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Summary: Latvia is in eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, between Estonia and Lithuania, and has a terrain that is mostly low plain with a surprisingly long history of human habitation, with discoveries dating back to 9000BC. Latvia's environment has benefited from a shift to service industries and the beginnings of privatization of industries after the country regained independence, although organized crime remains a concern.
Time Zone: DST +0300 UTC
Languages: Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian
Power: 220 V, 50 Hz
Currency: Latvian Lat - Currently 1 LVL = 2.0931 USD $
Climate: Latvia has a maritime climate with wet, moderate winters.
Riga: Riga is the fastest growing business center in the Baltics, and still has some great places to visit like the Old Town, called Vecriga, with Saint Peter's Cathedral and its organ with 7,000 pipes, and the Latvian Historical Museum housed in a medieval castle. Other sights include the Riga Castle which dates back to 1330, the parks around the Freedom Monument, and a little further away, the bustling shopping experience at the main central market.
Jurmala: Not too far from Riga lies the beach resort of Jurmala, which is comprised of twelve small towns, to which Rigans flock in the summer to sleep in cozy little houses and bathe in the beautifying mud. There are the typical beaches, museums and restaurants you’d expect, but also sand dunes and forests, pubs and art galleries, plus the area is well connected by train to the capital.
Public Transportation: Public transportation is preferable, as many taxi drivers will inflate prices for obvious tourists.
Amber: Walk the beaches after a storm and you can look out for pieces of amber, or fossilized pine resin, that will wash ashore.
Security: Keep an eye on your camera, purse or wallet with in crowded areas, particularly on trains, and be aware of your surroundings when walking around at night.
When To Visit: Visit Riga in June, and celebrate the summer solstice, known as St. John's Eve, with bonfires and traditional food, drink, and song.
Food: Smoked fish and sausage are part of a typical diet, along with potato and even some berry pies.
Tipping: A service charge is usually included in cab fares, and at most hotels and restaurants. If not, add loose change, as many Latvians' monthly salaries average only a few US dollars, and overtipping may be interpreted as condescension.