Latvia is situated in the Baltic Sea. A small country with a richly-diverse landscape and geography, its longest river the Daugava, flows through its capital Riga. But this is only one of around 12,000 in the country. Thick forests and rolling hills sprawl across the countries five regions. Its coastline is sandy, unspoilt, long, and dotted with cliffs. Latvia also has large nature parks and protected areas, the most well-known being the Gauja National Park nature reserve. Opened in 1973 and covering nearly 92,000 hectares, it was the countries first national park.
Riga is a flamboyant mix of history and tourism. It offers fast-paced nightlife but is also home to a magnificent collection of Germanic Art Nouveau architecture. Its culture is steeped in folklore, and this shows the intimate connection Latvian people have with their country. Latvian literature is based on the writings of traditional folk tales, its most defining contributions being made by Janisis Rain. In the early 1900's Latvia announced itself on Europe art scene with the work of Janis Rozentals, who is famous for his interpretations of peasant life and portraits.
Food and Drink
Latvian cuisine and its culinary experience are full of flavours born out of Germany and Russia among other countries. Beans, potatoes and peas are a staple part of the Latvian diet as are smoked foods. Springtime goes hand-in-hand with a traditional porridge made from pearl barley. Generations of Latvian's have boiled this with a pig's tail or ear. In summer, boiled broad beans are served with buttermilk or curdled milk. Lithuanian's enjoy vodka. Starka, one of its best, is dry and made from rye grain and aged in oak barrels. It is also a country of tea-drinkers. Its tea is made from many types of herbs and is also taken as a medicinal remedy. Coffee, whether brewed around a dining-room table or in local coffee houses, is also very popular.
Until the end of the thirteenth century, Latvian tribes controlled the country. This was ended when German Knights successfully conquered the territory, but Latvia was also threatened by military advances from Poland and Sweden. These continued until the eighteen century when Russia took power. Latvia first experienced independence when the Treaty of Versailles was signed. During the Second World War, Russia reassumed power. Only a few years later Latvia was made part of the Soviet Union which continued until 1985. Latvia's battle for independence started in 1988. In 1990 the new state of independent Latvia was recognized and soon after it was made a full member of the United Nations. Latvia was invited to join the European Union in December 2002. In September 2003, Latvia accepted and was officially recognised as a full member in May 2004.