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Riga,The Latvian capital

, the largest city in the Baltics, is a fascinating mixture of proud Latvian tradition and influences of the various countries that have occupied it. Independent once again since 1991, Riga's Art Nouveau center has won it UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Opened up to mass tourism with the advent of budget air travel, Riga's Old City and its abundance of bars and restaurants can be explored on foot. The New Town is easily reached by an efficient and modern bus and tram network.

Art Nouveau buildings of Riga

If you want to experience a part of Riga that is beautiful, magnificent, breathtaking and unusual, you should take a walk on Albertas Iela (Albert Street). When you step onto Albertas Iela, it feels like you have just made it to architectural heaven. You don't need to be an architect to appreciate the beauty of these buildings - all you need to do is take a step back and admire the courage, dexterity and talent of the people carving, plastering and molding all the different aspects of the facades.

You won't be alone admiring the facades - groups of different sizes are brought to the street by professional tour guides but you don't need others to explain, why the buildings are as popular as they are. Just the sheer amount of colour and yes, slight pomposity, clinging to the buildings' facades is enough to make you a believer.

There is so much to see, it is almost impossible to digest every single detail at once. Taking photographs and filming every inch of the facades would give you a hobby to last for a lifetime.

Albertas Iela, Elizabetes Iela and Strelnieku Iela are all full of art nouveau and you can be sure there will be something special for every viewer.

Latvia, although over 800 years old - which makes America look like a spring chicken - has only had its most recent independence since 1991. Throughout it's history it has been occupied an innumerable amount of times. In America, there is July 4th; in Latvia there seems to be something having to do with independence that is celebrated every month. The hanging of the country's flag is mandatory for all homeowners on these dates and it's a challenge keeping up with the schedule. The Latvians are fiercely proud of their country despite its tangled history and humble appearance.

One very interesting cultural dynamic is the existence of two cultures that dominate the city of Riga and neighboring town of Jurmala. Riga is roughly made up of the same number of Latvians and Russians. Two completely different cultures which live very differently within the same space. If you want to insult a Latvian, call him a Russian and vise versa; rarely the twain shall meet. 

Riga was originally settled by a native population about which little is known. The first modern settlement of Riga occurred in the late 1100’s, when German missionaries arrived in the area, building a monastery and working to convert the people who were living there to the Christian faith. The main motivator behind this was Bishop Albert ,who arrived at the beginning of the thirteen century, along with a fleet of more than twenty ships, and established an order of what would eventually become the Teutonic Knights.

At the end of thirteenth century, Riga became active in international trade as part of the Hanseatic League. The economy of the area strengthened. Politics became more centralized ,and Riga began to function as a major city. This strength grew until the sixteenth century, when several successive wars began to affect the area. 1621 Riga finally came under the rule of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden and until 1721 remained the biggest city in Sweden. From this period Riga inherited its Scandinavian flair. 1721 Riga was anexed by Russia that officially controlled the area until the end of World War I. Although all this period Riga remained predominantly German-Latvian city with a small Russian minority only. when Latvia became an independent country and Riga became its capital.

Unfortunately, Riga had trouble re-establishing its former economic and political stability because World War I was quickly followed by World War II. This was a time of struggle for the people in the area. The area was again taken over by Russia. Independence was finally fully gained in the early 1990’s. Since then, Riga has been working to re-establish itself and has developed tourism as a means of doing so.