Spare time activities
Life is not as simple everywhere as it is in Ireland. While the Irish are largely satisfied having a church, a pub and a sports pitch around, their Latvian counterparts have many different activities at hand. Here`s a short overview of what Latvians do when they are not working or studying.
Favourite sports, both for watching and for practising are basketball and ice hockey. Oleg (27, photo) tells me that boxing and `going to the gym` are popular. He does both and the boxing recently gave him a black eye, of which he is still recovering. Anete (20) plays tennis and squash, Edgar goes to the gym, many people like swimming and some cycle. A bit of everything. Indoor sports are particularly well-visited in winter, when only skiing is available as an alternative. With the rise of the economy, the Alps are becoming a popular winter sports destination as well.
`Boxing and going to the gym are popular sports in Latvia`
Nevertheless, sport is probably only number two in favourite activities: socialising is definitely number one and it is done in many different ways. Real life activities include clubbing, visiting bars and restaurants or going to the countryside with friends. Weekends are the most popular days and both men and women engage in drinking alcohol. Beer or cocktails for women, beer and stronger drinks for men, wodka for Russians. There are many casinos around Riga town, but none of my conversation partners goes there frequently.
The main virtual meeting place is called Draugiem.lv, a Latvian profile website is claimed to reach 80% of the Latvian population. It has been banned from most offices because people spend to much time updating their personal pages, chatting or otherwise leaving messages to one another. Gaming is also popular. Anda (19) plays them from CDs, while Ieva (16) has internet at home and can also opt for online gaming. Oscar (17) starts his studies of software engineering in a few days from now. He spends most of his computer time on creating cartoons.
Edgar (24) who is a real estate agent in `real life` likes to work as a security officer as a hobby. He only does this for major music events, with the aim of getting close to his idols. Kristups (21) is a part time DJ beside his studies at the art academy. He likes to entertain dancing crowds with Break& Beat music, but otherwise simply visits restaurants with his girlfriend. Sigita (22) and Elina (20) spend their free hours as guides in Riga`s Occupation Museum. For Sigita, this connects well with her studies of history, while Elina matches them up with her studies of Tourism management.
Dancing and singing
Alise (20) used to dance a lot when she was younger. Dancing, like singing, is undeniably part of Latvia`s cultural heritage. In this light, the slogan `Latvia, the country that sings` may appear perfectly adequate. Jani, the Latvian version of midsummer, is one of the main cultural happenings. Many people go to the countryside to sing and dance, and jump over bonfires to celebrate the longest day of the year.
Another major event is taking place every 5 years: the Latvian Song Festival. Different from the Eurovision version, this gathers 30,000 singers, all dressed up in folklore costumes, singing traditional Latvian songs about life and love. During the occupation, the Soviet authorities did not feel confident banning the festival and instead injected it with lots of communist praises. They could not prevent that the festival started to be used as a political claim to the Latvian identity in the 1980s. The festival is now back to what it used to be: a cultural festival. It will be held again in Riga from 5 to 12 July 2008. Come over to Latvia and see for yourself!
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