8 Things We Never Thought We’d Miss About our homecountry Latvia

Standing on the Stone Bridge in Riga, I closed my eyes and let the warm sun-rays gently touch my face. Under my feet, Latvia’s grandest river Daugava was restlessly rushing faster than afternoon traffic and in front of me, confidently raising in the bluish sky, were pointy church towers.

Two weeks we spent in Latvia last year kind of ignited a newly found appreciation for our own country. Intrigued by foreign cultures and tropical islands, we often forget the beauty that our motherland has to offer. And I find it funny how we come to fully appreciate something once we are away for an extended period.

Visiting ‘home’ after living abroad for 16 years is a strange transition. Although we never go longer than a year without travelling to Latvia, every occasion brings a bundle of emotions.

Reconnecting with childhood, bumping into my old math teacher and meeting up with aunties while visiting hometown is always exciting and overpowering at the same time.

The joys of being an expat can be crazy and beautiful at the same time; living in a different country means having a double set of lives, homes, and families. Latvia is our home, yet home is also a feeling when a plane lands in Dublin Airport, and we step outside the terminal.

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Fantastic views over the rooftops of Riga, Latvia.
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National Library of Latvia.

 

8 Things We Never Thought We’d Miss About Latvia

As much as we have adapted to life on the island, beyond the obvious things, such as family and friends, there are lots of things we sometimes long for.

Latvia, a big part of my heart, will always belong to you. You taught me so much about myself and the world around me. You are beautiful, and you are still our home.

They say you never know what you miss until it’s gone couldn’t be closer to the truth. Below is the list of little things that are important and close to our hearts.

 

#1. Foraging for wild mushrooms

I think it’s safe to say that mushrooming in Latvia is a national obsession. Not only Latvians are mad about mushroom sauces and soups, but they also preserve them for winter and love the foraging process itself.

The climate in Latvia is perfect for mushrooms to grow, and the season usually starts in the early autumn. Once August comes, you’ll see local people on trains and buses holding baskets overflowing with freshly picked mushrooms.

Imagine a verdant paradise where old twigs crunch under your weight as you make your way through the dense forest with a basket in one and a knife in the other hand, head down examining soft moss and looking for mushrooms.

Foraging for mushrooms while enjoying the fresh air is a soothing and soul healing process. Also, it’s free food, and if you wish, you can even sell it at the local market.

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These orange funnel-shaped mushrooms are excellent in sauces.
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The most common fungus to be found in the Latvian forests is russula.

 

#2. Harvesting honey and learning about beekeeping

Harvesting honey from the hives was an entirely new and unforgettable experience for both of us.

While I played with Ericeira in the nearby meadow, Valters braced all the elements of danger and bravely followed his dad, who is a real expert when it comes to collecting honey, into a small shed where an abandoned hive attracted bee family last spring.

Sting resistant gloves, smoker with fuel to calm the bees, layers of clothes, mesh helmet and hive tool is all the equipment you need to get your hands on golden nectar.

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Small wounds can be healed using raw honey as it contains powerful antioxidants.
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Did you know that bees are the most important living species on the planet?

 

 

#3. Latvian forests

For me, a forest is so much more than random collections of trees. It’s my sanctuary where I get to clear my head and renew my energy. See, as a child, I had a chance to spend a fair share of my time in forests picking wild berries and mushrooms.

My family had a patch of land surrounded by beautiful woodlands just outside our village for growing much-needed crops. I still have memories of the forest floor covered with blue and white anemone flowers, animal and bird sounds and how much I loved finding untouched fizz-ball to mess around with.

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Forests cover almost 42% of Latvia, and nearly all of them are publicly accessible.

 

#4. Cleansing the body and soul in my mom’s authentic sauna

A considerable part of Latvian culture is a traditional,  wood-burning sauna, known as pirts(so-called wet baths). Back in a day sauna was a place where the woman would give birth to babies and where the dead would rest before the last journey to the cemetery.

Collecting wood, making bath brooms, pouring cold water over the hot rocks to produce vapour and to make the air humid are only a few essential rituals for physical and spiritual cleansing.

The ideal temperature is around 86 ‘C, and the whole process can be about 3 hours long. During the summertime, the sauna is usually combined with a barbeque and skinny dipping in the nearby lake or river.

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The Latvian sauna process always begins with a shower, and you have to drink plenty of water before, during and after.

 

#5. Having a proper backyard garden

Providing a family with your food goes a long way, especially if you live in rural regions. Sure, it’s hard work and requires a great deal of know-how, but growing vegetables and maintaining greenhouses is what people in Latvia do.

Supermarket food may look fresh and appear delicious, but when it comes to taste, it’s worlds apart. Plus spending time outside gardening contributes to improved health – it helps you be in the moment, burns calories and relieves stress.

Last summer we arrived right in time for seasonal harvest and had a chance to sample homegrown vegetables.

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My mom’s pride and joy!

 

#6. Winter and snow

Winter is the coldest season of the year, and it arrives with freezing temperatures, short days and lots and lots of snow.

Shovelling snow and salting driveways becomes daily routine yet at the same time, winter transforms everything into something magical. Despite the unbearable cold, as low as -25’C, we miss ice skating, skiing, and snowball fights.

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Forest near Valters hometown, Alūksne.

 

#7. Beautiful Riga 

The beautiful Latvian capital is home to some of the eye-pleasing architecture wanders showing off facades decorated with flowers, faces, and abstract figures. Without a doubt, Rigas Old Town is unmissable and can charm instantly with charming, narrow streets, beautifully restored buildings and lots of different museums.

While the most impressive and unique building is the House of Blackheads located on Ratslaukums, you should also check beautiful cathedrals and Freedom Monument.

Places we love and miss the most are beautiful Riga parks, Agenskalna Quartal, where lots of wooden architecture has survived to this day and Kalnciema Quarter, a particular favourite and fantastic spot with weekly markets, live music and educational events.

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The Three Brothers, in Mazā Pils street, the oldest complex of dwelling houses in Riga.

 

#8. Celebrating Name Days

Did you know that pretty much every Latvian gets another celebration every year? What’s not to love about the fact that we get to be showered with gifts, love, and attention!

We celebrate Name Days very similar to Birthdays. We eat a cake, receive flowers and have fun with loved ones. If you wish, you can throw a party, you can wine and dine or treat yourself to something special.

There are around 1000 different names marked in a calendar, usually up to four each day. The 22nd of May is a celebration day for those people whose names aren’t in a diary and no Name days are market on 29th of February (leap year)

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On a Name Day, flowers are always a good idea!

 

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Now, over to you!

What do you miss the most when away from home?  Let us know in the comments below!

Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Latvia and have travel-related questions!

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Our Crossings follows the daily adventures of Latvian expats living in Sligo as they surf and explore the world

35 thoughts on “8 Things We Never Thought We’d Miss About our homecountry Latvia

  1. A beautiful and heartfelt post! Your words about the forest struck a chord with me and just how I feel when visiting the summer houses, in the middle of forest! So many of the things on the list are similar to Sweden it’s spooky. Even down to the name Day celebrations! I’m not into foraging for mushrooms but see lots of them and had many conversations with neighbours about this. Your love for your country stands out and the huge impact this visit has had on you. As for me, I miss the coastline, the rocks, the sea … sunbathing on the grey/pink granite, taking a quick dip whilst avoiding the jelly fish before having a picnic break with home baked buns and coffee! Good times … it’s always good to have things to miss in ones life!

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    1. Hi, Annika and thanks for stopping by, it’s always lovely to hear from a fellow expat. For me, being an expat can be both the most fantastic experience in the world and the hardest, so I was very eager to create a blog post about the subject and hear how other people get on while residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. So thanks a lot for sharing your experience and the things you miss from your home country Sweden. Speaking about the similarities between Latvia and Sweden, it’s possible that when Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden took-over Riga in 1621, Latvian as a language borrowed some Swedish words and as well as a few traditions! Have a good day. Aiva

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      1. Aiva, it’s funny you write about being an expat … I’ve never considered myself that! England has always been my home, yet I’m equally at home in Sweden when visiting! It can be confusing! Funny you should mention Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden – my mother is always trying to teach me about him! I know Sweden were a big power in Europe and the influence is still visible

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    2. I think that’s an exciting subject – discussing the difference between resident, expat and expatriation! Even thou we have lived in Ireland for the past two decades, where we willingly embraced local lives, made local friends, adopted local customs and became a part of social and economic scenes, we never hid away from a term ‘expat’ – although I know a lot of people who find the term derogatory and also a lot of people even worry that the description calls their patriotism into question.
      Ireland is where I feel at home the most yet the same goes for Latvia and Edinburgh, where I lived for a couple of years!

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  2. I love hearing that you pick mushrooms in Latvia. My grandparents were first-generation children of Slovakian immigrants and they taught their children how to pick mushrooms here in the states. My mom grew up doing it every autumn, and some of my best memories of growing up are rummaging for mushrooms in the woods behind my grandma’s house and in nearby parks. My Gram would wash them, then string them up to dry all over her kitchen and make soup and mushroom and eggs. So many people thought we were crazy, always asking how we knew which ones were poisonous. I guess it’s just in our blood!

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    1. Hi and thanks for sharing your story. I enjoyed reading it! My grandfather was a forest ranger, so woods were my second home and now looking back on all the wild berry and mushroom picking days, I feel grateful for the experience. Although there were times when instead of going to the woods, I preferred to stay at home and read books. 🙂

      When it comes to mushroom picking – it’ so much more than just walking into a forest and leaving with overflowing baskets. First, you need to learn which trees specific mushrooms are most likely to grow under. Then, you’ve got to develop a very keen eye to identify characteristic shapes, colours, gills and the age of what you’re picking. And then, you have to wash them, cook them and store them – it’s hard work and great fun combined into one! Have a good day. Aiva

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  3. The first thing I miss is my own bed. But, then I am only leaving my country to travel for short periods. Moving away is totally different. No matter what they say about how nice it is to live in warmer climates, I would miss the seasonal changes even winter). There is something so clean and beautiful about a freshly fallen blanket of snow (unless you have to drive on it). Happy Monday Allan

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    1. Hi, Allan, I know what you mean about your bed – it’s what I miss the most during my travels around the world and while we are at it – I usually miss my pillow too! Seasonal changes are what I miss the most, there are for seasons in Latvia – winter, spring, summer, autumn – and I love how they vary significantly in characteristics. Happy Monday and thanks for sharing your story! Aiva

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  4. I love your post and it has really opened my eyes re Latvia – you must love going home.

    What do I miss?? ….. Off the top of my head – MILK!!! I love our Irish milk – first thing I take whenever I get home! After a few weeks of rice, pasta, couscous etc. I’d murder a spud!!!
    I often miss the casual connection with strangers that we Irish have a weakness for – we can’t stand in a queue at the bank or cinema etc without chatting to whoever is in front or behind. We take it for granted that everyone likes to connect and we’re often looked upon oddly abroad when we try to strike up a casual conversation. I give out about our weather but I love the seasonal changes and would miss that….. people in warm sunny climes think we’re weird because we always remark on the weather even though its the same every day… but the Irish NEVER take good weather for granted!!!
    XXX Marie – from torrential rain in Dublin!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Marie and thanks for sharing your experience. There are lots of things what we miss from Latvia, yet having lived in Ireland for nearly two decades now, we miss a lot of stuff from Ireland when we go back home too – isn’t that just crazy! And, if there is one thing that I have realised; flying the nest has not been the hardest decision to face, but coming back home is because at times I have felt like a foreigner in my land.

      I agree with you on the casual connection with strangers – it’s one of the reasons why I settled so quickly on Emerald Isle and chose this to be our home from home. The power of human connection can be felt on every corner, be it waiting for a bus and standing in a line at the post office – and it’s even more notable on Irelands West coast! Have a good day, Marie, always good to hear from you. xxx Aiva

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  5. I miss my bed, taking baths, and sometimes cooking (depending where I’m staying) when I travel. Especially when I’m on a camping trip. You couldn’t have said it better about how it’s funny we come to appreciate something only once we are away for an extended period of time. I know I’m guilty of taking the city I live in for granted. Maybe it’s because I always think I’ll have time to see or do something because I live there.

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    1. I miss cooking too, especially fresh, home-made dishes! I took my country for granted for many years, yet during that time, I had the opportunity to look at my life from a place thousands of miles away. Seeing the world, living in a different country for years and experiencing everything it has to offer is great, but knowing that the comforts of home will always be there when I get back, If I get back, is a great feeling. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Robbi, great to hear from you again, hope you are doing well! Had no idea you had wild edible mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest too, but according to my google search, you have nearly 30 types of them, including my favourite – Boletus edulis! Thanks for reading and inducing my brain with new fantastic facts about the beautiful Pacific Northwest region. Have a good day. Aiva

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      1. I wish I had your upbringing with the wind edible mushrooms! I just decided to see what groups were around late this season – and they abound!! I went to one workshop, but its overwhelming!! I have seen so many on my treks, yet since they are generally easy to spot I have been assuming they are poison (or would have been picked). I have a general overview of the various categories and the trees associated – but know there are also some look alikes so plan to really get into it more next year by joining a local society and going to a 4 day workshop at Breitenbush Hot Springs in southern Oregon!

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    1. Thanks so much, guys! The truth about being an expatriate – you will always have a ”Miss List”. You will always have something you miss, whether it’s the humour, the weather or special food. Have a good day and thanks for reading. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautiful post. Loved reading it and glad to know about your beautiful home country.
    For me too, expat life is not always easy. Although I’m surrounded by beauty and comfort of Australia where I live now, it is very emotional to think about my parents and siblings who live in Sri Lanka , which is my home country. It feels like one part of life is always missing.

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    1. I love hearing from other expats because it often involves talking about something we miss from back home. Besides the obvious things such as family and friends, It can be anything, including a food item. It’s not as though any of us are planning to go back anytime soon, but still, we can’t help but get nostalgic about things we miss. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day, Indi.

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  7. I know exactly how you feel. I have some similar emotions when I return home to familiar scenes. Beautiful scenery and unpretentious food are two things, but above all, it is the people who talk to you wherever you are, on the bus, in the market, waiting in a queue, and the eye-contact, something I find missing in the UK.

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    1. Hi, Mari and thanks for stopping by. I know what you mean by beautiful scenery, after all, you live in a place which is recognised as “an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” – must be incredible to return home to such a beautiful island.

      Being bi-cultural, and bi-lingual can be challenging yet at the same time, it’s fantastic to have a swinging door on two cultures and being able to converse in more than one language. I wouldn’t change a single minute of my experience as an expatriate. Have a good day. Aiva

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  8. Wow, so much beauty! I would love to learn more about beekeeping and the production of honey. The pictures look amazing. Having a backyard garden is something I didn’t have growing up, but is a must in my forever home. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks so much, Toni, it’s fantastic when information about certain subjects based on years of someone’s experience can be passed down to the next generation. Although I rather keep a few feet away from the beehives, we learned a couple of useful facts and had a chance to sample a freshly harvested honey! Have a good day. Aiva

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    1. Over the years, I’ve met only a handful of people who had Latvia on their radar! But if you have a chance to travel to Latvia and you are bound to fall under its spell, and you are bound to fall in love with Riga – especially the Old Town. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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  9. Living in Ireland I miss old architecture – something that isn’t a straight-up-and-down Georgian terrace. Medieval stuff; interesting villages rather than one street with a Centra and four spartan pubs selling Guinness and not much else. I appreciate the countryside here in Ireland but everything else is a bit limited. And Dublin is not friendly – the only person having a casual connection with you is a drunk or a beggar, unfortunately! Aaagh maybe I’m homesick.

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    1. Moving and settling into a new country often offers excitement, new experiences, and the freshness of being in an unfamiliar place yet it also allows us to appreciate our home country in ways we might never have thought.

      While once in a while I miss my home and my family and friends, I also come to realise that the world offers us so much it’s impossible to ignore it.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and what you miss about your home, now that you’ve mentioned it – I miss the typical Europen old towns and cute little squares that are bursting with character too. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

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  10. This was a nostalgic post – Latvia is also on my bucket list. I was brought up in Scotland but born in the US. My mum was Irish and my dad Mexican American. Texas is the closest I have felt to home but I miss the people of Scotland.

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    1. Having lived in Edinburgh for a couple of years, I can safely say that my heart is in three places if not more! For me, Ireland is the closest I have felt to home, it’s where I met my husband and it’s where we started a family, yet I miss a lot of things, and of course people, from Latvia and Scotland. Thanks for sharing, Kerry, and have a good day. Aiva

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