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.
The 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 20 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 my hometown are 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 at Dublin Airport, and we step outside the terminal.
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.
#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 a 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.
#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.
#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 the 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 making 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.
#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.
#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 a 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.
#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, Riga’s 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 out 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.
#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 marked on the 29th of February (leap year)
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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!