Travel in Latvia: Ring in the New Year in Riga

After touring Tallinn, Estonia, I began another Baltic adventure in Riga, Latvia.

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Three Brothers in Riga, Latvia- displaying three very different architectural styles

Architecturally speaking, Riga is vastly different from the medieval city of Tallinn. DSC_0127Although there are still a few gorgeous Gothic buildings in Riga…DSC_0111…the real highlight here is their exceptional collection of Art Nouveau. 
DSC_0224In fact, Riga has the largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the world, and its collection is considered to be one of the finest in Europe!

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Art Nouveau appears delicate and graceful

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Art Nouveau buildings are often defined by flowing, curvy lines

DSC_0223In general, I found Riga to be much more modern than Tallinn, yet I still found beauty in spotting some rather quirky highlights of the city.

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modern, international restaurants, like TGI Fridays

Like this cute old women feeding birds in the street. 🦆DSC_0145Or this cute old man posing for me on a bicycle. 😊DSC_0100On the other hand, just like Estonia, Latvia is one of the least religious countries in the world, and until recently, they had very strong Pagan traditions.

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St. Peter’s Catholic Church

So once again, many beautiful churches, but not so many observers.DSC_0114

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Nativity Orthodox Cathedral

Also, like Estonia, Latvia has a long history of communist occupation, and they only recently became independent in the 20th century.

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Independence Monument in Riga
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lovely park near the monument

As such, one of the most popular activities in the Baltics is a Soviet-style shooting experience.

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I see four guns, I don’t know about you! 😉Hah! 💪X2 🔫X2

Since I grew up around guns, and thoroughly enjoyed shooting targets as a child, this activity sounded right up my street.

DSC_0175For my shooting experience, I went with the company, King of Shooting. Apparently they’re aimed more at stag parties, but the instructor was pleasantly surprised to see a girl interested in shooting.

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My instructor looks like a putz, but he was actually a pretty nice guy. 🙂

Anyway, the company offers numerous shooting packages at their range, which includes round-trip transportation, safety gear, and the option of shooting a variety of unique weapons. IMG_3547For the shooting activity, I went with four British guys from my hostel. We ended up all getting a similar package, which included the Glock, Roni G2-9, AK-47, and the 12 Gauge Shotgun. DSC_0188The AK-47 is an assault rifle developed by the Soviet Union during WWII. DSC_0158Most of the guys hadn’t shot before, so the instructor talked a bit about how to aim each weapon, then let us fire away.
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DSC_0162Here’s a short video of some of the guns we fired at the range, including a slow-motion clip of the AK-47, which has a major kickback. Hope you enjoy!

Overall, I had a lot of fun shooting these Soviet weapons, and would highly recommend the activity, especially for girls looking to gain some confidence and improve their aim.

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my crew 😉

Anyway, after working up an appetite at the range, I decided to visit the local Christmas Market, where they had lots of hearty Latvian specialties.DSC_0121Popular Latvian dishes at the market included tomato-based soups, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, and mulled wine.

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potato pancakes mixed with shredded carrot and a hearty goulash-style soup
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mulled wine cooked with apples, oranges, and cinnamon

I also perused the local grocery store, where I found more Latvian favorites, like biezpiens, which is like a drier cottage cheese, and even pickled pumpkin! Wow!

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T: pickled pumpkin and cheese; B: mushroom-flavored chips and dried sausage coated in seeds
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Latvians love beets! Beets in soup, beets in juice, and beets in a cold salad. They also had chocolate-covered peaches, which were quite unique.

To drink, the most popular and traditional liquor in Latvia is Black Balsam, considered to have healing properties, since it’s made of over 20 different natural herbs and spices.

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ingredients like birch, nutmeg, black peppercorn, wormwood, peppermint and ginger

Now, aside from these sightseeing activities in Latvia, it was New Year’s Eve, so I had to decide on how I was going to celebrate. 🎉

Ring in the New Year in Riga:

For this, I was really grateful to my hostel, Cinnamon Sally Backpackers Hostelfor organizing a fun and social NYE party. The hostel workers were Latvian locals, and they coordinated games, plus had tons of snacks and drinks, which turned out to be a fun and festive way to ring in the new year.IMG_3537[1]One of the games played at the party was Novuss, a traditional Latvian sport, which reminded me a bit of billiards, but on a smaller scale. IMG_3549Also, we had people at the hostel visiting from all over the world, so when the clock struck midnight in their home country, they had to take a shot of alcohol. My time conversion was 8 a.m. the next morning, so they did cut me a little slack. I told them the only shot I’d be doing at that hour was espresso! Hah! 🤣☕ Anyway, at 11:30 pm everyone headed down to the old city center to watch the fireworks at midnight. A perfect way to ring in the new year! 🎆IMG_3557

Goals for 2018:

Now that we’ve entered into 2018, I thought I’d reflect upon the past year, and share a bit about my plans for the year ahead.26175977_10107720127195097_934744299_nOverall, I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished in 2017. For starters, I traveled to over 20 countries this year, bringing me to a travel milestone of 50 countries traveled in total! I also decided to challenge myself by pursuing a graduate degree, and I devoted more time to visiting my family, which is something I really missed since moving abroad.

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birds-eye view of Riga from the 24th floor of the Radisson Blu (my 50th country traveled) 😀

As for 2018, aside from my incredibly ambitious travel goals, I plan to invest more time in learning foreign languages, plus I plan to volunteer with at least one charitable organization. Both of these goals are already in the mix, and I’ll talk more about them in the upcoming posts. I’m also interested in hearing what some of your goals are for 2018. 😀

Anyway, that’s all for now. Stay tuned for my trip to Lithuania, the last Baltic country on my list. Until then!

Getting There:

To get to Riga from Tallinn, I took a four-hour bus ride with Lux Express for only 5 EuroIMG_3520

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10 thoughts on “Travel in Latvia: Ring in the New Year in Riga

    1. Unfortunately, in places like this, they don’t have very strict regulations. You don’t need to take a test, and the instructions are very basic. Fortunately, my dad taught me gun safety growing up, since he is a hunter. Otherwise, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this kind of thing.

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