Top 10 digital essentials for travellers to Latvia

If you are heading over to Latvia this summer here are the top 10 digital essentials to consider.

  1. Get a local SIM card for your mobile telephone. You will need a local number to be able to perform some of the other items mentioned below. Prepaid SIM cards are available from Narvesen, Circle K and larger stores and start from as low as EUR 2. Latvijas Mobilais Telefons has the best mobile coverage in Latvia, but you may want to also consider Bite, Tele2 and others. If you are staying for more than a month several cost-effective plans are also available from as low as EUR 9.99 for unlimited calls, SMS and data.
  2. Get your new mobile eID. If you have a Latvian passport and are using either an iOS (iPhone) or Android smartphone register for the new eSignature mobile service. This will enable you to sign documents electronically and correspond with Latvian government agencies, banks and other businesses no matter where you are in the world effectively bypassing notaries and other intermediaries. To register you will need to visit the Business Registrar of Latvia on the 2nd Floor on 2 Pērses (near the corner of Barona & Blaumaņa Streets). Bring your passport and mobile phone – the whole registration process shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes (ring them on 67108787 to check on the waiting times).
  3. Register your own personal domain, for example, abolins.id.lv. Every Latvian citizen is entitled to a free personal domain in the id.lv space subject to availability. If you’re feeling especially patriotic then you can also register āboliņš.id.lv with the complete Latvian letters. Having your own personal domain means that you can set up an email address that won’t change every time you decide to switch your email provider. If you have been feeling uneasy about your current email service because of the way they are using your personal data then this a great alternative. Why not set up an email address for every family member, eg. janis@abolins.id.lv, maija@abolins.id.lv, peters@abolins.id.lv and so on.
  4. Download the Latvian folksongs app for iOS (iPhone) and Android smartphones. There will be lots of singing this summer so why not have a few folksongs under your belt in preparation. The Tautasdziesmas app will also work without an Internet connection and the zoom function is particularly useful for campfire and other social gatherings. You can also listen to the melodies in case you need a refresher.
  5. Share your travel photos and videos using files.fm. Upload up to 20Gb or more and you can password protect your data as well. Founded by Latvian Jānis Viklis, this free service has been going strong since 2007 and is a super-fast alternative to Dropbox.
  6. Transfer your money with TransferWise and avoid unnecessary bank and currency conversion fees. Brought to you by the same people who created Skype, this service will allow you to transfer your money in hours rather than days and save money as well. Set up within minutes and use on your iOS (iPhone) and Android device. The borderless account service is even faster.
  7. Get around Riga with public transport using Moovit or Trafi. Enter your destination and you will be guided with step by step directions on your smart device (phone or watch). The mobile friendly website 1188 also provides timetables for services outside of Riga.
  8. Get around Riga with Taxify, the Uber taxi service of the Baltics. Estonian-based Taxify now operates in over 25 countries and 40 cities worldwide. Download the app, choose a driver based on distance, prices and car model and watch the driver arrive at your pick-up destination in real time. Expect to pay no more than 10-15 EUR for a taxi from the airport to the centre of Riga.
  9. Get around Riga with car-sharing service CarGuru. Download the app and register in minutes (which includes taking a photo of your driver’s license). Select a car from a list of nearby locations – you have up to 20 mins to get to your reserved car. Unlock the car using the app, take the keys out of the glovebox and you’re ready to start driving. The price includes all costs including fuel, parking and insurance.
  10. Get around Riga with a Sixt rental bike. Choose from 28 rental stations in Riga as well as Jurmala. Download the Nextbike app and register. The first 30 minutes are free, thereafter EUR 0.99 for each additional 30 minutes or EUR 9.99 for a 24 hour rental.

Latvia enjoys one of the fastest Internet speeds in the world and Lattelecom provides a free public WiFi service. But we suggest you get off your devices and enjoy the rich cultural program on offer (including the Song Festival in early July) as part of Latvia’s centenary celebrations!

 

‘Honey coin’ latest in Bank of Latvia’s Innovative Collectors Coins series

On May 22, 2018, the Bank of Latvia released the ‘Honey Coin’, the latest coin in the Innovative Collectors Coins series. The gold-plated proof quality silver coin was minted by UAB Lietuvos monetų kalykla (Lithuania).

According to the Bank of Latvia’s coin collectors’ website, bees and honey have been a part of Latvian culture for thousands of years. The first bees appeared in the territory of Latvia in approximately 6000 B.C, honey began to be consumed somewhere between the 2nd and 4th centuries, and, between the 10th and 14th centuries, honey, beeswax, and amber were significant trade goods. Additionally, ‘the “Honey Coin” is a symbol of diligence and sweetness of work.’

The coin has a nominal face value of 5 euro, has a mintage of 3000 pieces, and was designed by Artūrs Analts.

A brief video is available featuring an interview with the designer of the coin (in Latvian).

For further information, please visit the Bank of Latvia’s Coin Collectors’ page.

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

Organ features in album of Latvian chamber music compositions

The Riga Cathedral, and particularly the grand organ within, have long been an inspiration for musicians in Latvia and internationally. When the organ was completed in 1884, even famed Hungarian composer Franz Liszt composed the work ‘Nun danket alle Gott’ to mark the occasion. Even now, almost 250 years later, the large, stately organ continues to inspire composers.

Recognizing the inspiration that many have drawn from the organ, the Latvian national record label Skani, as part of their recording series ‘Latvian Composers’, released Cantus Annae in 2017. This recording was initiated by organist Aigars Reinis (who performs the organ in all the works) and soprano Ieva Ezeriete, who sings in two of the compositions. The album collects six chamber music compositions by five contemporary composers where the organ is the central instrument in the work. Though some may consider the organ an ‘old fashioned’ instrument, this collection of works shows how the organ remains highly relevant in music, and how, in varied and unusual combinations, the organ can be an essential aspect of modern music.

The collection opens with the Toccata for organ by Rihards Dubra (one of two works by the composer on the album). This grandiose work, beautifully expressing the majesty of the Riga Cathedral organ, combines elements of both modern and classical organ music. Deftly moving between quieter and more introspective moments and the louder, more monumental passages, Reinis proves again to be one of Latvia’s most talented and adept organists.

Reinis is then joined by violinist Gidons Grīnbergs on Vilnis Šmīdbergs’ ‘Litany – Festivum purgativum’, and, as the title would indicate, this is a more somber and spiritual work. The sound of Grīnbergs’ violin can be interpreted as a prayer, soaring ever higher and higher. After a slightly tenser middle section, where the staccato organ sounds almost like a pulse or a heartbeat, peace returns at the end, first with a chorale-like section, and then as both instruments slowly fade as the prayer concludes.

Percussionist Elīna Endzele adds to the mix on Ilona Breģe’s ‘Bell Music’ with her sonorous and resounding performance of not just bells, but a number of metal percussive instruments. Inspired by the sound of bells at Orthodox churches, Breģe’s composition is meant to evoke the sound of passing by churches with their bells tolling. As the work builds to a crescendo, all the varied, simultaneous bells (as well as the undulating organ) gives the work a dreamy feel, as if listening to the bells ringing simultaneously at multiple churches. The work ends on a somber note, with a single tolling bell.

Ieva Ezeriete lends vocals to Santa Ratniece’s ‘El mirollo de l’arbore’ for soprano and organ, a work inspired by writings of the 14th century mystic St. Catherine of Siena. The flowing, meditative work is given the right amount of spiritual depth and emotional clarity via Ezeriete’s singing. And, as Ratniece explains, the composition has elements of love, humility and caution, and the composer weaves together both modern and ancient elements to create an absorbing and compelling composition.

Rihards Zaļupe, composer and inimitable percussionist, provides the work ‘Foxfire Under Bare Enoki Tree’ for violin, percussion and organ. The energetic work, with each instrument providing bursts of music and sound, is inspired by Japanese folklore, particularly a legend of flaming clothes worn by foxes that gather on New Year’s Eve. After an almost hyperactive beginning, the work then calms, with soft sounds from the high registers of all the instruments. Combining mystical and spiritual elements, this evocative, dynamic work is brought to vivid life by Reinis, Endzele, and Grīnbergs.

The collection concludes as it began, with a composition by Rihards Dubra – the expansive ‘Cantus Annae’, for soprano, percussion, organ and positive organ (a smaller, more mobile type of organ). Inspired by the Song of Hannah from the Old Testament, the composition depicts the story of Hannah, an infertile woman, and her conversation with God, begging for a child. Ezeriete’s soaring soprano, combined with the rhythmic and melodic performance of Endzele’s marimba, along with Reinis’ resplendent organ work, creates an exceptional interpretation of this Bible story.

The CD booklet includes information about the composers, compositions and performers in both Latvian and English. However, one does wish that they had included the vocal texts in the booklet as well, as this would aid the appreciation of the works with vocals.

The timeless Riga Cathedral organ, a cornerstone of Latvian music and composition for more than two centuries, has inspired and continues to inspire many generations of composers. As proven by the collection of compositions on Cantus Annae, this centuries old instrument has as much of a place in modern music as it did when it was built. This collection of chamber music, with its variety and broad spectrum of styles and sounds, is not just a testament to the creative strength of Latvian composers, but also the incomparable organ of the Riga Cathedral.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Cantus Annae

Skani

SKANI055, 2017

Track listing:

1. Rihards Dubra – Toccata for organ
2. Vilnis Šmīdbergs – Litany – Festivum purgativum for violin and organ
3. Ilona Breģe – Bell Music for percussion and organ
4. Santa Ratniece – El mirollo de l’arbore for soprano and organ
5. Rihards Zaļupe – Foxfire Under Bare Enoki Tree for violin, percussion and organ
6. Rihards Dubra – Cantus Annae for soprano, percussion, organ and positive organ

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.