Some of the architecture that can be found in Riga’s Art Nouveau district.
For students studying abroad, financial pressures too often become a constraint. As a result, traveling becomes a never-ending trade-off, and metropolis cities such as Paris or London best portray this dilemma. In the end, students may find themselves ending up with questionable accommodation options and a hectic schedule.
But this does not have to be the case.
Like many good things in life, the Baltics — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — are a travel destination one comes to discover by chance. Thanks to the advent of low-budget airlines such as Air Baltic, Ryanair, Wizz Air and EasyJet, the Baltics have become more accessible than ever.
Cynics have argued that this has fueled debaucheries such as stag parties. While this tourist segment does indeed exist, it is much more worthwhile to highlight the culinary, cultural and historical gems of the wild north.
The Baltics at large is a geographic area that contains a very rich history that spans over and includes several former empires, kingdoms, alliances and occupations.
Riga, the capital of Latvia, offers some small but splendid museums that remain off the grid for most tourists. As a result, visitors are able to freely roam the National History Museum of Latvia and the chilling yet insightful Museum of the Occupation of Latvia 1940-1991 without the usual hustle and bustle that accompanies popular European museums.
Since Riga is a city that screams to be explored by foot, comfortable temperatures make spring and summer the perfect times to visit. Wander the city and be rewarded by opulent architecture that decorates Riga’s beautiful Art Nouveau district. In the area’s many little, boutique coffeehouses, try syrniki — fried quark pancakes that are usually served alongside some sour cream or jam — with your tea or coffee. (If you like it, bring the recipe home and spread the word.)
To fuse cuisine with history, visit Riga’s Central Market, which is Europe’s largest market. The market was born out of an ingenious recycling idea in 1922 that sought to reuse metal frameworks from WWI German Zeppelin hangars in order to construct a new market. To treat your taste buds, be on the lookout for some wild blueberries; they may be small and pity in size, but they’re full of Baltic goodness and flavor.
And don’t leave the Baltics without trying some of its rye bread, and be prepared to be amazed by something as simple as bread. For those adventurous enough, meat aspic is next on the menu. Served with some horseradish or spiced mustard, native Baltics love a good serving of meat aspic (cooked meat served with herbs in a savoury gelatine mold).
Besides Riga, there are plenty of other cities to explore in the Baltics such as Tallinn, Jurmala, Tartu, Sigulda or Vilnius. But for time and budgetary reasons, I wholeheartedly recommend Kaunas in Lithuania. If there was ever a city made for a day trip, it must be Kaunas. Calm and melancholic, the city is nestled at the junction of the two largest Lithuanian rivers, the Neris and the Nemunas. Those with an interest in medieval history will be fascinated by the medieval-themed pubs around Kaunas, as well as its well-preserved castles and forts. With its own airport in close proximity, Kaunas is the truly alternative travel destination for the college student abroad.
Now, this all might seem splendid. But you might be wondering, “What is it going to cost me?” Having been hit hard by the economic crisis, the Baltics are eager to attract tourists. Advantageous dollar exchange rates furthermore promise a holiday well within student budgets. As a rule of thumb, you can expect to pay upward of $8 for a three-course meal, $1-3 for a corner side snack, $2 for a big beer and upward of $10 for accommodation. Thankfully, many museums are student friendly and will waive their entry-fee for you!
With the Baltics, the idea of a lavish study-abroad holiday is no longer a categorical oxymoron.
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