Official name : Republic Latvia
Capital : Riga
Currency : Euro (EUR)
Language : Latvian
Inhabitants : 1.900.000
Visa required : NO
Latvia is, one of the least and sparsely populated countries of the European Union and one of the Baltic States. The name Latvia comes from the old "Letgallen", one of the four tribes that form the ethnic basis of modern Latvians. I visited the country as part of my fourth world tour in the summer of 2012. Lithuania, the most southern Baltic state is Catholic while Latvia is predominantly Protestant and has a rich past with Estonia which lies north of Latvia. There is also a considerable number of Russians living here that has moved here (forced and voluntary) to build a better life here. Finally, Latvia has never been a European superpower in the past like Lithuania. In addition to the differences with Lithuania in particular, there are also many similarities; both became independent in 1991 after being occupied by the Soviet Union before and after WWII. During WWII, as in the other Baltic States, the Nazis would act gruesome in the form of mass executions. Also in Latvia after WWII a guerrilla war started to drive the Russians out of the country - in vain though. Today, the three small countries in North-East Europe often come together as a tourist attraction.
Apart from the capital city of Riga, Latvia does not represent that much in terms of cities. The land is very densely wooded, has many lakes and rivers and there are some hills, not really mountainous area’s. There are also many marshes and there is a long coastal strip. In terms of architecture, the small country has enough to offer; Riga is the world capital of "Art Nouveau" but also has a beautiful old town. In the coastal city "Liepaja" is a very strange mix of architectural styles; from tsarist strongholds to Russian post-war flat apartment complexes. Another amazing building is the "Rundale" Palace - a small Versailles. Finally, you can imagine yourself back in the touristic Kurerland in the time between hundreds of wooden houses. You can bathe among the wealthy Eastern Europeans in luxury in "Jurmala" or tremble from the horrors that took place in "Salaspils" during WWII. One of the most remarkable sites I've visited in Latvia is surely the secret underground bunker called the "hotel" where the top of communist Latvia could flee in distress during the Cold War. Such a small diverse country not so far from the Netherlands you should actually just visit once!
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