After a brief overnight stay in the Instagram-worthy Estonian town of Tartu (something forbidden to foreigners 30 years ago thanks to a sensitive Soviet air base), I made my way by bus to ‘the Paris of the Baltics,’ Riga, Latvia. I hadn’t done my homework so it was a pleasant surprise to see a beautiful city full of parks, a well-preserved old town, and lots of beautiful buildings.
I found plenty of things to do in the city and its surroundings. I was glad I visited the Museum of the Occupation since I had no idea that Latvia was a very prosperous country before World War I, or that the city changed hands from the Soviets, to the Nazis, and then back to the Soviets in World War II. The Art Nouveau buildings on Elizabeth and Alberta Streets are worth seeing as well as the many parks around the center. You can even see the ‘Switzerland of the Baltics’ just an hour from Riga in Sigulda. While the name is a bit of a misnomer (marketing gone overboard?), the trails, castles, and a huge bobsled track are all fun things to visit.
It’s nice to see such a great place to visit here since recent history has not always been kind to Latvia. The occupying Soviets (before the Nazis) decided to burn down the Choral Great Synagogue…with hundreds of people locked inside. The Nazis would have expelled Latvians from portions of the country had they stayed. Finally, the forced industrialization of the mid-20th century did cause some environmental harm. What a difference a few decades makes as an inexpensive flight takes you to a friendly country full of things to do (it almost sounds like I’m selling Riga as a conference destination…).