Tired of where you live? Buy yourself a new town in Latvia!

Do you ever get bored of your own town? How about packing up all your stuff and moving to your very own town? This could be your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rename a town after yourself!

Of course, the move would involve relocating to Latvia, and you’ll need to bring a decent chunk of cash along with you, but bidding has opened to find a new owner for the former top secret Russian military town of Skrunda-1.

Bids start at 150,000 Lats (about $290,000 USD). The winning bidder will become the owner of the entire town – including 5 million square feet of land, 10 apartment buildings, two nightclubs, a shopping center, a child care center, a sauna, and of course a variety of abandoned military buildings. The radar facilities were sadly destroyed, so anyone thinking of starting their own secret missile base will need to find somewhere else.

The town has been abandoned since 1999, so you’ll need to make a couple of trips to the local equivalent of Home Depot to fix things up.


Latvia fed up with “English pigs” – creates anti-Brit police force

The Latvian capital city of Riga is home to a lot of beautiful things, and I’m not just talking about their stunning blonde women.

Sadly, a lot of that beauty is being spoiled by British tourists who don’t understand how to behave when abroad. The mayor of Riga complains about large groups of drunk Brits screaming and taking over the local bars and strip clubs.

One local resident went on record to say “They are drunk by the time they get off the plane and they don’t sober up again until they go back home three days later”.

One British organization even offers full package deals of “strip clubs and shooting” where stag party revelers can get lap dances and then shoot a couple of rounds with an AK-47, all for just $260.

Apparently the extreme low cost of flying within Europe has brought out some of the worst the UK has to offer, forcing the mayor to take some drastic measures. Starting this week, a dedicated division of the Riga police will be on the lookout for British tourists who take their fun a little too far. One man has already spent 3 days in jail for peeing on the Latvian national monument, so they obviously are not joking around. Oh, and the phrase “English pigs”? That is how the Latvian interior minister referred to these tourists. Classy.

The Latvian way to fix the economy? Hot blondes!

The world is in a global economic meltdown, but Latvia is suffering a bit more than most other nations – their economy is expected to shrink by 16% this year.

Some countries have introduced financial measures to get things back on track, others have been forced to simply sit back and wait for the worst to blow over.

Latvia is not one of them – their economic stimulus package is brilliant, and involves declaring May 31st “national blondes day”

The event was organized to cheer up the nation, and raise money for a charity. The event started with a parade, and other activities included a golf tournament, fashion show and an evening ball.

I’d say this is the kind of event that every country should consider. Perhaps May 31st could become a worldwide blondes day. Even if it doesn’t fix the economy, it certainly will spice things up a little.

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!

OK, in Latvia, do not speak Russian

Language is a funny thing: When you say something wrong, even in a foreign tongue, you don’t have to be told you made a mistake. The reaction says it all.

It comes in the form of a stony face, a pause, and an answer that in itself is a correction.

At least that’s what I was thinking about today. I’m writing this from Latvia, a country that has its own language – Latvian – and a de facto language, Russian, that was the lingua franca here throughout decades of communism.

Unfortunately, I don’t know a word of Latvian. Instead, approaching a shopkeeper a little while ago, I spoke to her in Russian. Zd`rravstvuite, I said, using the basic hello in Russian, and proceeded to ask her how much a scarf cost (it’s **bleeping** cold here!). I speak enough Russian to ask the very basics: how much, where to, what is good.

But I awakened her ire with my Russian greeting. She returned it with something I didn’t understand, and proceeded to answer all my questions decidedly not in Russian.It was a reminder that this is one of the fiercest battling grounds in the former Soviet Bloc for the sustainability of the Russian language.

Sure, you’ve got the countries that were members of the Warsaw Pact, places like the Czech Republic and Poland, who maintained their own language traditions. But the countries that were actually part of greater Russia during communist times spoke their own language merely as dialect, which bowed to the hegemony of Mother Russia’s tongue.

Now, Russia is complaining that its language is under fire in countries like Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Russia is making it a human right’s case: There is a sizable ethnic Russian majority spread throughout the Baltics, particularly in Latvia.

When Latvia achieved independence in the 1990s it quickly began to marginalize the ethnic Russian population that had settled here, giving citizenship to anyone who would claim purely Latvia ethnicity. Yet scores of Russians settled here during the Cold War era and gave birth to children here. Latvia’s position has eased in recent years, but it still will not grant citizenship (not an insignificant thing, given its EU membership) to you unless you can demonstrate a mastery of Latvian history and the Latvian language.

This has incensed Latvia’s ethnic Russian population, which stands at around 30 percent of the population. Latvians haven’t helped things: the government has moved to close ethnic Russian schools and for those that remain open the government has made it mandatory that classes are taught more than half of the time in Latvian.

Is there much of a difference between the two languages? Most Latvians, certainly of a specific age, understand Russians fluently, and a lot of ethnic-Russians living here understand Latvian, if only generally. I have a good background in Slavic languages and I can pick out understanding in both. [Update: Many readers have kindly corrected the erroneous assertion implied in this sentence, specifically that Latvian is a Slavic language. It is not. Still, despite it belonging to another linguistic family, I can still pull out the occasional word (especially spoken numbers) because they sound similar to the Slavic languages I am more familiar with.]

But it’s an illustration of what language means, even in today’s European Union, where you sometimes have to lay claim to a certain background or experience if it means your national identity.

Thinking about this, it certainly explains the cold reception I received, and serves as a reminder that in today’s Latvia, there might be a better way to say hello (Sveiki).