Map of Latvia
Introduction to Latvia
The Republic of Latvia
(Latvian: Latvijas Republika) is a country in Northern Europe. Latvia has land borders with its two fellow Baltic states — Estonia
to the north and Lithuania
to the south — and Russia
to the east. In the west Latvia shares
a maritime border with Sweden
. The capital of Latvia, Riga (Latvian: Rīga), is the largest city in the Baltic States.
Large parts of Latvia are covered by forests, and the country has over 12,000 small rivers and over 3,000 lakes. Most of the country consists of fertile, low-lying plains with some hills in the east, the highest point being the Gaiziņkalns at 311 m.
An inlet of the Baltic Sea, the shallow Gulf of Riga is situated in the northwest of the country. The capital city Riga is located on the shores of this inlet, where the River Daugava flows into it. Other major cities include Daugavpils further upriver and Liepāja along the Baltic coast.
The Latvian climate is maritime and temperate in nature, with cool summers and wet, moderate winters.
Latvia is historically and culturally divided in four or five distinct regions.
Flag of Latvia
Cultural notes about Latvia
Latvian cuisine typically consists of basic, farmhouse-style food. The cuisine is similar to the surrounding countries, and just like Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and Ukraine, common ingredients in Latvian recipes are found locally - such as potatoes, wheat, barley, cabbage, onions, eggs, and pork. Latvian food is generally quite fatty, and with few spices. A typical example would be boiled black peas with pieces of bacon.
Traditional Latvian music is dominated by folk songs called dainas, featuring pre-Christian themes and legends, drone vocal styles and Baltic zithers.
Dainas are very short, usually only one or two stanzas, unrhymed and in a four-footed trochaic metre. Lyrically, dainas concern themselves with native mythology but, in contrast to most similar forms, does not have any legendary heroes. Stories often revolve around pre-Christian deities like the sun goddess Saule, the moon god Meness and, most notably, the life of people, especially its three most important events - birth, wedding and death (including burial). The first collection of dainas was published between 1894 and 1915 as Latvju Dainas by Krišjānis Barons.
Other forms of newer instruments include the German-influenced zinge. Accompanying village songs is various traditional instruments, the most important of which is the kokle, a type of zither derived from the Finnish kantele. In the 1970s, artists like Jānis Porikis and Valdis Muktupāvels led a revival in kokle music, which had only survived in the Kurzeme region. The Latvian-exile community abroad, especially in the United States, has also kept kokle traditions alive.
During the end time of Soviet occupation, rock music became extremely popular, because it, as well as folk songs, offered a chance to rebel against the local authorities. Imants Kalniņš was the most important composer of the time, and his songs were extremely popular. He also wrote music for the movie originally called Četri balti krekli ('Four White Shirts'), later given the title Elpojiet dziļāk! ('Breathe Deeper!'), which spoke about the need of freedom and was therefore banned. One of the most important social gatherings of the time was the annual Imantdiena ('The Day of Imants (Kalnins)'), forbidden on grounds of interfering with hay-gathering. The tradition continued informally at the composer's house.
The songs of Imants Kalniņš were best known as performed by the band Menuets, which only played songs by this composer. Most of the members of the band moved on to form another band, Pērkons ('Thunder') later. Pērkons was the definition of rebellion. They played rock and roll music, using poems mostly written by Māris Melgalvs. Many of those were strongly disapproved by the Soviet authorities, as they implied the ridiculousness of the system. The most famous concert by Pērkons resulted in the destruction of a train compartment by the young people who had attended the concert. This, as well as other events, is portrayed in the movie Vai viegli būt jaunam? ('Is It Easy to Be Young?') by Juris Podnieks. Bands such as Pērkons certainly played a big role in the lives of the youth of the time, urging them to be different from what the society wanted them to be.
Nowadays, the music sphere is dominated by pop music (e.g., Prāta vētra, also known as Brainstorm) and alternative rock.
Official Canadian government advisories for travelling to, in and around Latvia
Most Canadian visitors to Latvia do not experience problems. However, petty crime, such as pickpocketing, purse snatching and mugging, occurs in Riga, especially in the old part of town, the market area and around the main rail station. Avoid parks and poorly lit areas after dark. Car theft is common. Keep vehicles locked in guarded parking lots overnight. Ensure personal belongings, passports, and other travel documents are secure at all times. Do not show signs of affluence. Do not accept food or drink from strangers, as travellers have been drugged and subsequently robbed.
Debit and credit card scams, Internet auction swindles, identity theft through on-line job offers, and other fraudulent schemes are growing concerns in Latvia. Exercise caution when using debit or credit cards, making on-line transactions, or providing personal information over the Internet.