sky.

Canal cruise boat

Beautiful scenery taken from the canal cruise boat

Latvia is known to allow for residency if a foreigner invests more than 100,000 euros in properties. This has raised a concern to other EU members for possible money laundering and the influx of illegitimate population. But it is still valid.

We had dinner in the old town at one of the fine restaurants. Mr. Choi picked up the bill because he won some money out of his small gambling attempt. Tim the tour leader and Emma from Australia were also with us.

After dinner, we went up to the Skyline Bar of the hotel where we stayed. It was located on the 26th floor of the hotel. Its catch phrase was right. "The only bar in the sky." The panoramic view was breathtaking, including the sunset view from above.
Russian Orthodox Church taken from Skyline Bar
Riga is another beautiful city we have seen. - Jeffrey 

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