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Difference between revisions of "Latvia"

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|area=64,589 sq km
 
|area=64,589 sq km
 
|population=2,274,735 (July 2006 est.)
 
|population=2,274,735 (July 2006 est.)
|language=[[Latvian]] (official), [[Russian]] (widely spoken and understood, especially in Riga), [[Lithuanian]], other
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|language=[[Latvian]] (official), [[Russian]] (spoken and understood, especially in Riga), [[English]], other
|religion=Lutheran, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish
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|religion=Lutheran, Catholic, Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Jewish
 
|electricity=220V/50Hz (European plug)
 
|electricity=220V/50Hz (European plug)
 
|tld=.lv
 
|tld=.lv
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|timezone=UTC+2
 
|timezone=UTC+2
 
}}
 
}}
'''Latvia''' [http://www.latviatourism.lv] is situated in Eastern [[Europe]]. One of the three [[Baltic states]], Latvia is bordered by [[Estonia]] to the north, [[Lithuania]] to the south, [[Russia]] to the east, [[Belarus]] on the south east, and the Baltic Sea on the west. The most famous travel spot is the capital [[Riga]], a World Heritage Site. It is however higly recommended to go to many other great places, both urban and rural, such as [[Liepaja]] with its unique former secret military town of Karosta and a magnificent beach. [[Kuldiga]] with Europe`s widest waterfall and [[Cesis]] with its medieval castle ruins are also interesting. Tourists can also enjoy the wild beauty of Latvia`s unspoilt sea coast, which is 500 km long and consists mainly of white, soft sandy beaches. Forests, which cover approximately a half of Latvia`s territory, offer many nature trails and nature parks.
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'''Latvia''' [http://www.latviatourism.lv] is situated in [[Northern Europe]]. One of the three [[Baltic states]], Latvia is bordered by [[Estonia]] to the north, [[Lithuania]] to the south, [[Russia]] to the east, [[Belarus]] on the south east, and the Baltic Sea on the west. The most famous travel spot is the capital [[Riga]], a World Heritage Site. It is however higly recommended to go to many other great places, both urban and rural, such as [[Liepaja]] with its unique former secret military town of Karosta and a magnificent beach. [[Kuldiga]] with Europe`s widest waterfall and [[Cesis]] with its medieval castle ruins are also interesting. Tourists can also enjoy the wild beauty of Latvia`s unspoilt sea coast, which is 500 km long and consists mainly of white, soft sandy beaches. Forests, which cover approximately a half of Latvia`s territory, offer many nature trails and nature parks.
  
 
==Understand==
 
==Understand==
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Across the European continent, Latvia’s coast was known as a place for obtaining amber. In the Middle Ages amber was more valuable than gold in many places. Latvian amber was known in places as far away as Ancient [[Greece]] and the Roman Empire.  
 
Across the European continent, Latvia’s coast was known as a place for obtaining amber. In the Middle Ages amber was more valuable than gold in many places. Latvian amber was known in places as far away as Ancient [[Greece]] and the Roman Empire.  
  
At the 12th century, German traders arrived, bringing with them missionaries who attempted to convert the pagan Baltic and Finno-Ugrian tribes to the Christian faith.  
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At the 12th century, German traders arrived, bringing with them missionaries who attempted to convert the pagan Finno-Ugric and Baltic tribes to the Christian faith.  
  
 
The Germans founded Rīga in 1201, establishing it as the largest and most powerful city on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea.
 
The Germans founded Rīga in 1201, establishing it as the largest and most powerful city on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea.
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On June 16, 1940, Vyacheslav Molotov presented the Latvian representative in Moscow with an ultimatum accusing Latvia of violations of that pact, and on June 17 Soviet forces occupied the country. Elections for a "People's Saeima" were held, and a puppet government headed by Augusts Kirhenšteins led Latvia into the USSR. The annexation was formalized on August 5, 1940.
 
On June 16, 1940, Vyacheslav Molotov presented the Latvian representative in Moscow with an ultimatum accusing Latvia of violations of that pact, and on June 17 Soviet forces occupied the country. Elections for a "People's Saeima" were held, and a puppet government headed by Augusts Kirhenšteins led Latvia into the USSR. The annexation was formalized on August 5, 1940.
  
During the time of the Iron Curtain, Latvia was a province of the Soviet Union, but the concentration of heavy industry was enormous. Contacts with the West were regulated. The Baltic region had the reputation of being the most urbanised and having the highest literacy rate in the Soviet Union.  
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During the time of the Iron Curtain, Latvia was a province of the Soviet Union, but the concentration of heavy industry was enormous. Contacts with the West were regulated. The Baltic region had the reputation of being the most urbanized and having the highest literacy rate in the Soviet Union.  
  
 
Since regaining independence in 1991, economic and social development has been fast even for Latvians and neighbouring Europeans. Latvia has joined the [[European Union]] in 2004.
 
Since regaining independence in 1991, economic and social development has been fast even for Latvians and neighbouring Europeans. Latvia has joined the [[European Union]] in 2004.
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'''The best time to travel''' to Latvia is from June to mid September, when it is warm and plenty of local food is available. January and February are the coldest months. October and November have autumn rains and daylight is short. Although you might not find plenty of 5 star hotels around Latvia, you will find comfortable places to stay for a reasonable price.
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'''The best time to travel''' to Latvia is from June to mid September, when it is warm and plenty of local food is available. January and February are the coldest months. October and November have autumn rains and daylight is short. Although you might not find plenty of 5 star hotels all around Latvia, you will find comfortable places to stay for a reasonable price.
  
 
===Geography===
 
===Geography===
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Half of Latvia is covered with forests which are '''rich with wildlife'''. There are many lakes, especially if you go to Latgale region. There are deep river valleys with some sections having sand cliffs on their banks. Heavy industry halted a long time ago, so most places are ecologically clean.  
 
Half of Latvia is covered with forests which are '''rich with wildlife'''. There are many lakes, especially if you go to Latgale region. There are deep river valleys with some sections having sand cliffs on their banks. Heavy industry halted a long time ago, so most places are ecologically clean.  
  
The highest point in Latvia is '''Gaizinkalns''' [http://www.gaizinkalns.lv], at 312m (1,023ft) above sea level, just west of the town of Madona.
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The highest point in Latvia is '''Gaizinkalns''' [http://www.gaizinkalns.lv], at 312m (1,023ft) above sea level, just west of the city of Madona.
  
 
==Regions==
 
==Regions==
There are some cultural and social differences between regions, for example, traditional dress is different from region to region. The Latgale region has its own unique language - Latgalian.
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There are some cultural and social differences between regions, for example, traditional dress is different from region to region. The Latgale region has its own unique culture and language - Latgalian.
  
  
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* [[Riga]] - the capital city with more than 800 years old history, with the popular holiday suburb of [[Jūrmala]] right by
 
* [[Riga]] - the capital city with more than 800 years old history, with the popular holiday suburb of [[Jūrmala]] right by
* [[Liepaja]] - city of music on the Baltic sea coast, which is always windy. Latvians believe that wind starts there and also famous Latvian musicans come from there. There is very interesting former secret military town called [[Karosta]]. Between a lake and the sea. One of world`s largest churchorgans. Famous summer event Baltic Beach Party in July. Fantastic unspoilt, white, soft sandy beach.
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* [[Liepaja]] - city of music on the Baltic sea coast, which is always windy. Latvians believe that the wind starts in the city and also well-known Latvian musicians come from there. There is very interesting former secret military town called [[Karosta]], between a lake and the sea. One of the world`s largest pipe organs. Famous summer event Baltic Beach Party in July. Fantastic unspoilt, white, soft sandy beach.
* [[Cesis]] - old town in the heart of Vidzeme, castle and deep river valleys
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* [[Cesis]] - old town in the heart of Vidzeme, castle and deep river valleys.
* [[Daugavpils]] - second biggest town in Latvia. Features many factories and other industries
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* [[Daugavpils]] - second biggest city in Latvia. Features many factories and other industries.
* [[Jelgava]] - students' town
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* [[Jelgava]] - the so-called students town.
* [[Kuldiga]] - small town where old buildings are preserved. Features widest waterfall in Europe.  
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* [[Kuldiga]] - small town where old buildings have been preserved. Features widest waterfall in Europe.  
 
* [[Saldus]]
 
* [[Saldus]]
* [[Sigulda]] - popular town with many interesting castles and historic spots. Most popular attraction outside Riga for foreign tourists  
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* [[Sigulda]] - popular town with many interesting castles and historic places. Most popular attraction outside Riga for foreign tourists  
 
* [[Ventspils]] - hosts one of busiest ports in Europe. It is possible to observe incoming ships.
 
* [[Ventspils]] - hosts one of busiest ports in Europe. It is possible to observe incoming ships.
  
 
==Other destinations==
 
==Other destinations==
  
*''' Livu Akvaparks''' [http://www.akvaparks.lv/en/] - the biggest water attraction in Northen Europe in Jurmala.
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*''' Livu Akvaparks''' [http://www.akvaparks.lv/en/] - the biggest water attraction in Northern Europe in Jurmala.
*''' Latvijas Etnografiskais Brivdabas muzejs''' [http://www.virmus.lv/] - open air living museum of old wooden houses, near Riga.
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*''' Latvijas Etnografiskais Brivdabas muzejs''' [http://www.virmus.lv/] - open air museum of the traditional culture of Latvian tribes, near Riga.
 
*'''Karostas cietums''' [http://www.karostascietums.lv/1/EN/news/] - true Soviet prison experience with live prison show as well as night in prison. Based in [[Liepaja]] city Karosta suburb.
 
*'''Karostas cietums''' [http://www.karostascietums.lv/1/EN/news/] - true Soviet prison experience with live prison show as well as night in prison. Based in [[Liepaja]] city Karosta suburb.
*'''Open Air Art Museum at Pedvale''' [http://www.pedvale.lv/About.htm/] - art installations in nature park, near Sabile, Kurzeme region.
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*'''Open Air Art Museum at Pedvale''' [http://www.pedvale.lv/About.htm/] - modern art and installations in nature park, near Sabile, Kurzeme region.
  
 
Weekend break:
 
Weekend break:
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* Health or travel insurance must be presented at border crossing points. More Information at: [http://www.am.gov.lv/en/service/visas/]
 
* Health or travel insurance must be presented at border crossing points. More Information at: [http://www.am.gov.lv/en/service/visas/]
  
If you '''need a visa''', getting it is tricky. Visa costs are on the high side considering size of the country - 20LVL for single or 35LVL for multple entry. Applications will take 7 days to process, or can take as long as 30 days if additional information is needed. To apply, submit to the Latvian embassy or consulate:
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If you '''need a visa''', getting one can be tricky. Visa costs are on the high side considering size of the country - 20LVL for single or 35LVL for multiple entries. Applications will take 7 days to process, or can take as long as 30 days if additional information is needed. To apply, submit to the Latvian embassy or consulate:
 
* passport with ''two'' blank pages  
 
* passport with ''two'' blank pages  
 
* application form
 
* application form
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There are bus (0.40 LVL) and taxi (<10 LVL) '''connections to city centre'''. Only one cab company operates from airport, so look for red taxis [http://www.rtp.lv/eng/index.html/] on the ground floor near the parking lot. Journey times depend on traffic. Airport operates 24h hours. On departure hall help yourself with booklets about Riga.  
 
There are bus (0.40 LVL) and taxi (<10 LVL) '''connections to city centre'''. Only one cab company operates from airport, so look for red taxis [http://www.rtp.lv/eng/index.html/] on the ground floor near the parking lot. Journey times depend on traffic. Airport operates 24h hours. On departure hall help yourself with booklets about Riga.  
  
If departing in morning allow yourself plenty of time to proceed through passport control as it can get crowded.
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If departing in morning, allow yourself plenty of time to proceed through passport control as it can get crowded.
  
 
===By train===
 
===By train===
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Non-residents can use their cars up to 3 months without registration. After 3 months the car must be registered.
 
Non-residents can use their cars up to 3 months without registration. After 3 months the car must be registered.
  
If you have a '''driver's licence''' issued by another country of the European Union, you can use it continuosly. Residents of other countries have to obtain a Latvian licence after 6 months, however it involves only a theoretical exam, which can be taken in English, Russian, French and German.
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If you have a '''driver's licence''' issued by another country of the European Union, you can use it continuosly. Residents of other countries have to obtain a Latvian licence after 6 months, however it involves only a theoretical exam, which can be taken in English, German, French and Russian.
  
 
===By bus===
 
===By bus===
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International car rentals are represented in Latvia. There are many offices in Riga, including some at Riga Airport. Cheaper car rental offices are also available.
 
International car rentals are represented in Latvia. There are many offices in Riga, including some at Riga Airport. Cheaper car rental offices are also available.
  
Soviet cars can be rented at very low price; send your itineraries to [mailto:sovietcar@inbox.lv sovietcar@inbox.lv].
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Drive with the headlights on all year round. Winter or all-season tyres are required for the winter period (December 1 to March 1). Many gas stations are self-service and operate 24/7. Gasoline with octane ratings of 95 and 98 is available, as well as diesel fuel.
  
Drive with the headlights on all year round. Winter or all-season tyres are required for the winter period (December 1 to March 1). Many gas stations are self-service and operate round the clock. Gasoline with octane ratings 95 and 98 is available, as well as diesel fuel.
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You can browse the car rental companies list at the Riga International Airport website [http://www.riga-airport.com/?id=308/].
 
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You can browse a car rental companies list at the Riga International Airport website [http://www.riga-airport.com/?id=308/].
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===By bus===
 
===By bus===
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[[Image:route.gif|thumb|200px|Train connections route map]]
 
[[Image:route.gif|thumb|200px|Train connections route map]]
  
It can be useful to go by train if you need to connect to such towns as [[Jurmala]], [[Saulkrasti]], [[Jelgava]], [[Ogre]], and [[Daugavpils]].  Check [http://www.1188.lv/] for timetables.  
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It can be useful to go by train if you need to get to such towns as [[Jurmala]], [[Saulkrasti]], [[Jelgava]], [[Ogre]], and [[Daugavpils]].  Check [http://www.1188.lv/] for timetables.  
  
[[Gulbene]] and [[Aluksne]] are connected by narrow gauge railway [http://www.banitis.lv/]. There are several tourist spots along the route.
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[[Gulbene]] and [[Aluksne]] are connected by narrow gauge railway [http://www.banitis.lv/]. There are several tourist-oriented places along the route.
  
 
===By bike===
 
===By bike===
  
It is advised to cycle around Riga in the early morning when there is less traffic, although one should be careful when choosing this time due to highly reduced drivers attention at this time. Expect heavy traffic from 5 PM to 8 PM. No left turn allowed from middle line. However, it is highly advised to choose by-ways and less densely populated roads due to highly hazardous traffic.
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It is advised to cycle around Riga in the early morning when there is less traffic, although one should be careful when choosing this time due to reduced drivers attention at this time. Expect heavy traffic from 5 PM to 8 PM. No left turn allowed from middle line. However, it is highly advised to choose by-ways and less densely populated roads due to hazardous traffic.
It is vitally important to wear reflectors- reflective belts, bands and bright coloured clothing, as well as have the bike equipped with strong front and rear lights.
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It is vitally important to wear reflectors; reflective belts, bands and bright coloured clothing are advised, as well as having the bike equipped with strong front and rear lights.
Generally, cycling is still not safe in the country. The only "real" bicycle path is existing from the old town of Riga to the Sea resort of Jurmala. But the country is fast developing '''local cycling routes'''. The international bicycle project BaltiCCycle [http://www.balticcycle.eu] may provide you with a lot of information and help.
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Generally, cycling is still not very safe in the country, especially during the dark hours. The only "real" bicycle path is existing from the old town of Riga to the Sea resort of Jurmala. But the country is fast developing '''local cycling routes'''. The international bicycle project BaltiCCycle [http://www.balticcycle.eu] may provide you with a lot of information and help.
  
 
===By thumb===
 
===By thumb===
[[Hitchhiking]] in Latvia is generally good. The roads around [[Riga]] present the largest obstacle, unless the city is your destination - there is no clean "by-pass" road, and a considerable amount of local traffic makes hitching very difficult. The easiest way to get around Riga is to find a "cross-country" lift at the border with [[Lithuania]] or [[Estonia]]. License plate numbers/countries of origin are your friends.
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[[Hitchhiking]] in Latvia is generally good. The roads around [[Riga]] present the largest obstacle, unless the city is your destination - there is no clean "by-pass" road, and a considerable amount of local traffic makes hitching very difficult. The easiest way to get around Riga is to find a "cross-country" lift at the border with [[Estonia]] or [[Lithuania]]. License plate numbers/countries of origin are your friends.
  
 
==Talk==
 
==Talk==
  
'''Latvian''' (Latviešu valoda) is the only official language and it belongs to the Eastern Baltic sub-group of the Baltic language group in the Indo-European language family. From the Baltic language, only Latvian and Lithuanian remain. Latvian is not at all similar to Russian, since they belong to different language groups, so there is no bigger similarity between them as between English and Greek. Lithuanian is also very different, even if it belongs to the same language group. It is as similar to Latvian as German to English, so the speakers of one can not understand the others, however, Lithuanian can be somewhat mutually intelligible for a Latvian speaker, but not vice versa. The language is spoken natively by about 60% of the 2.2 million residents of Latvia. All signs, street names and advertisements are usually in Latvian, which is written with same letters as English, but with some special characters. There is also a lot of native '''Russian''' language  speakers from the Russian ethnic community and it is universally understood in Latvia, so it is recommendable to use that language if you have trouble with Latvian. '''English''' is also understood in urban centers, however there may still be problems 'connecting' with older people in English. Latvian youngsters almost all speak at least some basic English. German is another common foreign language to be learnt at school. French and Spanish are rather rare.
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'''Latvian''' (Latviešu valoda) is the only official language and it belongs to the Eastern Baltic sub-group of the Baltic language group in the Indo-European language family. From the Baltic language group, only Latvian and Lithuanian remain. Latvian is not at all similar to Russian, since they belong to absolutely different language groups, so there is no bigger similarity between them as between English and Greek. Lithuanian is also very different, even belonging to the same language group as Latvian. It is as similar to Latvian as German to English, so the speakers of one can not understand the others, however, Lithuanian can be somewhat mutually intelligible for a Latvian speaker, but not vice versa. The language is spoken natively by about 60% of the 2.2 million residents of Latvia. All signs, street names and advertisements are in Latvian, which is written with same letters as English, but with some special characters. There is also a lot of native '''Russian''' language  speakers from the Russian ethnic community and it is mostly understood in Latvia. '''English''' is also understood in urban centers, however there still might be problems 'connecting' with older people in English. Latvian youngsters almost all speak at least some basic English. German is another common foreign language being taught at school. French and Spanish are rather rare.
  
 
See also: [[Latvian phrasebook]]
 
See also: [[Latvian phrasebook]]
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===Spring===
 
===Spring===
  
As rivers get more water from melting snow, canoeing down the rivers is favorite past time for young people. It usually gets warmer after Easter.
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As rivers get more water from melting snow, kayaking down the river is one of the favorite past times for young people. It usually gets warmer after Easter.
* '''Easter''' - usually something is going on in town centers. Experience traditional Easter celebrations with swings and egg fight.  Perfect time of the year to "indulge" in tradtional balzams - a sickeningly high alcohol content liquour, and for cultural pursuits such as seeing the amazing Riga Opera.
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* '''Easter''' - usually something is going on in town centers. Experience traditional Easter celebrations with swings and egg fight.  Perfect time of the year to "indulge" in traditional balzams - a high alcohol content liqueur, and for cultural pursuits such as seeing the amazing Riga Opera.
 
* '''International Baltic Balet Festival''' [http://www.ballet-festival.lv/] in April/May.
 
* '''International Baltic Balet Festival''' [http://www.ballet-festival.lv/] in April/May.
 
* '''Days of Art''' in Cesis, April
 
* '''Days of Art''' in Cesis, April
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===Summer===
 
===Summer===
  
{{infobox|Latvian Song and Dance Festival|One of the key cultural events in Latvia, which started back in 1873 as singing festival. Now festival happenings involve choirs, folk dance groups, brass bands, folklorists etc. Competitions, exibitions, concerts, parade and joint concerts are some of cultural events. Riga is full with traditional cusumes and cheerful people from all Latvia. It is held once in five years. The next Latvian Song and Dance Festival [http://www.dziesmusvetki2008.lv/] will take place form '''6th to 12th July, 2008 in Riga'''.  
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{{infobox|Latvian Song and Dance Festival|One of the key cultural events in Latvia, which started back in 1873 as a singing festival. Now the festival involves live performances of various choirs, folk dance groups, brass bands etc. Competitions, exibitions, concerts, parades and joint concerts are some of the cultural events. Riga is full with people wearing traditional costumes and cheerful people from all Latvia. It is held once in five years. The next Latvian Song and Dance Festival [http://www.dziesmusvetki2008.lv/] will take place fromm '''6th to 12th July, 2008 in Riga'''.  
  
 
}}
 
}}
  
* '''Jani''' - on the June 24th, Latvians celebrate a midsummer festival called - Jani. Before that Jani flea markets are held in major towns.
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* '''Jani''' - on the June 24th, Latvians celebrate the ancient midsummer festival called - Jani. Before that Jani flea markets are held in major towns.
 
* '''Country music festival''' [http://www.cma.lv/] - held annually in Bauska, around middle July for 2 days. European and US country musicans. Camping on the site possible.  
 
* '''Country music festival''' [http://www.cma.lv/] - held annually in Bauska, around middle July for 2 days. European and US country musicans. Camping on the site possible.  
* '''Saulkrasti Jazz''' [http://www.saulkrastijazz.lv/] - yearly jazz festival, which is held at the end of July. Latvian and massive number of foreign musicans perform on the stage by the sea. Weekly concerts culminates in final concert. Saulkrasti can be easily reached from Riga main terminal by train.
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* '''Saulkrasti Jazz''' [http://www.saulkrastijazz.lv/] - yearly jazz festival, which is held at the end of July. Latvian and massive number of foreign musicians are performing live by the sea. Weekly gigs culminate in one final concert. Saulkrasti can be easily reached from the Riga main train terminal by train.
 
* '''International Music Festival “Riga Rythms”''' [http://www.rigasritmi.lv/] usually held at the beginning of July in Riga.  
 
* '''International Music Festival “Riga Rythms”''' [http://www.rigasritmi.lv/] usually held at the beginning of July in Riga.  
 
* '''Sigulda Opera Festival''' at the beginning of August, held in open air in Sigulda town.
 
* '''Sigulda Opera Festival''' at the beginning of August, held in open air in Sigulda town.
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* '''Liepajas Dzintars'' [http://www.liepajasdzintars.lv/] - the end of August is the time for famous [[Liepaja]] music festival.
 
* '''Liepajas Dzintars'' [http://www.liepajasdzintars.lv/] - the end of August is the time for famous [[Liepaja]] music festival.
  
Latvia has one of longest '''sand beaches''' in Europe. In July and August the water is warm enough to swim. The sea has a very slow slope.
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Latvia has one of the longest '''sand beaches''' in Europe. In July and August the water is warm enough to swim comfortably. The sea has a very slow slope.
  
 
===Autumn===
 
===Autumn===
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There are many interesting and '''old castles''' around Latvia.  Association of Latvian Castles, Palaces and Manors [http://www.pilis.lv/tulk/aktual_list.php/] has links and photos on their website. Note that sometimes castles are reserved for private occasions.
 
There are many interesting and '''old castles''' around Latvia.  Association of Latvian Castles, Palaces and Manors [http://www.pilis.lv/tulk/aktual_list.php/] has links and photos on their website. Note that sometimes castles are reserved for private occasions.
  
It is popular to go for '''autumn leaves viewing''', when the trees turn red and yellow. Popular spots are [[Sigulda]] and Vidzemes Augstiene.
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It is popular to go for a stroll in the autumn to watch the different shades of colour, when the trees turn red and yellow. Popular places for such activities are [[Sigulda]] and Vidzemes Augstiene.
  
 
==Buy==
 
==Buy==
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*'''Mittens''' with ornaments. Hand-made and representing traditional culture.  
 
*'''Mittens''' with ornaments. Hand-made and representing traditional culture.  
 
*'''Black (rye) bread''' gives more energy than the common white (wheat) bread. If bought fresh and kept in a plastic bag, it might last well up to 10 days or more.  
 
*'''Black (rye) bread''' gives more energy than the common white (wheat) bread. If bought fresh and kept in a plastic bag, it might last well up to 10 days or more.  
*'''Melnais Balzams''' [http://www.balzams.lv/html/eng/index.php/], a spirit enhanced with various herbs.  
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*'''Riga Black Balsam (Melnais Balzams)''' [http://www.balzams.lv/html/eng/index.php/], a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur made by many natural ingredients.  
*''' Laimas''' [http://www.laima.lv/] konfektes Asorti, chocolate candy with various fillings.  
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*''' Laimas Chocolate''' [http://www.laima.lv/] various sweets, chocolate with all kinds of fillings.  
  
Speciality shops are open from 8 AM to 6 PM on weekdays, till 4 PM on Saturdays, closed on Sundays. Groceries are open every day till 8 PM or longer. Most supermarkets are open till 11 PM every day.
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Speciality shops are open mostly from 8 AM to 6 PM on weekdays, till 4 PM on Saturdays, closed on Sundays. Groceries are open every day till 8 PM or longer. Most supermarkets are open till 11 PM every day. Convenience stores, such as Narvesen are mostly open 24/7.
  
ATMs are widely available throughout Latvia (including Riga International Airport), even in many small towns. '''Tax free''' [http://www.taxfree.lv/] shops have their signs clearly displayed.
+
ATMs are widely available throughout Latvia (including Riga International Airport), even in many small towns. '''Tax free''' [http://www.taxfree.lv/] stores have their signs clearly displayed.
  
 
Banks will accept '''traveller's cheques''' with some fee as a percentage of the sum.
 
Banks will accept '''traveller's cheques''' with some fee as a percentage of the sum.
  
'''Before leaving Latvia''', it is advisable to exchange Latvian lats back to your foreign currency, unless you want to keep them as a souvenir, which is not a bad idea, since Latvian Lats is one of worlds most beautiful designed money, especially the many different types of 1 Lat coin and also paper notes. Keeping Lats would also be a good reason to visit Latvia again. However, hurry up, since Euro will be introduced after some years.
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'''Before leaving Latvia''', it is advisable to exchange Latvian lats back to your foreign currency, unless you want to keep them as a souvenir, which is not a bad idea, since Latvian Lats is one of worlds most beautiful designed money, especially the many different types of 1 Lat coins and also paper notes. Keeping Lats would also be a good reason to visit Latvia again. However, hurry up, since Euro will be introduced in a couple of years.
  
 
==Eat==
 
==Eat==
  
This is best thing that could happen to a traveler in Latvia - food. The World should learn about bread and milk products here. Latvia is very rich in this aspect. An average supermarket has by far bigger selection of most food products than those in the Western Europe, where a plastic bread with date of expiry of 1 year is considered normal. Not in Latvia. Welcome to the country of real Bread, milk products, ice cream (especially individual portions, which can be bought also in the supermarkets, unlike in the west, where supermarket managers appearently think that the customer always wants a huge family pack), sweets (loose sweets, made by Laima) etc. Although, most of the products are importated from Lithuania. In the open air markets of Riga, Liepaja and other cities and towns, the local fruits, vegetables and mushrooms are a great option, such as freshly picked wild strawberries or blueberries from the forests, or some big strawberries, apples, rubarb and a pie made of it from the garden. This is, of course, mainly available in summer and autumn season.
+
This is the best thing that could happen to a traveler in Latvia - the food. The World should learn about bread and milk products here. Latvia is very rich in this aspect. An average supermarket has by far bigger selection of most food products than those in the rest of Europe, where a "plastic" bread with date of expiry of 1 year is considered normal. Not in Latvia. Welcome to the country of real bread, milk products, ice cream, sweets (loose sweets, made by Laima) etc. In the open air markets of Riga, Liepaja and other cities and towns, the local fruits, vegetables and mushrooms are a great option, such as freshly picked wild strawberries or blueberries from the forests, or some big strawberries, apples, rhubarb pie and a crunch made of fresh stalks straight from the garden. This is, of course available mainly in summer and autumn season.
 
   
 
   
Latvian cuisine comes from the peasant culture, and is based on crops that grow in Latvia's temperate climate. Rye, peas, beets, and potatoes are the staples; smoked bacon, sausage, and other pork products are favorites. Since Latvia is surrounded by the sea, smoked and raw fish is also available. Lots of things are flavored with caraway seeds, especially cheese and bread. A cheese similar to smoked gouda, but more soft, is the cheapest and, arguably, tastiest variety. Latvian rye bread is heavy and flavorful, and goes well with hearty Latvian meals like pea soup, potatoes, and schnitzels (karbonades). Restaurants in larger cities often offer stews in clay pots.
+
Latvian cuisine comes from the peasant culture, and is based on crops that grow in Latvia's maritime, temperate climate. Rye, wheat, oat, peas, beets, and potatoes are the staples; smoked bacon, sausage, and other pork products are favorites. Since Latvia is surrounded by the sea, smoked and raw fish is common. Lots of food are flavored with caraway seeds, especially cheese and bread. A cheese similar to smoked gouda, but more soft, is the cheapest and, arguably, tastiest variety. Latvian rye bread is heavy and flavourful, and goes well with hearty Latvian meals like pea soup, potatoes, and schnitzels. Restaurants in larger cities often offer stews in clay pots.
  
Latvian cuisine is typical for temperate and northern countries, high on butter, fat, and grains, low on spice except for caraway and black pepper . If you are from the Mediterranean, you might find it bland, but if you come from England or Russia or the Midwestern US, you're not likely to have trouble getting used to it.   
+
Latvian cuisine is typical of northern countries, especially close to Finland; it's high on butter, fat, and grains, low on spice except for caraway and black pepper. If you are from the Mediterranean, you might find it bland, but if you come from England or the Midwestern US, you're not likely to have trouble getting used to it.   
  
 
[[Image:Koknese2.jpg|thumb|240px|Koknese castle ruins]]
 
[[Image:Koknese2.jpg|thumb|240px|Koknese castle ruins]]
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A more exotic Latvian dish is a sweet soup made from rye bread (maizes zupa).
 
A more exotic Latvian dish is a sweet soup made from rye bread (maizes zupa).
  
Some specific food only available in this area:
+
Some specific food in this area:
 
* '''Biezpiena sierins''' [http://www.piens.lv/produkti_karums.html] - curd actually, but with sweet taste
 
* '''Biezpiena sierins''' [http://www.piens.lv/produkti_karums.html] - curd actually, but with sweet taste
* '''Kefirs''' - specific dairy product (vegetarian)
+
* '''Kefir''' - specific dairy product (vegetarian)
 
* '''Kiselis''' - thickened stewed fruit (usually cherry or rhubarb) served for dessert (vegetarian)
 
* '''Kiselis''' - thickened stewed fruit (usually cherry or rhubarb) served for dessert (vegetarian)
 
* '''Griki''' - buckwheat, eaten as main course
 
* '''Griki''' - buckwheat, eaten as main course
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[[Image:Skybar.jpg|thumb|260px|A view from Skyline bar]]
 
[[Image:Skybar.jpg|thumb|260px|A view from Skyline bar]]
  
Many '''local beers''' are excellent. Aldaris, Līvu, and Senču can be bought almost anywhere. A special 'live beer' called Užavas can be found in selected pubs and restaurants.
+
Beer, being the most popular alcoholic beverage in Latvia, is excellent. Beers, such as Aldaris, Līvu, and Senču can be bought almost anywhere. A special 'live beer' like Užavas can be found in selected pubs and restaurants.
  
Don't forget to try the Balsam (Rīgas Melnais Balzams). It's a strong (45%) infusion of various herbs, roots, and spices. It will cure your flu in no time. Add a few drops to flavor your tea, or a few spoons to lace your coffee, or drink it neat.  
+
Don't forget to try the Riga Black Balsam (Rīgas Melnais Balzams). It's a strong (45%) infusion of various herbs, roots, and spices. It will cure your flu in no time. Add a few drops to flavour your tea, or a few spoons to lace your coffee, drink it neat or in various cocktails.  
  
'''Wine''' is also grown in Latvia in small quantities. It is one of the most Northern points in the world where wine is grown. Vineyards can be seen in Sabile [http://www.sabile.lv/] (in Latvian).
+
'''Wine''' is also grown in Latvia in small quantities. It is one of the most Northern places in the world where the wine can be successfully grown. Vineyards can be seen in Sabile [http://www.sabile.lv/] (in Latvian).
  
 
Some remarkable places to have a sip:
 
Some remarkable places to have a sip:
 
* <eat name="Juffin's 12" address="10 Aldaru Street" phone="+371 6722 4271" email="juffins12@inbox.lv" fax="+371 6722 4272" hours="11AM-11PM" url="http://www.juffins12.lv/"></eat>  
 
* <eat name="Juffin's 12" address="10 Aldaru Street" phone="+371 6722 4271" email="juffins12@inbox.lv" fax="+371 6722 4272" hours="11AM-11PM" url="http://www.juffins12.lv/"></eat>  
 
If you are in a mood to treat yourself and friends to a great fare this restaurant is the right place. With reasonable prices, the quality of the wonderfully inventive but simple European/Oriental food is amongst the best in Riga. Stunning wine list and prompt service come together to make this rather unsung Vecriga fixture one of Riga’s top dining places.  
 
If you are in a mood to treat yourself and friends to a great fare this restaurant is the right place. With reasonable prices, the quality of the wonderfully inventive but simple European/Oriental food is amongst the best in Riga. Stunning wine list and prompt service come together to make this rather unsung Vecriga fixture one of Riga’s top dining places.  
*'''Skyline Bar''', [http://www.revalhotels.com/Hotels/Latvia-Riga/Reval-Hotel-Latvija/Business/Entertainment-and-nightlife/Skyline-Bar]. On the top of Reval hotel in Riga, just perfect view on sunset, not good idea to go there if you are on budget.
+
*'''Skyline Bar''', [http://www.revalhotels.com/Hotels/Latvia-Riga/Reval-Hotel-Latvija/Business/Entertainment-and-nightlife/Skyline-Bar]. On the top of Reval hotel in Riga, just perfect view at sunset, not a very good place to visit if you are on budget.
 
*''' Lido Recreation Centre''', [http://www.ac.lido.lv/]. A restaurant complex in a huge wooden structure in Riga, children friendly.
 
*''' Lido Recreation Centre''', [http://www.ac.lido.lv/]. A restaurant complex in a huge wooden structure in Riga, children friendly.
*'''Roka kafejnica''', Stendera iela 18/20, tel. 3481555, in Liepaja. First rock cafe.
+
*'''Roka kafejnica''', Stendera iela 18/20, tel. 3481555, in Liepaja. First rock cafe in Latvia.
*'''Krodzins "Riva"''' in Jurkalne, could be seen from Liepaja - Ventspils highway, a small pub near a waterfall and wooden bridge.
+
*'''Krodzins "Riva"''' in Jurkalne, could be seen from Liepaja - Ventspils highway, a small pub near a waterfall and a wooden bridge.
*'''Raganas Kekis''', [http://www.raganaskekis.lv]. The name means witch's kitchen. Located in Ragana village, in the Vidzeme region, which obviously means "witch" in Latvian. You will see it if you travel on direction to Valmiera or Limbazi.
+
*'''Raganas Kekis''', [http://www.raganaskekis.lv]. The name means "witches kitchen". Located in Ragana village (which obviously means the "witch" in Latvian), in the Vidzeme region. You will see it if you travel to Valmiera or Limbazi by road.
*''' Rossini''', [http://www.valmiera.lv/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1187&Itemid=268/]. Near castle ruins and museum in Valmiera. Nice surroundings, serves Italian food. Don't go here if you are on a budget.
+
*''' Rossini''', [http://www.valmiera.lv/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1187&Itemid=268/]. Near castle ruins and museum in Valmiera. Nice surroundings, serves Italian food. Don't visit this establishment if you're on budget.
*'''Double Coffee''', restaurants in Riga, they have wireless hotspots, but you need to buy Lattelekom wifi card. 10% service is added to the bill there.   
+
*'''Double Coffee''', commonly found coffee house/restaurant in Riga. They have wireless hotspots, but you need to buy Lattelekom wifi card. 10% service is added to the bill there.   
  
Places serving Chinese, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian cuisine are also available in Latvia.
+
Places serving Chinese, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian cuisine are also available in Latvia.
  
 
It is common to tip 10% of the bill depending on the service you encountered.  Make sure you check the receipt, as some establishments automatically include a 10% tip in the bill.
 
It is common to tip 10% of the bill depending on the service you encountered.  Make sure you check the receipt, as some establishments automatically include a 10% tip in the bill.
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[[Image:Laukucel.jpg|thumb|260px|Country house]]
 
[[Image:Laukucel.jpg|thumb|260px|Country house]]
  
There are many '''hotels''' to choose from. Prices start from 20 LVL outside Riga and from 40 LVL in Riga.  
+
There are many '''hotels''' to choose from. Prices start from 20 LVL outside of Riga and from 40 LVL in Riga.  
  
Network of '''youth hostels''' [http://www.hostellinglatvia.com/hostels.htm] is also developing. Dormitory rooms around 10 lats, single, double rooms starts from 20 lats and above.  
+
Network of '''youth hostels''' [http://www.hostellinglatvia.com/hostels.htm] is also developing. Dormitory rooms come around 10 lats, single, double rooms start from 20 lats and above.  
  
'''Camping''' in parks usually not allowed to spare grass. Most of rural land is private, but camping possible. If asked by owner to move, you have to. Paying small money (1-2 lats) helps in most cases.  
+
'''Camping''' in parks is usually not allowed.
 +
As regards the stealth camping- most of rural land is private, but camping there is always possible; common sense is to ask for a permission of the owner, which in most cases will be easily granted. However, if there's no such chance, but you decide to camp there nevertheless and are later asked to move, you have to. Paying small money (1-2 lats) helps in most such cases. Overall, camping outdoors on privately owned land is widely understood, common and accepted, however staying in one place for more than two days, or really close to a home are not considered good manners.
  
If camping site is indicated (especially in Gauja National Park), camp there.
+
Indicated free camp sites can be found in Latvia, especially in national parks, you can easily camp there.
 +
Commercial campgrounds as small businesses are becoming more and more widespread.
  
  
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==Work==
 
==Work==
  
Not impossible (especially if you are an EU citizen), but you have to find company, which is willing to pay 35 LVL fee per month, work permit up to 170 LVL (once), fee for checking your documents of education 47.20 LVL (once). Salary should not be less than 246 LVL per month.
+
Not impossible (especially if you are an EU citizen), but you have to find a company which will be willing to pay a 35 LVL fee per month, work permit up to 170 LVL (once) and an additional fee for checking your documents of education 47.20 LVL (once). Salary should not be less than 246 LVL per month.
  
'''Job advertisments''' in Latvian daily newspapers like Diena Tuesday or Saturday edition, some of those ads are in English, German, Russian or French.
+
'''Job advertisements''' in Latvian daily newspapers like Diena Tuesday or Saturday edition, some of those ads are in English, German, Russian or French.
  
 
==Stay safe==
 
==Stay safe==
It is generally safe to travel around on your own, although some petty crime exists. A thing to watch out for is bicycle theft, and it is advisable not to leave valuable things in your car. Mind the forest roads, collisions with wildlife animals, including large ones, can occur.
+
It is generally safe to travel around on your own, although some petty crime exists. A thing to watch out for is bicycle theft, and it is advisable not to leave valuable things in your car. Mind the forest roads, collisions with wildlife animals can easily occur.
  
 
When visiting bars and restaurants in Riga, make sure you know the price before you order and follow your spending, so no cheating is possible.
 
When visiting bars and restaurants in Riga, make sure you know the price before you order and follow your spending, so no cheating is possible.
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'''Emergency phone number''': Fire/Police/Ambulance 112.
 
'''Emergency phone number''': Fire/Police/Ambulance 112.
  
If '''bitten''' by a dog, cat or snake, seek medical attention immediately. Most snakes are not venomous, but one specie is and can cause death if no treatment is made within the next few hours after the bite. A dog or cat bite carries the risk of rabies. Mosquitoes carry no disease and are generally only an annoyance in the Summer months. A forest tick bite carries risk of encephalitis.
+
If '''bitten''' by a dog, wild animal or a snake, seek medical attention immediately. Snakes are not venomous in Latvia, except for the European Viper which is a possible death threat if no treatment is received within the next few hours after the bite. A dog or cat bite can carry the risk of rabies. Mosquitoes carry no disease and are only an annoyance in the summer months. A forest tick bite carries the risk of Lyme disease or encephalitis.
  
 
==Stay healthy==
 
==Stay healthy==
  
There is no problem turning to any doctor or hospital to seek medical help, just by paying an outside patient fee. However, it can prove difficult to obtain medical assistance in many rural areas, as the service can be slow and unresponsive; therefore, it may be a good idea to bring your own first aid kit. There are virtually no air ambulance helicopters in the country, so when exploring sparsely-inhabited, remote areas on your own, it's important to be well-prepared for emergencies.
+
There is no problem turning to any doctor or hospital to seek medical help, just by paying an outside patient fee. However, it can prove difficult to obtain medical assistance in many rural areas, as the service can be slow and unresponsive; therefore, it may be a good idea to bring your own first aid kit. There are virtually no air ambulance helicopters in the country, so when exploring sparsely-inhabited, remote areas on your own, it's important to be well-prepared for emergency situations.
  
 
Few drugs are available without prescription; bring your own medicine if you require it.
 
Few drugs are available without prescription; bring your own medicine if you require it.
  
Tap water should be boiled before drinking; purchasing bottled water is an inexpensive alternative.
+
Tap water should be boiled before drinking; purchasing bottled water is an alternative.
  
 
==Respect==
 
==Respect==
  
One should be cautious when mentioning Latvia in the context of the USSR to ethnic Latvians. Latvia became a USSR province after World War II, and praise of the Soviet (or Russian) regimes is unlikely to be understood or appreciated by many Latvians, especially young ones. However, an opposite reaction may be caused when mentioning the same topic to Russian-speaking people. It must be understood that the issue is delicate and important to all inhabitants of Latvia, so one should be careful and respectful of various points of view when discussing it.
+
One should be cautious when mentioning Latvia in the context of the USSR to ethnic Latvians. Latvia became a USSR province after World War II, and praise of the Soviet (or Russian) regimes is unlikely to be understood or appreciated by Latvians, especially young ones.
  
 
It is very common to give up your seat for an elderly passenger on the public transport in Latvia. It is also considered polite to let women board a train or bus first.  
 
It is very common to give up your seat for an elderly passenger on the public transport in Latvia. It is also considered polite to let women board a train or bus first.  
  
There are many waste containers and trash cans on the sidewalks and near most stores. Littering is considered very rude and may be fined.
+
There are many waste containers and trash cans on the sidewalks and near most stores. Littering is considered a very bad manner and may be fined.
  
 
==Contact==
 
==Contact==
 +
 
Latvijas Pasts [http://www.pasts.lv/en/] is also reliable and a fast way to send letters and parcels (up to 10kg).  
 
Latvijas Pasts [http://www.pasts.lv/en/] is also reliable and a fast way to send letters and parcels (up to 10kg).  
  
Most of '''GSM mobile phones''' will work in Latvia. Pre-paid SIM cards are also available and could be easy bought and topped-up at kiosks and outlets. Some SIM cards are capable of GPRS data transfer, although the setup of phone and computer will not be that easy. Zelta Zivtina of TELE2 costs as less as LVL 1. but you might experience some connection problems, especially during some big events (such as concerts). Another option is a much more expensive prepaid card, OKarte [http://www.okarte.lv/nfintro.php/en] with better GSM/GPRS/EDGE coverage in rural areas. Good alternative for cheap GPRS traffic and voice calls is a prepaid card Toxic. All of these comes with an English as well as Russian and of course Latvian guide book.
+
Most of the newer '''GSM mobile phones''' will work in Latvia. Pre-paid SIM cards are also available and can be easily bought in convenience stores or supermarkets. Most companies provide GPRS/3G/EDGE data transfer. Zelta Zivtina of TELE2 costs as small as LVL 1. Another option is a much more expensive pre-paid card, OKarte [http://www.okarte.lv/nfintro.php/en] with better GSM/GPRS/EDGE coverage in rural areas. Good alternative for cheap GPRS traffic and voice calls is a prepaid card BiFri. All of these come with English as well as Russian and of course Latvian guide book.
  
'''Internet spots''' are available in cafes, libraries and airport. Most hotels will provide free wireless access spots for laptops.  
+
'''Internet spots''' are available in cafes, libraries and airports. Most hotels will provide free wireless access spots for laptops.  
  
If you could not find free wireless spot, try Lattelecom WLAN. A wifi card is need to connect to Lattelecom WLAN [http://www.wifi.lv/]. A WLAN area could be around any Statoil petrol stations. Internet at no charge is also available in most public libraries, some have free wireless access points as well.  
+
If you can't find free wireless spot, try Lattelecom WLAN. A wifi card is need to connect to Lattelecom WLAN [http://www.wifi.lv/]. A WLAN area can be found around any Statoil gas stations. Internet at no charge is also available in most public libraries, some have free wireless access points as well.  
  
To call from a '''public phone''' you need Telekarte. It costs 2,3 and 5 LVL. International calls are possible from every public phone.  
+
To call from a '''public phone''' you need a phone card- "telekarte". It costs 2,3 and 5 LVL. International calls are possible from every public phone.  
  
 
{{isIn|Baltic_states}}
 
{{isIn|Baltic_states}}

Revision as of 05:02, 7 September 2008

[[File:noframe|250px|frameless|Latvia]]
Location
[[File:noframe|250px|frameless]]
Flag
[[File:Lg-flag.png|108px|frameless]]
Quick Facts
Capital Riga
Government parliamentary democracy
Currency Latvian lat (LVL)
Area 64,589 sq km
Population 2,274,735 (July 2006 est.)
Language Latvian (official), Russian (spoken and understood, especially in Riga), English, other
Religion Lutheran, Catholic, Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Jewish
Electricity 220V/50Hz (European plug)
Country code +371
Internet TLD .lv
Time Zone UTC+2

Latvia [1] is situated in Northern Europe. One of the three Baltic states, Latvia is bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east, Belarus on the south east, and the Baltic Sea on the west. The most famous travel spot is the capital Riga, a World Heritage Site. It is however higly recommended to go to many other great places, both urban and rural, such as Liepaja with its unique former secret military town of Karosta and a magnificent beach. Kuldiga with Europe`s widest waterfall and Cesis with its medieval castle ruins are also interesting. Tourists can also enjoy the wild beauty of Latvia`s unspoilt sea coast, which is 500 km long and consists mainly of white, soft sandy beaches. Forests, which cover approximately a half of Latvia`s territory, offer many nature trails and nature parks.

Contents

Understand

Cesis castle in Vidzeme region

Latvia is a famous ancient trading point. The famous ‘route from the Vikings to the Greeks’ mentioned in ancient chronicles stretched from Scandinavia through Latvian territory along the river Daugava to the Ancient Russia and Byzantine Empire.

Across the European continent, Latvia’s coast was known as a place for obtaining amber. In the Middle Ages amber was more valuable than gold in many places. Latvian amber was known in places as far away as Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.

At the 12th century, German traders arrived, bringing with them missionaries who attempted to convert the pagan Finno-Ugric and Baltic tribes to the Christian faith.

The Germans founded Rīga in 1201, establishing it as the largest and most powerful city on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea.

After independence in 1918, Latvia achieved considerable results in social development, economy, industry and agriculture. It has always been a multicultural melting point, where foreigners and locals worked together and brought prosperity to the country.

On June 16, 1940, Vyacheslav Molotov presented the Latvian representative in Moscow with an ultimatum accusing Latvia of violations of that pact, and on June 17 Soviet forces occupied the country. Elections for a "People's Saeima" were held, and a puppet government headed by Augusts Kirhenšteins led Latvia into the USSR. The annexation was formalized on August 5, 1940.

During the time of the Iron Curtain, Latvia was a province of the Soviet Union, but the concentration of heavy industry was enormous. Contacts with the West were regulated. The Baltic region had the reputation of being the most urbanized and having the highest literacy rate in the Soviet Union.

Since regaining independence in 1991, economic and social development has been fast even for Latvians and neighbouring Europeans. Latvia has joined the European Union in 2004.

Because of a tribal past and divisions between occupying nations, there are regional differences between parts of Latvia which are interesting to explore.

Climate

The best time to travel to Latvia is from June to mid September, when it is warm and plenty of local food is available. January and February are the coldest months. October and November have autumn rains and daylight is short. Although you might not find plenty of 5 star hotels all around Latvia, you will find comfortable places to stay for a reasonable price.

Geography

Half of Latvia is covered with forests which are rich with wildlife. There are many lakes, especially if you go to Latgale region. There are deep river valleys with some sections having sand cliffs on their banks. Heavy industry halted a long time ago, so most places are ecologically clean.

The highest point in Latvia is Gaizinkalns [2], at 312m (1,023ft) above sea level, just west of the city of Madona.

Regions

There are some cultural and social differences between regions, for example, traditional dress is different from region to region. The Latgale region has its own unique culture and language - Latgalian.



Cities

Stony beach in Vidzeme
Statue of Rolands, Riga Old Town
  • Riga - the capital city with more than 800 years old history, with the popular holiday suburb of Jūrmala right by
  • Liepaja - city of music on the Baltic sea coast, which is always windy. Latvians believe that the wind starts in the city and also well-known Latvian musicians come from there. There is very interesting former secret military town called Karosta, between a lake and the sea. One of the world`s largest pipe organs. Famous summer event Baltic Beach Party in July. Fantastic unspoilt, white, soft sandy beach.
  • Cesis - old town in the heart of Vidzeme, castle and deep river valleys.
  • Daugavpils - second biggest city in Latvia. Features many factories and other industries.
  • Jelgava - the so-called students town.
  • Kuldiga - small town where old buildings have been preserved. Features widest waterfall in Europe.
  • Saldus
  • Sigulda - popular town with many interesting castles and historic places. Most popular attraction outside Riga for foreign tourists
  • Ventspils - hosts one of busiest ports in Europe. It is possible to observe incoming ships.

Other destinations

  • Livu Akvaparks [3] - the biggest water attraction in Northern Europe in Jurmala.
  • Latvijas Etnografiskais Brivdabas muzejs [4] - open air museum of the traditional culture of Latvian tribes, near Riga.
  • Karostas cietums [5] - true Soviet prison experience with live prison show as well as night in prison. Based in Liepaja city Karosta suburb.
  • Open Air Art Museum at Pedvale [6] - modern art and installations in nature park, near Sabile, Kurzeme region.

Weekend break:

  • Ferry to Saaremaa island [7] from Ventspils to Saaremaa island (Estonia) during summer months.

Get in

Latvia has joined the Schengen agreement, which means that you can enter on a European Union Schengen visa and there are no longer any ID/passport controls on the EU borders.

Visas

For those permitted for visa free entry

  • Citizens of many countries, including Australia, Canada, United States, Mexico, New Zealand, do not need a visa to enter Latvia for up to 90 days. (Full list of countries: [8]).
  • Health or travel insurance must be presented at border crossing points. More Information at: [9]

If you need a visa, getting one can be tricky. Visa costs are on the high side considering size of the country - 20LVL for single or 35LVL for multiple entries. Applications will take 7 days to process, or can take as long as 30 days if additional information is needed. To apply, submit to the Latvian embassy or consulate:

  • passport with two blank pages
  • application form
  • 2 photos
  • invitation (actually, number of invitation, which could only be obtainable by someone else by going to Latvian Immigration Office in Latvia. It costs an additional 5 LVL for single entry and 10 LVL for multiple entry visa. It is valid for 3 months)
  • travel insurance and payment

By plane

Riga airport: RIX

To 'Riga International Airport [10], you can arrive from various European (London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Barcelona, etc) cities, Middle East (Tel Aviv, Dubai), CIS (Moscow, Kiev, Minsk) as well as North America New York City.

Inexpensive national airline: Air Baltic [11]. There are also other low-cost carriers: Ryanair [12] and EasyJet [13].

There are bus (0.40 LVL) and taxi (<10 LVL) connections to city centre. Only one cab company operates from airport, so look for red taxis [14] on the ground floor near the parking lot. Journey times depend on traffic. Airport operates 24h hours. On departure hall help yourself with booklets about Riga.

If departing in morning, allow yourself plenty of time to proceed through passport control as it can get crowded.

By train

SJSC Latvian Railways [15], 7216664, 7233397.

  • Train to Daugavpils and Rezekne are available from:

By car

Non-residents can use their cars up to 3 months without registration. After 3 months the car must be registered.

If you have a driver's licence issued by another country of the European Union, you can use it continuosly. Residents of other countries have to obtain a Latvian licence after 6 months, however it involves only a theoretical exam, which can be taken in English, German, French and Russian.

By bus

  • Eurolines [16], ph 371 7214080, fax 7503134, from Europe and CIS, online ticket reservation, booking through Eurolines agencies in Europe and CIS.
  • Ecolines [17] from Europe and CIS, online booking.

By boat

Get around

By plane

Air Baltic flies from Riga to Liepaja International Airport [21]. It costs 18.60 lats from Riga to Liepaja and 10 lats from Liepaja to Riga. Sometimes there are huge discounts allowing to get from Liepaja to Riga for as cheep as 4 LVL. Liepaja has direct flights to Hamburg and Copenhagen, too.

Several small airports available across Latvia, two in Riga - Spilves airport and Rumbulas airport.

By car

International car rentals are represented in Latvia. There are many offices in Riga, including some at Riga Airport. Cheaper car rental offices are also available.

Drive with the headlights on all year round. Winter or all-season tyres are required for the winter period (December 1 to March 1). Many gas stations are self-service and operate 24/7. Gasoline with octane ratings of 95 and 98 is available, as well as diesel fuel.

You can browse the car rental companies list at the Riga International Airport website [22].

By bus

There are a vast network of bus connections around Latvia. Buy a bus ticket at the bus station or on bus when boarding. If you have luggage ask the bus driver to put it in the trunk. It depends on the bus company if they will charge extra. There are express bus connections to major towns, which can save time considerably.

On Fridays and Saturdays buses could be crowded in the outbound direction from Riga. Bus time tables are available at the Rigas Autoosta [23] site, and at [24].

  • SIA Liepezers [25], bus and minibus rental in Latvia. Also transfers and coaches.
  • Rent a bus in Latvia [26]
  • Bus rental in Latvia [27]

By train

Train connections route map

It can be useful to go by train if you need to get to such towns as Jurmala, Saulkrasti, Jelgava, Ogre, and Daugavpils. Check [28] for timetables.

Gulbene and Aluksne are connected by narrow gauge railway [29]. There are several tourist-oriented places along the route.

By bike

It is advised to cycle around Riga in the early morning when there is less traffic, although one should be careful when choosing this time due to reduced drivers attention at this time. Expect heavy traffic from 5 PM to 8 PM. No left turn allowed from middle line. However, it is highly advised to choose by-ways and less densely populated roads due to hazardous traffic. It is vitally important to wear reflectors; reflective belts, bands and bright coloured clothing are advised, as well as having the bike equipped with strong front and rear lights. Generally, cycling is still not very safe in the country, especially during the dark hours. The only "real" bicycle path is existing from the old town of Riga to the Sea resort of Jurmala. But the country is fast developing local cycling routes. The international bicycle project BaltiCCycle [30] may provide you with a lot of information and help.

By thumb

Hitchhiking in Latvia is generally good. The roads around Riga present the largest obstacle, unless the city is your destination - there is no clean "by-pass" road, and a considerable amount of local traffic makes hitching very difficult. The easiest way to get around Riga is to find a "cross-country" lift at the border with Estonia or Lithuania. License plate numbers/countries of origin are your friends.

Talk

Latvian (Latviešu valoda) is the only official language and it belongs to the Eastern Baltic sub-group of the Baltic language group in the Indo-European language family. From the Baltic language group, only Latvian and Lithuanian remain. Latvian is not at all similar to Russian, since they belong to absolutely different language groups, so there is no bigger similarity between them as between English and Greek. Lithuanian is also very different, even belonging to the same language group as Latvian. It is as similar to Latvian as German to English, so the speakers of one can not understand the others, however, Lithuanian can be somewhat mutually intelligible for a Latvian speaker, but not vice versa. The language is spoken natively by about 60% of the 2.2 million residents of Latvia. All signs, street names and advertisements are in Latvian, which is written with same letters as English, but with some special characters. There is also a lot of native Russian language speakers from the Russian ethnic community and it is mostly understood in Latvia. English is also understood in urban centers, however there still might be problems 'connecting' with older people in English. Latvian youngsters almost all speak at least some basic English. German is another common foreign language being taught at school. French and Spanish are rather rare.

See also: Latvian phrasebook

Do

Winter

Bridge over Venta in Kuldiga

There is a lot of possibilities to practice winter sports - snowboarding, cross country skiing, downhill skiing etc. Ramkalni [31], Baili [32], Zviedru Cepure [33]. Some of slopes are open till late night. Usually need car to access.

  • International Ice Sculpture Festival in Jelgava, February
  • International Festival of Cartoons - Bimini in Riga, March

Spring

As rivers get more water from melting snow, kayaking down the river is one of the favorite past times for young people. It usually gets warmer after Easter.

  • Easter - usually something is going on in town centers. Experience traditional Easter celebrations with swings and egg fight. Perfect time of the year to "indulge" in traditional balzams - a high alcohol content liqueur, and for cultural pursuits such as seeing the amazing Riga Opera.
  • International Baltic Balet Festival [34] in April/May.
  • Days of Art in Cesis, April
  • European Undertaking “Museum Night” all over Latvia, in May.

Summer

Latvian Song and Dance Festival
One of the key cultural events in Latvia, which started back in 1873 as a singing festival. Now the festival involves live performances of various choirs, folk dance groups, brass bands etc. Competitions, exibitions, concerts, parades and joint concerts are some of the cultural events. Riga is full with people wearing traditional costumes and cheerful people from all Latvia. It is held once in five years. The next Latvian Song and Dance Festival [35] will take place fromm 6th to 12th July, 2008 in Riga.



  • Jani - on the June 24th, Latvians celebrate the ancient midsummer festival called - Jani. Before that Jani flea markets are held in major towns.
  • Country music festival [36] - held annually in Bauska, around middle July for 2 days. European and US country musicans. Camping on the site possible.
  • Saulkrasti Jazz [37] - yearly jazz festival, which is held at the end of July. Latvian and massive number of foreign musicians are performing live by the sea. Weekly gigs culminate in one final concert. Saulkrasti can be easily reached from the Riga main train terminal by train.
  • International Music Festival “Riga Rythms” [38] usually held at the beginning of July in Riga.
  • Sigulda Opera Festival at the beginning of August, held in open air in Sigulda town.
  • Cesis Music and Art Festival. Medieval Festivity at the beginning of August. All things Medieval there - food, costumes, customs, etc.
  • 'Liepajas Dzintars [39] - the end of August is the time for famous Liepaja music festival.

Latvia has one of the longest sand beaches in Europe. In July and August the water is warm enough to swim comfortably. The sea has a very slow slope.

Autumn

There are many interesting and old castles around Latvia. Association of Latvian Castles, Palaces and Manors [40] has links and photos on their website. Note that sometimes castles are reserved for private occasions.

It is popular to go for a stroll in the autumn to watch the different shades of colour, when the trees turn red and yellow. Popular places for such activities are Sigulda and Vidzemes Augstiene.

Buy

  • Amber, which is sold in most souvenir shops. If you are lucky, some could be found on the Baltic Sea shore after a storm.
  • Smoked (black) ceramics from Latgale.
  • Silver jewellery
  • Mittens with ornaments. Hand-made and representing traditional culture.
  • Black (rye) bread gives more energy than the common white (wheat) bread. If bought fresh and kept in a plastic bag, it might last well up to 10 days or more.
  • Riga Black Balsam (Melnais Balzams) [41], a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur made by many natural ingredients.
  • Laimas Chocolate [42] various sweets, chocolate with all kinds of fillings.

Speciality shops are open mostly from 8 AM to 6 PM on weekdays, till 4 PM on Saturdays, closed on Sundays. Groceries are open every day till 8 PM or longer. Most supermarkets are open till 11 PM every day. Convenience stores, such as Narvesen are mostly open 24/7.

ATMs are widely available throughout Latvia (including Riga International Airport), even in many small towns. Tax free [43] stores have their signs clearly displayed.

Banks will accept traveller's cheques with some fee as a percentage of the sum.

Before leaving Latvia, it is advisable to exchange Latvian lats back to your foreign currency, unless you want to keep them as a souvenir, which is not a bad idea, since Latvian Lats is one of worlds most beautiful designed money, especially the many different types of 1 Lat coins and also paper notes. Keeping Lats would also be a good reason to visit Latvia again. However, hurry up, since Euro will be introduced in a couple of years.

Eat

This is the best thing that could happen to a traveler in Latvia - the food. The World should learn about bread and milk products here. Latvia is very rich in this aspect. An average supermarket has by far bigger selection of most food products than those in the rest of Europe, where a "plastic" bread with date of expiry of 1 year is considered normal. Not in Latvia. Welcome to the country of real bread, milk products, ice cream, sweets (loose sweets, made by Laima) etc. In the open air markets of Riga, Liepaja and other cities and towns, the local fruits, vegetables and mushrooms are a great option, such as freshly picked wild strawberries or blueberries from the forests, or some big strawberries, apples, rhubarb pie and a crunch made of fresh stalks straight from the garden. This is, of course available mainly in summer and autumn season.

Latvian cuisine comes from the peasant culture, and is based on crops that grow in Latvia's maritime, temperate climate. Rye, wheat, oat, peas, beets, and potatoes are the staples; smoked bacon, sausage, and other pork products are favorites. Since Latvia is surrounded by the sea, smoked and raw fish is common. Lots of food are flavored with caraway seeds, especially cheese and bread. A cheese similar to smoked gouda, but more soft, is the cheapest and, arguably, tastiest variety. Latvian rye bread is heavy and flavourful, and goes well with hearty Latvian meals like pea soup, potatoes, and schnitzels. Restaurants in larger cities often offer stews in clay pots.

Latvian cuisine is typical of northern countries, especially close to Finland; it's high on butter, fat, and grains, low on spice except for caraway and black pepper. If you are from the Mediterranean, you might find it bland, but if you come from England or the Midwestern US, you're not likely to have trouble getting used to it.

Koknese castle ruins

A more exotic Latvian dish is a sweet soup made from rye bread (maizes zupa).

Some specific food in this area:

  • Biezpiena sierins [44] - curd actually, but with sweet taste
  • Kefir - specific dairy product (vegetarian)
  • Kiselis - thickened stewed fruit (usually cherry or rhubarb) served for dessert (vegetarian)
  • Griki - buckwheat, eaten as main course
  • Skabeti kaposti - cabbage in its own juice
  • "'Piragi'"- Lean bacon and onion wrapped in a thin-ish yeast dough.

Other mentionable food and dishes:

  • Smoked cheese - goes very well with wine
  • Eclair - cake with sweet cream inside
  • Eel - fish that looks like a snake, European eel
  • Frikadelu zupa - meatball soup with bullion (high fat)
  • Biesu zupa - red colored beetroot soup (vegetarian and non-vegetarian)
  • Rosols - salad with sour cream, usually non-vegetarian
  • Kotletes - meatballs served with potatoes
  • Gailenu merce - mushroom sauce, usually served with potatoes (vegetarian)
  • Siļķe ar biezpienu - herring served with cottage cheese
  • Commorgan-wieders(old name)-Once braised chuck, ground with celery, onions and wrapped in a crepe and resauteed.

Drink

A view from Skyline bar

Beer, being the most popular alcoholic beverage in Latvia, is excellent. Beers, such as Aldaris, Līvu, and Senču can be bought almost anywhere. A special 'live beer' like Užavas can be found in selected pubs and restaurants.

Don't forget to try the Riga Black Balsam (Rīgas Melnais Balzams). It's a strong (45%) infusion of various herbs, roots, and spices. It will cure your flu in no time. Add a few drops to flavour your tea, or a few spoons to lace your coffee, drink it neat or in various cocktails.

Wine is also grown in Latvia in small quantities. It is one of the most Northern places in the world where the wine can be successfully grown. Vineyards can be seen in Sabile [45] (in Latvian).

Some remarkable places to have a sip:

  • Juffin's 12, 10 Aldaru Street, +371 6722 4271 (, fax: +371 6722 4272), [46]. 11AM-11PM.

If you are in a mood to treat yourself and friends to a great fare this restaurant is the right place. With reasonable prices, the quality of the wonderfully inventive but simple European/Oriental food is amongst the best in Riga. Stunning wine list and prompt service come together to make this rather unsung Vecriga fixture one of Riga’s top dining places.

  • Skyline Bar, [47]. On the top of Reval hotel in Riga, just perfect view at sunset, not a very good place to visit if you are on budget.
  • Lido Recreation Centre, [48]. A restaurant complex in a huge wooden structure in Riga, children friendly.
  • Roka kafejnica, Stendera iela 18/20, tel. 3481555, in Liepaja. First rock cafe in Latvia.
  • Krodzins "Riva" in Jurkalne, could be seen from Liepaja - Ventspils highway, a small pub near a waterfall and a wooden bridge.
  • Raganas Kekis, [49]. The name means "witches kitchen". Located in Ragana village (which obviously means the "witch" in Latvian), in the Vidzeme region. You will see it if you travel to Valmiera or Limbazi by road.
  • Rossini, [50]. Near castle ruins and museum in Valmiera. Nice surroundings, serves Italian food. Don't visit this establishment if you're on budget.
  • Double Coffee, commonly found coffee house/restaurant in Riga. They have wireless hotspots, but you need to buy Lattelekom wifi card. 10% service is added to the bill there.

Places serving Chinese, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian cuisine are also available in Latvia.

It is common to tip 10% of the bill depending on the service you encountered. Make sure you check the receipt, as some establishments automatically include a 10% tip in the bill.

Sleep

Country house

There are many hotels to choose from. Prices start from 20 LVL outside of Riga and from 40 LVL in Riga.

Network of youth hostels [51] is also developing. Dormitory rooms come around 10 lats, single, double rooms start from 20 lats and above.

Camping in parks is usually not allowed. As regards the stealth camping- most of rural land is private, but camping there is always possible; common sense is to ask for a permission of the owner, which in most cases will be easily granted. However, if there's no such chance, but you decide to camp there nevertheless and are later asked to move, you have to. Paying small money (1-2 lats) helps in most such cases. Overall, camping outdoors on privately owned land is widely understood, common and accepted, however staying in one place for more than two days, or really close to a home are not considered good manners.

Indicated free camp sites can be found in Latvia, especially in national parks, you can easily camp there. Commercial campgrounds as small businesses are becoming more and more widespread.


  • All Latvian hotels: [52].

Learn

Museums in Latvia [53] has list of museums in Latvia on their website.

Work

Not impossible (especially if you are an EU citizen), but you have to find a company which will be willing to pay a 35 LVL fee per month, work permit up to 170 LVL (once) and an additional fee for checking your documents of education 47.20 LVL (once). Salary should not be less than 246 LVL per month.

Job advertisements in Latvian daily newspapers like Diena Tuesday or Saturday edition, some of those ads are in English, German, Russian or French.

Stay safe

It is generally safe to travel around on your own, although some petty crime exists. A thing to watch out for is bicycle theft, and it is advisable not to leave valuable things in your car. Mind the forest roads, collisions with wildlife animals can easily occur.

When visiting bars and restaurants in Riga, make sure you know the price before you order and follow your spending, so no cheating is possible.

The Police of Latvia [54] has a website with advice for travelers.

Emergency phone number: Fire/Police/Ambulance 112.

If bitten by a dog, wild animal or a snake, seek medical attention immediately. Snakes are not venomous in Latvia, except for the European Viper which is a possible death threat if no treatment is received within the next few hours after the bite. A dog or cat bite can carry the risk of rabies. Mosquitoes carry no disease and are only an annoyance in the summer months. A forest tick bite carries the risk of Lyme disease or encephalitis.

Stay healthy

There is no problem turning to any doctor or hospital to seek medical help, just by paying an outside patient fee. However, it can prove difficult to obtain medical assistance in many rural areas, as the service can be slow and unresponsive; therefore, it may be a good idea to bring your own first aid kit. There are virtually no air ambulance helicopters in the country, so when exploring sparsely-inhabited, remote areas on your own, it's important to be well-prepared for emergency situations.

Few drugs are available without prescription; bring your own medicine if you require it.

Tap water should be boiled before drinking; purchasing bottled water is an alternative.

Respect

One should be cautious when mentioning Latvia in the context of the USSR to ethnic Latvians. Latvia became a USSR province after World War II, and praise of the Soviet (or Russian) regimes is unlikely to be understood or appreciated by Latvians, especially young ones.

It is very common to give up your seat for an elderly passenger on the public transport in Latvia. It is also considered polite to let women board a train or bus first.

There are many waste containers and trash cans on the sidewalks and near most stores. Littering is considered a very bad manner and may be fined.

Contact

Latvijas Pasts [55] is also reliable and a fast way to send letters and parcels (up to 10kg).

Most of the newer GSM mobile phones will work in Latvia. Pre-paid SIM cards are also available and can be easily bought in convenience stores or supermarkets. Most companies provide GPRS/3G/EDGE data transfer. Zelta Zivtina of TELE2 costs as small as LVL 1. Another option is a much more expensive pre-paid card, OKarte [56] with better GSM/GPRS/EDGE coverage in rural areas. Good alternative for cheap GPRS traffic and voice calls is a prepaid card BiFri. All of these come with English as well as Russian and of course Latvian guide book.

Internet spots are available in cafes, libraries and airports. Most hotels will provide free wireless access spots for laptops.

If you can't find free wireless spot, try Lattelecom WLAN. A wifi card is need to connect to Lattelecom WLAN [57]. A WLAN area can be found around any Statoil gas stations. Internet at no charge is also available in most public libraries, some have free wireless access points as well.

To call from a public phone you need a phone card- "telekarte". It costs 2,3 and 5 LVL. International calls are possible from every public phone.



This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

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