This is my first destination-related blog post since the pandemic started and I wanted to dedicate it to my memories from Latvia; a country that has grown over the years to hold a special space in my heart.
So much so that I even have an existing dedicated section of stories called Latvia Files on my blog. These visual stories, including videos, chronicle my several trips to Latvia, experiencing various facets of its culture – from food traditions in Riga to an epic road trip around its remote Latgale region, and getting to its border with Belarus. You can view some of my favourite photos here.
Living here in Sweden, Latvia has always felt like that lowkey, humble yet brilliant neighbor I’m always curious to know more about. One where I’d love to peek over their fence, get to know them better, learn about their rituals, sample their culture, and find out what’s currently cooking on the stovetop in their kitchen.
While the pandemic has kept us all grounded for the foreseeable future, join me on this nostalgic journey through some of my favorite cultural experiences and moments of connection that quickly endeared this Baltic state to me.
The crowns we wear
From wreaths made of wildflowers for Swedish Midsummer to gravity-defying geles for Nigerian parties, it’s really insightful how much more beautiful we feel when we adorn our heads with crowns.
When I took a crown-making workshop run by Latvian artist Brigita Stroda of Lastroda / Crown Heads of Europe, I learned so much about my own creativity during that process. As a professional crown maker, Brigita draws inspiration from 19th century Northern European trade routes and trousseau chests, creating stunning crowns which have been worn by everyone from celebrities to everyday folk who buy them as special gifts.
Learning to make my own Latvian crown with Brigita was a lesson in empowerment. In her own words, she pondered why extravagant head adornments have gone out of style in Europe. “Think logically – the face is a cover for the mind and a frame for the eyes, those windows to the soul, and the focal point of a person we meet,” Brigita told me. “It is where our attention is directed, so what better place for an expressive embellishment, than the head?”
Read more here – Latvia Files: Making Crowns and Rekindling Creativity
Running on all fours
I don’t consider myself a car enthusiast. However, when I visited the Riga Motor Museum, my mind was genuinely blown away as I came face-to-face with one of the coolest niche museums I’ve ever explored.
Over 100 vintage vehicles and motorcycles, spiffy touchscreen technology, interactive displays, and an uber-modern journey through 5,000 years of history from the invention of the wheel to the automobile industry in Latvia met me when I arrived.
Read more here – Latvia Files: Exploring Riga in photos + video
Sipping organic teas worth the trek
Getting to Rakuti in the Latgale region of Latvia was so offbeat that we missed Kurmīši Herbal Tea Farm several times off backcountry roads. Hidden behind gorgeous fields of lavender flowers and herbs, we finally met owner Ivars who has been making over 30 different flavors of herbal and medicinal teas since 1994. Getting a behind-the-scenes look into the workshop including where they made honey and candles from their own bees, felt like getting an exclusive invite into what makes a person burn with unbridled passion.
Read more here – Latvia Files: Culinary Tastes of Latgale
Stepping back in time
Often billed as Latvia’s least developed region, Latgale truly is a walk through Latvia’s cultural history and traditions. While in the town of Aglona, we stopped at Kristus Karaļa Kalns (The Hill of Christ the King) which is one of the most unique parks I’ve ever visited.
This surreal complex showcases over 50 sculptures depicting Jesus Christ and other celestial bodies and angels, Biblical scenes, Noah’s Ark, and the most picturesque church ever, complete with gardens representing paradise and artificial ponds.
As a person of faith, it evoked reverence in the most unlikely of places.
Read more here – Latvia Files: A Cultural Tour through Latgale
Over 840 years old and counting
My most memorable stop in Latgale was the 840+ year old historical town of Ludza. As the oldest settlement in the entire country, Ludza was first mentioned in historical notes sometime between 1173-1177. Its stone fortress and castle was built in 1399 and used as an eastern outpost in Livonia for centuries. Ludza is also located 30 kilometers from the Russian-Latvian border as well as the Belarussian border which we got to visit as a bonus.
But what made Ludva special was because I got to meet Līga Kondrāte and her husband, Ēriks Kondrāts, who run Ludza Crafts Center (Ludzas amatnieku centrs). Ēriks and Līga live and breathe history. They are actively preserving traditions and crafts such as pottery making, weaving, and sewing traditional folk costumes which date back to the 12-14th centuries.
Read more here – Latvia Files: Preserving culture in Ludza
Soup, sauna and solace
My last night in Latgale after slow traveling through Latvia took us to Rugaji, a small village with a population of about 600 and family-run Viesu Nams “Rūķīši” which are a series of tranquil lakeside wooden cabins.
Having lived in Northern Europe for over a decade, I know that the best way to relax, destress, and detox is to spend some quality time in a sauna, sweating it all out. At Rukisi, we partook in a traditional smoke sauna (also called a black sauna) experience.
As an ardent seafood lover, dinner was traditional fish soup cooked over open flames in a cauldron and presented simply with a beautifully laid out table in an outdoor setting. It was served alongside some local Latvian brew, a variety of cucumbers and pickles which the region is known for, as well as fresh vegetables and salads, all grown on the property.
That moment… A perfect summer night with strangers-turned-friends, enjoying the solace of pristine remoteness over steaming bowls of fresh fish soup remains forever etched in my mind and heart.
Read more here – Latvia Files: Sauna, soup, and solace at Rukisi
Want to experience what it felt like to be there? Watch this video which chronicled our cultural route through Latgale.
This story was written as part of the #TravelMemoriesLatvia campaign in collaboration with Magnetic Latvia and NordicTB. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and travel content I share on here are my very own.