18/04/2017

Surprising Latvia: what do Erasmus students think of their host country?

It's nearly time for me to celebrate three months in Latvia, and as I reached and surpassed the half-of-Erasmus-time landmark (on Easter day), I thought it was time to stop for a moment and ask my fellow Erasmus friends a simple, yet challenging question: what's the thing that surprised you the most about Latvia when you first started living here? I received mixed answers; but none of them, I'm sure, is something you would expect.

The doors

"In Latvia there are always two layers of doors and windows, and at first it surprised me, because in Italy this doesn't even happen up in the mountains! Then I slowly got used to having too many keys and opening two windows at once" told me my friend Mattia, from Italy. I admit I didn't really take care of the difference until he made me notice it, but it's true - "double layers" of doors (aka after opening the first door, you find another one) are quite common in Latvia, both in private houses and public buildings. The use? As can be easily guessed, it keeps the cold as much as possible outside the house, and helps keeping the noise inside too.

Too many stairs

Another architectural element that surprised most of the people I asked is the general absence of elevators, particularly in private flats - none of my friends has one in his building! As a result, you often have to climb endless flights of stairs (5 to get to my apartment). With shopping bags, suitcases that weigh as much as you do and whatever else you may want to bring home. Free workout anyone?

Cookies are extremely cheap

Just a couple of days ago I had a all-girls night in, and everyone was complaining about the fact that somehow we gained some weight over the last months. The main culprit happens to be cheap sweets: cakes, chocolate, and especially biscuits. Tons of biscuits. In all sizes and flavours. How could you possibly resist?

Taxis are even cheaper than public transport

I'm not really sure about this one - if you use the bus a lot, like I do to go to university every single morning, it would definitely be more convenient to have a bus subscription. However, if you only use vehicles to get to the airport and come back from the disco at 5 a.m., taxis are definitely the cheapest way, going as far as 8 euros for a ride to the airport (20-25 minutes away from the city centre) (in my home country you'll probably pay at least 30 euros). Even better if you're in a big group!

The buildings shake when trams and buses pass by

I would guess this depends on the fact that most buildings in Riga are quite old... especially if your flat faces the street, expect to have the furniture trembling when public transport passes by. But somewhere this also happens when you start jumping.

Women are taller than usual

From my barely reached 160 cm of height, I'm not much of a comparison, but most Latvian women (and they're a lot - did I mention that Latvia is the country with the highest ratio of women to men?) for sure surpass me by more than the usual 10 centimeters. Which probably contributes to the fact that Latvia also has one of the highest ratios of female models...

Vending machines also sell... chicken broth?

You're in the middle of the train station. You've been travelling all day. You're tired, hungry and cold. All of a sudden, the light of a vending machine awakens one last bit of energy: you run there, looking for the usual chips or Snickers, and you find... chicken broth? Yes, this can happen in Latvia! Vending machines are most common in small supermarkets and public buildings (universities in particular), and if you're not a coffee lover or you loathe hot chocolate, you have the possibility to take a cup of hot and savoury broth. Would you give it a try?

These are the most popular surprising elements of Latvia that my Erasmus friends noticed while living here. Which one surprised you the most? Are some of these common in your country? Did you notice anything else? Let me know!

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