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Riga, Latvia: the best place you've never been
A lot has changed since the Cold War ended. If this is news to you, please stop reading immediately. You don't want to drink water from a fire hose. But, if you are in fact aware that the Berlin Wall fell (and that David Hasselhoff provided the soundtrack, to the joy of Germans and the chagrin of Americans), then keep going. You're about to find out why you need to get out to Riga, Latvia.
The days of bugged hotel room phones may be in the past, but you can still see the equipment used to defend the Eastern Bloc against the evils of capitalism at the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia – a name that makes clear how welcome the Russian's were in this corner of the world. However, these devices are notably absent from the , now a primo site in what is sometimes called the Paris of the Baltics.
Cruise along Albert Street to enjoy the city's architectural high-points, including facades adorned with serpents, birds, flowers and female faces. German, Austrian and Finnish influences converge on this small nation to create a unique blend that is hard to find anywhere else. With cobblestone under foot, you will soak in the history of this city, and this country, through the faces of its buildings.
Stop by the Central Market while you're in Riga. It occupies five old Zeppelin hangars, with each representing a different food group: meat, fish, dairy, bread and produce. Also, stop by Laima, the country's top local chocolate-maker, and make sure you leave room in your bags to bring some home.
When the Iron Curtain was pulled back, we celebrated, and we moved on. Many of the countries once obstructed from view were merely forgotten. Remember them, and add them to our itinerary. As time passes, relics of the communist era will be supplanted by the latest iteration of modernity. The clock is ticking.
Oh, and don't speak Russian!