The Latvian Getaway

Sthephany Vasilopoulos van Oordt

It’s 2:30pm (or shall I say it à la Euro…14:30) on a Friday and I’m sitting in the lovely Spotify office working away as we conquer the musical world. Suddenly, a phone call changes the outcome of my weekend. My Italian friend Martina calls frantically and asks if I would like to join a last minute trip to Riga. With my North American ignorance in mind I respond… Riga? Where and what is THAT? If it wasn’t for Google, all of Sweden would know my terrible Eastern European geography. According to the magical search engine, and the rest of the world, Riga is the capital of Latvia.

How could I possibly pass the opportunity to visit a totally random country and cruise the Baltic sea? I looked at my boss and asked if I could peace out early in the cutest way possible; and he said “of course”. And so I ran home, packed my bags, my pretty navy blue Canadian passport, and hopped on the next Baltic cruise ship. Destination: LATVIJA.

Since Europe is the size of a pinhead, and the Baltic sea is about the size of 3 of the Great Lakes put together, cheap and last minute deals are pretty easy to come across. You see, there is this thing called the Viking Line, a cruise ship line with Baltic and Scandinavian destinations. Primarily, it is for cargo, but there are many tourist options available as well. Living on the intern budget can take a toll on you, so we had to settle for a C cabin. It was like a scene from the movie EuroTrip. Needless to say, it was a trip that will not be forgotten.

For starters, once the ship hits international waters, shopping alcoholic beverages becomes duty free. In the evenings, these cruise ships practically become party boats for all international travellers. We made some friends with some Lithuanian guys who barely spoke English, hence a major lack of communication. But when the moon shines brightly all night long, and Russian alcoholic concoctions are flowing, there is only one language to be understood…the dancefloor. And after 14 hours on the sea… we reached Riga.

In all honesty, I did not know what to expect. Prior to my arrival, I was expecting perhaps a bit of a war-torn city with historical buildings amid the Ex-Soviet Union atmosphere, which was partly true but not entirely. Of course, the Baltics cannot be compared to a Scandinavian or North American look and feel; but nevertheless, it was not as underdeveloped as popular culture has led me to believe. Riga was indeed a beautiful city. The old town was filled with re-constructured medieval buildings with a hint of Russian cultural. Since the trip only allowed us to stay in Riga for about 9 hours, it’s tourism on the fast lane!

Any old European city makes you feel like you’re in a dream. To live and travel Europe is probably a very common dream to American and Canadian youth. And to be honest, it’s pretty surreal once you’re there. Walking along the cobble-stone streets, your mind just wanders and you stare at the wonderful architecture before your eyes. You listen to all the languages around you and you can’t understand a phrase. That fly-on-the-wall feeling is pretty bitter-sweet. The city was very very medieval, and even had jester-like gypsies in costumes (tourism industry purposes of course). The people? Same as any Northern European stereotype: white and tall.

Unfortunately, a quick 9 hours in Latvia are not nearly enough to truly grasp anything remotely related to the culture. However, I did learn one Latvian wedding tradition: the locks of love. There is small bridge located in the heart of Riga, with old school steel locks secured on the barriers. Traditionally, Latvian newlyweds would head to this bridge shortly after their nuptials, secure a lock, and throw the key into the stream below. Symbolizing that love is forever or in other words… you can’t get divorced until one of you dives in the water and finds the key that matches your lock.

The best part about this little getaway? The company of course! Since I arrived in Sweden, I have made several international connections, but mostly Swedes and North Americans. However, the international community is thriving with people from just about anywhere. This trip involved  young folks from Sri Lanka, Serbia, the United States, Kenya, Poland, Sweden, Hong Kong, and Canada!