Two years in Latvia and it's time to leave.
I must confess, the Baltic region was never among my first choices yet I spent, on and off, around 18 months in this corner of Northern Europe.
There is a lot to say, however I share some thoughts, a few peculiar things I spotted, those lessons learnt, and ideas I think is worth commenting after being truly an alien in Latvia.
Most of that time I was based in Riga, a wonderful place I walked and enjoyed a lot. Although a large city for the Baltic region, Riga is a medium size European capital with an amazing heritage, very clean and safe, well organized and tidy transport system, vivid yet not chaotic, and full of cultural events year round. It remains a lot to discover, a great invitation to come back in the future.
While in Riga, I experienced a rather different cosmopolitan environment than in any other European capital: Georgian wines, Caucasian and Central-Asia cuisine, strong Russian influence and the best of Latvian deco skills.
Latvians have an amazing touch for decoration, gardening, flowering and all sorts of set ups. Most of small cafés, shops, squares, parks, gardens, malls or shopping centres are carefully decorated and well kept. It has also been transferred to web and graphic design.
Good taste is also expressed on women clothing. Although there are not many boutiques and certainly Latvia cannot be compare to the income in the rest of Europe, Latvian ladies are often very well dressed (unlike men), something that for sure contributes to the fact that there is more-than-usual pretty women in Latvia.
The people in the Baltic Region are frequently not talkative, quite bitter to Southern mentality, and living in a sort of protecting circle away from other mortals. I heard a lot of "reasons" such as lack of sun, long-last individual culture, Soviet brainwash, great respect for others' space, collective shyness, and even a growing distrust of foreigners.
I genuinely believe now is a mix of most of the above.
Yet all that social distance has its interesting effect, a lot of time to think and enjoy your own space, and this is even applicable to the public transport, parks, beaches, bars, cafés, restaurants, etc.
There is, however, a social feature has troubled me all along this time, the different understanding of community and togetherness, the collective distance from others' needs, this frequent ice block filter. I do understand, history has played harshly and it seems that Latvians have developed a strong sense of self-protection, particularly against foreigners, yet it appeared often to me as disrespectful and careless.
Nature, the Soviet past, my disaffections and some things I will keep in my heart from this land on the second part of this story.