Shopping centres would be a valid answer but we’re going to take a look at a very different place to escape to: lauki, the idyllic Latvian countryside.
Come Friday afternoon from 3pm until about 7pm any road leading out of Riga sees heavy traffic as city dwellers pack into their cars to relocate to their lauku mājas (country homes) for the weekend. This is particularly popular in the summer months.
Trains and buses are jam-packed with the “no standing room” on buses rule blatantly ignored. Everyone has a lauku māja to go to whether its their own, belongs to friends or family.
Elsewhere the concept of a country home may seem like a luxury. We Latvians are lucky. Our country homes are often homes that have been in the family for tens or even hundreds of years. Many are basic homes with just an outhouse of the hole in the ground variety, a well for water supplies and a sauna for personal hygiene. They may be a permanent home to someone or have been inherited and only used as a weekend home now.
Once happily arrived at their lauki, many Latvians get straight to work tending to the fields and garden, doing essential repair works, getting the pirts or sauna on the go. If visiting relatives, home cooked meals are among the most awaited moments of the weekend. The hosts will have prepared a feast.
Days pass quickly in the countryside. In spring, seeds are sewn and in summer and autumn the fruits of this labour have to be reaped. Kartupeļu talkas or potato picking weekends are a big deal with any helpers gladly welcomed. When the hard workers can take a breather, they swim, sunbathe, cook, cycle, hike and indulge in other outdoor pastimes. A local market visit might be on the agenda too. Find popular farmers’ markets in Straupe, Ieriķi and elsewhere.
On Sunday evening the hordes of relaxed and rejuvenated Rigans make their way back to the city, cars piled high with baskets and buckets of homegrown fruit and veg, freshly foraged wild mushrooms and berries, homemade dairy goods and other treats.
In winter, the frequency of lauki visits is lower due to practical reasons like heavy snow and icy roads, a lack of proper heating in country homes, no work to be done in the house and garden, and darkness falling at a much earlier hour.
Nonetheless, visiting the countryside in the winter is highly recommended. Snow-covered scenery, tobogganing, cross country skiing, thick woollen socks, a roaring fireplace and hot blackcurrant juice with a dash of Riga Black Balsam make for a charming weekend retreat.
Ask a fellow Rigan to join them for a weekend. If it’s a bit too soon to be inviting yourself over, wait until Jāņi or Midsummer in June when invitations are handed out liberally. “Braucam uz laukiem!” (Let’s go to the countryside!)