Loving and Leaving Latvia

I woke up this morning feeling a bit under the weather, so I skipped my run. I’ll have to come back to get a run in Latvia! I woke up, had some delicious (free!) hostel coffee, and went off in search of a bank. I was a bit early, so I meandered around the market looking for breakfast. I only had two of these left.

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Finally, it was 9AM, and I went to the GE Money Bank. I thought, “American name. That’ll work.” But it didn’t. They don’t “offer that service.” Now I was panicked. Again, I knew that I would be OK, but I wanted to get some cash anyway. Finally, I found my Golden Ticket!

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Thank you Swedbank!! When the lady at the info desk told me they could help me, I almost started crying.

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The teller that helped me was so sweet. She warned me repeatedly about the commission (“I don’t care! It’s okay!”) and then went to get help because she had never done a transaction like this before. But finally, after copying my passport, filling out some forms, and sending the money through that crazy rapid money-counter a few times, I was done. [I had a picture of all my documents and stuff, and it was blurry so you couldn’t see the numbers on anything, but I don’t want to risk it… Just know that I was happy enough and blog-obsessed enough to take a pic!]

YES!!! Now wealthy beyond belief, I headed back to the little cafe our guide had suggested the day before for breakfast. Apparently, it’s a traditional Latvian place that the locals actually go to!

I passed the Freedom Monument on my way. Built in 1935, this monument somehow survived both Soviet and German occupation, although laying flowers at her feet during the Soviet regime could earn a person a trip to the Gulags.

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After a ten-minute walk, I got to Fabrika where I had an egg, some dark bread, a deliciously sweet fried cheese, and a beet salad. Very traditional! Here’s the thing. This meal cost me less than 2lats. It’s not like I go on vacation and throw money around, but it was nice to know that I could pay for whatever it ended up costing. It’s one thing to fall short on money in your own country where you can clarify the situation, it’s another thing to have to slink out on a meal without paying when you’re foreign and from a country that is known for being wealthy!

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On my walk back, I saw a funny sight!

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It’s a walk-through! I guess saving that minute it takes to get into the restaurant is important.

I also stumbled over a film shoot. There were all kinds of people directing traffic around a spot in front of the Riga dome. I watched for awhile and saw the actor’s set and reset their positions.

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Afterward, I went to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.

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Latvia was occupied from the years 1940-1991 by the Soviets (1940-1941), the Nazis (1941-1944/45) and then the Soviets again (1944/45-1991). The museum was amazing and painful. I felt so awful for the Baltic states. When the Soviets came in at first, they stripped Latvia of its heritage. They changed the school systems to educate children in a communist way and got rid of social programs and the arts where people could express their own opinions. People were systematically murdered and imprisoned. When the Germans came, their rule was not quite as harsh as the Soviets; they centered their persecution on the Jews. They moved thousands of Jewish people to ghettoes and concentration camps. Finally, when the Soviets returned to power, they persecuted anyone who had opposed them. They even set laws to be in effect retroactively so they could persecute people who had gone against them while they were not in power. It’s sickening. There were a lot of documents expressing America’s outrage but also its unwillingness to get involved. During the first Soviet occupation, America didn’t want to anger its ally Russia, and later they didn’t want to wage a full war as opposed to a Cold War. So many people were lost in the political shuffle. It was fascinating for me to learn about this era in history because I have never really understood the full extent of the troubles faced by countries absorbed into the USSR. I was so young with the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of the USSR that I wasn’t exposed to the propaganda about life in the Soviet Union or the realities of what happened behind the Iron Curtain. As an English teacher of course I responded to the poetry posted in the museum.

Many Latvians were kidnapped in the dark of night and sent to Siberia and outer reaches of Russia. Some of them attempted to inform their families about what had happened. The train tracks leading to Siberia were littered with letters dropped by these prisoners; most of the letters never reached their destinations.

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And on that note, I ended my time in Latvia. Riga is amazing on so many levels. Its history is interesting and the areas outside of the old city are full of culture. I definitely recommend a visit. Obviously, you can have a great time for very little money! Now, it’s on to my next destination!

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See you in Ukraine!

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About Heather

I'm a literature-loving adventurer.
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