What to buy in Latviamore than a year ago
Antiques You can find antique shops in and around Old Riga, but if you’re looking for good deals on old unpolished, unframed materials, try the shops on Čaka iela between Ģertrūdes and Tallinas streets. For old books in Russian, German and Latvian try Jumava or Vēsture.
Art Nouveau souvenirs Nothing screams Riga like a screaming gargoyle. Buy Art Nouveau silk scarves, postcards, ceramic dishes, books and best of all, plaster busts based on beautiful heads seen on the city’s most impressive early 20th-century facades at Art Nouveau Riga, Strēlnieku 9.
Designer handbags Una Vita produces fashionable handbags made from llama, cow and goat leather and wild fox, beaver and mink furs that are legally harvested here in Latvia by local hunters. Visit Una Vita (Lāčplēša 87E, tel. 67 24 44 04, www.unavita.lv. Open 10:00 - 19:00, Sat 10:00 - 17:00. Closed Sun) or its website for more info.
Honey The Latvians revere their honey (medus) like the French do their wine and even claim that it has healing properties so taste some for free at The Honey Room (Pēterbaznīcas 17. Open 10:00 - 19:00).
Local food The following can be found in any supermarket: Latvian rye (rupjmaize) and sourdough (saldskābmaize) breads are delicious, and easily transported. Sprats (šprotes), similar to sardines, are the perfect snack to go with the Latvian vodka you bought. Finally, the Latvians revere their honey (medus) like the French do their wine so why not give it a try.
Music Music is absolutely essential to Latvian life. The first Latvian Song Festival held in 1873 actually sowed the seeds of eventual statehood for Latvians. The opera is one of the most revered institutions in Latvia and even a cash-strapped Richard Wagner conducted and composed in Riga for a brief spell before he had to flee from his creditors. Upe (Vāgnera 5, tel. 67 22 61 19, www.upett.lv. Open 11:00 - 19:00, Sat 10:00 - 16:00. Closed Sun) has the best selection of Latvian folk, rock and classical CDs in Riga.
Riga Black Balzams Originally intended as a cure-all elixir, Balzams has been made and consumed in Riga since the late 18th century and is still used today to alleviate hangovers and stomach aches and as the main ingredient in many local cocktails. Consisting of over 24 herbal ingredients, it looks like used motor oil and is sold in charming ceramic jugs. Try it in coffee, with currant juice or the more daring can imbibe it neat. It can be found at supermarkets, souvenir shops and any place that sells alcohol.
Soviet memorabilia Many collectors have cashed in on the demise of the Soviet Union by buying up cheap nick-knacks, medals and busts of Lenin. Purchase all the red remnants you crave in most antique shops around town, especially on Avotu iela.
Sweets The Laima factory in Riga has been producing delicious chocolates since 1870. They can be found in any supermarket or at Laima shops around town. For something more exotic buy an assortment of chocolate including Balzams and beer truffles from Emihls Gustavs at Berga Bazārs and most shopping centres.