31/03/2017

Five things you don't know about Latvia

After exactly two months here in Latvia, spring is finally kicking off - which means two things: I don't have to walk around with four layers of clothing anymore, and exploring the countryside is a real option! You don't really want to go around much when outside it's -10°C and the sun greets you just once a week (if you're lucky)... but now we can get serious, grab our picnic baskets and head towards green valleys and medieval castles.
To celebrate, I want to stimulate your curiosity about this beautiful country. It's still mostly unknown, but well worth a visit! So, here are some facts I was told by my local guide on my first tour around Riga:

1. It's the country with the highest female ratio in the world

Jānis day celebrations
With 118 women every 100 men, Latvia is the country with the highest female ratio in the world. Latvian women consider themselves "beautiful and very attentive towards self-care, but also proud and strong" (I quote my guide here). They are, in fact, "the real rulers" of the country.
Latvia, just to say, has also one of the highest rates of fashion models per capita in the world. Guess they really take care of themselves well!

2. Latvians call themselvs "the singing people"

Song and Dance Celebrations
Latvians, according to my guide, spend most part of their days singing. "We sing when we wake up, and before going to bed. We sing while working. We sing while bathing. When something good happens, we sing to celebrate; when something bad happens, we sing to comfort ourselves." In order to celebrate their deep love for this activity - which apparently even led the way to their second independence - every five years the Nationwide Latvian Song and Dance Festival takes place. It lasts one week, in which hundreds (literally!) of choirs and folk dance groups perform non-stop. Thousands of people attend every year - and everyone sings along. Just watch one of their most popular songs here and you'll see what I mean.
Next festival is in 2018, together with the celebrations for Latvia 100th birthday - perfect time to visit!

3. Latvia got independence twice

Latvian flag
Over centuries, the territory that now constitutes Latvia suffered from numerous invasions - mostly by Germans, Russians and Polish. However, after the Russian Revolution in 1917 the Republic of Latvia declared its independence, which was fully achieved after a year-long War of Independence against both Germans and Russians. In 1922 a liberal constitution was adopted (with some changes, it's still used today) and Latvia started a successful journey towards productivity and innovation.
But in 1940, during WWII, Russia came back, according to the division of Eastern Europe between Russia and Germany decided through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. And this time it was there to stay: Latvia became part of USSR until its dissolution in 1991 - which killed Latvian great economic improvements, a fact that Latvians still blame Russia for. 
It's interesting to note that this second independence, for all the Baltic States, was obtained through a series of demonstrations called "The Singing Revolution": between 1987 and 1991 people in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania used to sing national songs and hymns, which were strictly prohibited, as sign of protest against the Soviet regime.


4. Almost 50% of Latvia is covered by forest

Sunset on the forest
It's probably due to the fact that less than 2 million people (pretty much the population of Rome) live in a territory slightly smaller than Ireland, but 42% of Latvia is made of trees and National Parks. The country is also one of the most environmentally friendly places - ranking 2nd in the Environmental Performance Index and 3rd in Europe for share of renewable energy consumption. Options for a hike are everywhere, just head outside town!

5. It's home to the widest waterfall in Europe

Ventas Rumba
Situated in the western part of the country, Ventas Rumba (in English, Venta Rapid) is the widest waterfall in the European continent - going from 100-110 meters width to 270 meters during spring floods. In autumn and spring it's common to see the "Flying Fish of Kuldīga", since salmon and sturgeon try to clear the rapid by jumping over it. Ever since the 17th century people have been placing baskets in between the stones to try and catch these fish - and one could achieve as much as 80-100 salmon a day! 
Today, Ventas Rumba is not a place for fishing anymore, but instead it's one of the main natural monuments of Latvia.

Pictures 1, 2 and 5 are taken from Latvia Travel; pictures 2 and 4 can be found in the beautiful Instagram profile of Enjoy Latvia.

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