By Julianne Wilhelm
With all of the famous countries to tour across Europe, a traveler could easily get caught-up in only hitting the ones most publicized. Sure, there’s Iceland, Ireland, and Italy. But we already know about all that lush greenery, Guinness and shamrocks, and damn-good pizza, don’t we? Let’s get down to those hidden treasures. The kinds that lie just off the Baltic Sea: a place that is listed as having one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau districts, yet still has the audacity to present the world-renowned, Hospitalis, a rather…insane… mental-hospital themed restaurant. This, my friends, is Latvia.
Cuisine: Let’s start out with the number one reason everyone should go to Latvia, you can dine in a straightjacket while being spoon-fed by a scantily-dressed nurse. Isn’t that why we all look for in a destination? Welcome to Hospitalis. However, not just yet. All diners are required to sign in as a patient before being seated in one of their many dining accommodations. Would you prefer to feast on the gynecologist table or inside the dental cabinet? How about your utensils? An array of syringes, tweezers, and scalpels are a few of the common favorites. While you’re dining, you can relax to the morbid tune of old violins and kick back to the sight of other guests, or “patients,” being directed across the institution in their wheelchairs and straightjackets.
If you’re looking for more a classic dining experience with normal utensils and chairs, Latvia is known for some of its great local spots. In the capital of Riga, many independently owned restaurants offer discounts and happy hours to attract traveling guests. One of those is Staburags. It is known for its traditional Latvian food and is a hit among tourists. The interior is dimly lit and decorated with oak furniture, cozy fire pits, and small, private corners for more secluded meals. The venue also has an extended beer bar with some of Latvia’s most renowned brews and live music every Friday and Saturday night.
Museums: Latvia’s grand, extended history could fill up eons of chapters in any European History book, but why not take a look for yourself? Latvia’s Ethnographic Open-Air Museum displays acres of old-fashioned cottages and workplaces. Guests can hire a tour-guide to take them around to what once was a common workplace for local Latvians, or take a self-guided tour around the lot. The museum also has a church that still has services on Sunday mornings for all who are interested. One of the museum’s main events is the celebration of the summer solstice, a national holiday for Latvia. Re-enactments of some of the ancient practices, like jumping over fire, are performed as-well-as other traditions that date back to pagan times.
Markets: Latvia’s Riga Central Market is a must-go for any and all of your food needs. What used to be one of the biggest markets in Europe is still alive and thriving. The market is composed of five enormous former hangars that were converted into market halls in 1930 and guess what? They still sell the same things! Customers can buy fish, bread, locally grown produce, and traditional Latvian cuisine. The market is a great chance to see what local life is like.
Architecture: Finally, down to what makes Latvia one of the most beautiful places to visit, The Art Nouveau District. Riga, Latvia homes one of the largest and extravagant art districts in Europe with over 800 preserved houses built in the 19th century. Two of the most popular sights are the Riga Cathedral and Saint Peter’s Church. Both were built in the early 13th century. The church stands tall amongst Riga with splendid spirals, a medieval wooden structure, and offers one of the best aerial views of Riga.