Brief history of Latvia
The present-day territory of Latvia and ancestors of the Latvian people have been subjects of various European powers over the centuries. In the 13th century to 1561, it was the German religious orders. Then Poland conquered the territory in 1562 and occupied it until Sweden took over the land in 1629, ruling until 1721. Then the land passed to Imperial Russia. From 1721 until 1918, the Latvians remained subjects of the Russian Tsar, although they preserved their language, customs, and folklore.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 gave Latvians their opportunity for freedom, and the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed on Nov. 18, 1918. The Republic lasted little more than 20 years. It was occupied by Russian troops in and incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940. German armies occupied the nation from 1941 to 1944. In 1944, Russia again took control of Latvia until 1990 when the Soviet Union started to collapse.
The Republic of Latvia has been continuously recognised as a state by other countries since 1920 despite occupations by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. On August 21, 1991 Latvia declared the restoration of its de facto independence. Latvia has been an official EU Member State since 2004. Latvia has joined the euro zone as of 1 January 2014.
Latvia is a parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary elections take place every four years. The Parliament elects the President and the President appoints a Prime Minister who forms the Cabinet of Ministers or government.
Entertainment, sports and leisure
Latvia has a vibrant cultural life. Classical and modern music and dance performances are high quality. Folk music and dance traditions are alive and play a large role in everyday life from teaching children morals at school to nation-wide song and dance festivals held every four years. Latvians are also big fans of contemporary music. Museums cover all sorts of topics and eras. Cinema theatres show films in the original language with subtitles.
Swimming, track and field, basketball, volleyball and fitness are activities you can do at practically every university. Bowling and golf are rapidly gaining popularity with facilities opening around the country. Hockey, football and basketball are the most popular spectator sports. By popular demand, bars set up large screen TVs during championships. When Latvian teams reach international play-offs people may even skip work to watch.
Latvians enjoy eating - food is the central element of almost any celebration. Traditional food is filling and nourishing, because of the northern climate and the hard work farmers and fishermen were used to do. Meat, fish, potatoes and dairy products are the most popular components of main dish meals. Salads are more often composed of vegetables than of greens, and sour cream or mayonnaise is the preferred dressing.
Contemporary Latvians are still very fond of their traditional dark rye bread and mostly choose food that is in season to get the best flavour and price. Many people enjoy growing their own fruits and vegetables or harvesting wild berries and mushrooms from the forests. Of course, one can find a variety of fruit and vegetables from around the world all through the year at supermarkets.
Travel to Latvia
Quite a number of of different airline companies serve Riga airport, including budget airlines, so it should not be too difficult to find a reasonable ticket. The website of Riga Airport (opened to the list of companies flying to Riga with web addresses) can be found here: http://www.riga-airport.com/en/main/flights/airlines.
Another way of arriving in Latvia is by ferry. Riga has a ferry a connection to Stockholm in Sweden, Ventspils is connected with Ninneshamn in Sweden and Travemunde in Germany, and the city of Liepāja also offers a ferry route to Travemunde in Germany.
International train routes are currently limited to connections with Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia and to Minsk in Belorussia.
Riga is very well served by extensive buss connections. Bus routes connect Latvia with Austria, Belgium, Belorussia, Bulgaria,, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, France, Hungary,, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, , Russia, Switzerland, the UK and Ukraine. Check with your local travel agency or transport provider to learn more about connections and prices.
Being a northern country, Latvia experiences fairly long, dark winters (November to February). It is not generally extremely cold or snowy; averaging around minus ten degrees Celsius, but temperatures can reach minus twenty for a few days each year. Spring is lovely with plenty of flowers and blooming fruit trees and shrubbery. Summer is the favourite season of most Latvians because of long "white" nights and warm temperatures, averaging a pleasant 20 degrees. However, it is not unusual to have periods of temperatures around 30 degrees. Fall is popular with nature lovers due to the colourful leaves and plentiful wild mushrooms to be had in the forests. Latvia is a very lush green country for a good reason - it rains quite a lot. Be sure to bring a sturdy umbrella for year-round use, warm clothes and sturdy, waterproof boots from September to March/April.
Latvian is the official state language of Latvia. Latvian belongs to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family. Although the official state language is Latvian, you will easily get around with a command of Russian and English, as a large part of the population of Riga is Russian-speaking, and most Latvians do understand Russian. In Riga and other bigger cities you can use English as well.
Government-funded bilingual education is available only in primary schools for ethnic minorities. These include Russian, Jewish, Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Estonian and Roma schools.
In the public universities the language of instruction mostly is Latvian; at the same time programmes for foreign students are designed and taught in English. Private universities may offer programmes in Russian language too.
Good to know
As of 1 January 2014 Latvia has joined the euro zone. This means that Latvian currency is the euro
Business hours: Shops are usually open Monday to Friday 8/10am-6/8pm. Some have reduced working hours on Saturdays and Sundays and a few stores close on Sunday. Stores located in shopping centres usually have the same working hours throughout the week. Most food shops stay open until 10pm and are also open on Sunday. Central offices of banks are open 9am to 5pm. Several banks have neighbourhood service centres that have opening hours into the evening and on week-ends.
Most shops and all banks will be closed on the following public holidays : January 1; Good Friday; Easter Day; May 1; May 4; Mothers' Day (second Sunday in May); June 23 (Midsummer); June 24 (St John's Day); Nov 18 (National Day); December 25 & 26; and December 31. If May 4 or November 18 fall on a weekend, the following Monday is free.
To find out more go to Latvia.eu website.