Geography Now! Latvia

Alright guys. We’ve reached the Baltic once again. If you don’t know anything about the Baltics, It basically goes like this: Estonia is a depressed yet attractive nerd girl who lives right next toooo… Latvia & Lithuania twin sisters: “Come play with us, Estonia!” Welcome to the first sister of the creepy Baltic twins. Everyone I’m your host Barb’s. Look I’m sorry, I called it the creepy Baltic twins but it’s kind of true. Latvia is one of those countries that just kind of naturally exudes this ambience of charming mystical dark undertones surrounded by subtle flares of despair and they’re cool with it, and here’s the thing, Latvia is the good twin. Lithuania: “MUAHAHAHAHA!” No but seriously, jokes aside. Latvia does come with an incredibly vibrant culture rooted in unique traditions found almost nowhere else on earth. Let’s find out where it all goes down in, Oh Latvia, you’re like the most adorable Horror Show ever. Let’s jump in. First of all, Latvia is located in the Northern European region known as the Baltics due to the location on the Baltic Sea, surrounded by four other countries. The country is divided into 110 municipalities and 9 Republic cities with the capital Riga, located along the aptly named Gulf of Riga. Yeah, that’s right. A 110 Municipalities. But keep in mind though, most Latvians like to reference the five historical regions of Latvia for cultural distinction: Courland (Kurzeme), Zemgale, Selonia (Pierīga), Vidzeme and Latgale. Speaking of Courland, fun side note, Latvians actually once colonized Africa and the Caribbean under the Duchy of Courland. They took over Tobago and remember in The Gambia episode, we talked about the Kunta Kinte Island. Yep, that was Latvia. See guys, you gotta watch those obscure African country videos like those are the ones with the strangest backstories that give you the best secrets for history. Anyway. The largest cities after Riga are Daugaupils and Liepāja. And the two busiest and international airports are Riga International and Liepāja International. Now Riga may be the capital but it’s a River City, on the Daugava River, not a port city. So most shipments must come in either at Ventspils or on Liepāja, on the Baltic coast. The funny thing is even though Latvia has a decent sized coast, it owns virtually none of the islands that comes with it. Even this little guy, Ruhnu, which belongs to Estonia even though it’s closer to Latvia’s mainland. Latvia: “Dude, can I just have one island so I can build a patrol station?” Estonia: “Mmmmmmmmmmmmm, No!” Oh, and if you look closely at the border with Estonia, they have Valga, which is a town split in half by the two nations. (Remember the Estonia episode?) Now if there’s one thing about Latvia that makes it stick out, it would have to be the architecture. Riga is famously known for its Nouveau style buildings, which won the title of ‘European Capital of Culture’ back in 2014. The city has over 4,000 historic wooden buildings more than any other European city and of course if you Google Latvia, It’s hard not to come across the most iconic building, the House of Blackheads, originally built in the 1400s. It was bombed in World War II and rebuilt. It’s beautiful, but the country does come with an austere backdrop back drop. Back in Soviet times, things got pretty morbid and you still see the residue to this very day. You can see ghost towns that were once used to house Soviet officials and their families like Skrunda 1, an abandoned radar station village complete with decaying apartments, schools and gymnasiums all adorned with Lenin and Soviet imagery left to rot. The Latvians kind of use this to their advantage though. They even took a military prison and made it into the world’s creepiest hotel, the Karosta Military Prison Hotel, in which you can pay to be treated like a prisoner of war in World War II Nazi Germany times. Your accommodations include: Getting yelled at and arrested, sent to a dark damp gritty room with no beds. Only a light mattress and blankets on floor. No room service and you get locked in your room. LATVIA! Speaking of which, some other places of interest might include: Riga’s old city, a Basilica of Aglona, Turaidaa and Konkese castle ruins, The Monument of freedom, Rundāle Palace sometimes called the ‘Versailles of the North’, The Art Nouveau district and the Art Nouveau Museum in Riga, the Mark Rothko Museum, pretty much the entire city of Cēsis, Ziemeļu Northern Forts and the Daugavpils Fortress. All right that covers that. Now we get into Latvia’s land makeup and to add to the sombre undertones, it’s gonna get a bit swampy. All the lands of the Baltic areas are like: ‘Copy, Paste, Done!’. So if you watch the Estonia episode, you’ll probably know what I’m gonna say. Latvia is located on the East European Plain, generally a flat area on average no more than 100 meters above sea level with mild rolling hills every so often. The highest point, Gaiziņkalns is only about 312 meters. Fun side note, Latvia asctually had a little competition with Estonia, which kind of went like this: Latvia: “You know Estonia, you got some great forests. You know I admire that about you.” Estonia: “Oh pssh, come on yours are nice too.” Latvia: “Oh well you know either way, it’s not like we’re gonna be climbing any huge summits right, right because we are flat countries. We are flat.” Estonia: Are you telling me my highest peak? Only 318 meters. How about yours?” (312 meters) Latvia: “Give me a sec…” (Construction) Latvia: “Ohhh uhh, what a coincidence. Uh mine’s basically the same height just you know a little bit taller but it’s, yeah whatever. yeah…” Then in 2012, the tower was demolished because of safety concerns. About 10% of the country is made up of peat bogs and swamps and over half the country is forested. That’s actually an increase as Latvia is experiencing natural afforestation. That’s the opposite of deforestation because just, just you know it’s over it- Ken: “Yeah, we get it. Just keep going, Paul!” The country is over 12,500 rivers, the longest one as mentioned before is the Daugava and Latvia has the widest waterfall in Europe, the Ventas Rumba, about 250 metres wide and the largest lake in the country being the Lubāns. Otherwise economically, Latvia has seen an overall huge GDP resurgence since the independence from the Soviet Union. Basically, they had to switch everything from state-owned to privatisation and when that happens, people usually get very creative. I mean why do you think they built that prison hotel? Their economy is mostly run off of industrial goods like textiles, wood, products, pharmaceuticals and processed foods. Agriculture-wise, Latvians loved *three* things: Meat and dairy (and potatoes!) Almost every meal will have these *three* things. If you don’t know anything about Baltic cuisine, basically It’s hearty heavy meals with rye bread lots of butter and fat with little or no spices, except for maybe dill and caraway seeds. They love caraway. They even put it in their cheeses. Of course, they also have their own specialties likes: Sklandrau.. Sklan… Sklandrau… Sklandrausis, those bacon and onion bun things and the national liquor, Riga black balsam, which has like 24 different ingredients and it supposedly cures illness. As a tester to Catherine The Great when she visited and drink some. Oh, the national animals are the white wagtail bird and the two spotted ladybug. However, Latvia is also famous for the blue cows of Kurzeme. Okay, is that it uh, tallest peak, longest river, largest lake, economy, food, national animals. I put a skit in it, yadi yada… Okay, yeah yeah yeah, I think we got it! Ok, moving on. Now it’s often said that if you want to learn how Europeans were speaking in the Stone Age, learn Latvian and Lithuanian. First of all, Latvia has about two million people and has the second lowest ratio of men to women in the world at .85 men per one woman. Remember, Estonia was the highest. The country is made up of 63% of people that identify as ethnically Latvian, about a quarter are Russian and the rest are made up of other groups mostly Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles and Lithuanians. They use the Euro as their currency, they use the type C plug outlet and they drive on the right side of the road. About the sex ratio thing, just like the other Baltic states, Latvia experienced a huge population loss during World War II. In fact almost 13% of the entire country killed, one of the highest percentages in Europe and of course the vast majority of these people were men. And just like all the other Baltic states, a lot of these women grew up to be super models, or insanely tall like 7 foot 12.15 meter tall Uljana Semjonova, who helped Latvia get all these gold medals back in the Soviet times in basketball and she was the first non US woman enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. That is a tall woman. Today Latvian and Lithuanian are the only two Baltic languages left in existence. The last relative Old Prussian went extinct in the 19th century. Basically these two languages are related and even have some similar words like: Labvakars vs Labas vakaras Skola versus *Mokykla* (Skolos in Lithuanian means debt) And they both use Sveiki. Basically, Latvians have told me that to them, Lithuanian sounds like an older more ancient version of Latvian and if they listen really hard, they might be able to pick up a few words and phrases but overall it’s still kind of difficult to understand. And keep in mind, most Latvians learn at least a little bit of Russian since a quarter of their population is Russian. However, English is more favored for business and global outreach. Now here’s where things get a little unique. The Baltics were one of the last places to convert to Christianity in Europe. Faith-wise, about a third identify at least nominally with the Lutheran Church, quarter with Catholic and about 20% Orthodox. However many that people are not very religious. However what’s interesting is that the ancient pagan traditions are heavily synchronized and still celebrated today. Basically, there are about 10 main Baltic tribes that eventually merged into what became Lithuania and Latvia whereas the Finn Urgic tribe, the Livonians became Estonia, all of which started out as pagan. Baltic paganism incorporated a rolodex of gods, goddesses and spirits that took over various elements and concepts of daily life. You have the fate goddess, Leima, the fertility and harvest God, Jumis, Zemes māte, the mother of Earth and so on. To this day, dressing up in traditional pagan influenced masks and costumes during festivals is widely practiced especially during solstice festivals. They take solstice very seriously. They even have like an ancient traditional pagan calendar with symbols and everything like that. One of my Latvian subscribers sent this to me form flag Friday. Thank you! And speaking of festivals, just like Estonia and Lithuania, every five years, they hold a song and dance festival where the entire country pretty much gets involved. Oh shooo, History! Yeah, okay So before I get into this, if you really want a cool visual, just check out this cool stop-motion video by YouTube channel, Ansis99. So many of you guys have sent it to me. I don’t even – you don’t even have to speak Latvian to understand it. It’s, it’s really cool. Check it out, But in the best way I can personally put it: Paganism and tribal kingdoms, Northern Crusades, the state of Livonia, Germans, Danes, Poles, Lithuanian, Swedish all take turns at invading, finally Russians come in, World War I, war for independence They get their first Republic for a few decades, then Russia comes in as like: “JK I’m back!” They become a Soviet republic state, tons of people died, 1941 Nazi occupation, tons of people die again, Soviets come in and reclaim Latvia, yada, yada, yada all the Soviet years, Russians move in, 1991 independence through the singing revolution that they did with all the other Baltic states, 2000’s they went through an economic boom, 2008 recession and today, they’re recovering and doing fine, mostly. Some notable people from Latvia or of Latvian descent might include: Jānis Čakste, Andrejs Pumpurs, Krišjānis Barons, Rainis and his wife Aspazija, Arvīds Blūmentāls, aka the Crocodile Dundee, Mark Rothko, Jacob W. Davis, he invented jeans, Kristaps Porziņģis, the music group, the Hobos, Frederick Wilhelm Ostwald, Aleksandrs Laime, Anatoly Solovyev, Ginta Lapiņa, Bill Rebane and the music group, Carnival Youth. Phew! So as you can see, Latvia is an interesting tradition holding somewhat dark past oriented nation that moves with haste. Let’s see who’s tagging along with the ride with them now, shall we? Now in school, have you ever been sent to detention and while in detention, you started talking to the person next to you and found out that you actually had a lot in common? Yeah, that’s kind of like how Latvia made friends. As a member of the EU since *2004* as well as NATO and the Council of Europe, Latvia has significantly opened up to their Western counterparts and has seen tons of diplomatic measures taken from the Germans, French, Polish and Italians. Latvians get along pretty well with Ukrainians and Georgians as they shared the same Soviet-occupied past and a significant minority of people in Latvia are Ukranian. Iceland was actually the first country to recognize their independence and they share the same seats on the council of the Baltic Sea States even though Iceland is not a Baltic state, but, but wait huh? But when it comes to their best friends, most Latvians would probably say, Lithuania and Estonia. Even though Estonia pays more attention to Finland. All three Baltic states grew up together and graduated college but Estonia got closer to Finland and out of jealousy, Latvia kind of tried to hook up with Sweden, but Sweden was like: “Ehhh…” Lithuania is like the twin that was separated at birth. Latvian territory was taken over by Germans in the 13th century and Lithuania who kind of went off and created its own empire with the Poles. In the end though, the two sisters have always held on as the last surviving Balts in the world and as crazy as things got, they will always be there for each other. In conclusion, Latvia has had a lot of pressure over the years from numerous factors but they still pull through by embracing the austerity that enshrines them. Stay tuned, Lebanon is coming up next.

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