I first lived in Latvia as a diplomat between 1996 and 1999. A few years after Latvia regained independence from the crumbling Soviet Union. I returned to live in Latvia in 2022. This podcast series is based on my personal observation and experience, together with some history and comparisons with my home country of England, on aspects of life in Latvia and things to see and experience.
Latvia is a nation that loves sport. it has achieved outstanding sporting success. We will examine that success. We will look at the most popular sports in Latvia, some Latvian sporting heroes, and share some of the proud glory from 2023’s success in ice hockey and basketball. Above all, I wanted to discover why this small country was so good at certain sports. Thanks for listening!
03/12/2023 • 45 minutes 8 seconds
On the Suiti
The Suiti are a 400-year-old ethnic Latvian group. They are Catholic people in the centre of the Kurzeme region in western Latvia, surrounded by Lutherans. They preserved their culture over the years by never marrying someone from a different ethnic group or religion. This has resulted in the Suiti developing distinct traditions. The Suiti are creative people with fantastic fabric designs. Their culture has been recognised internationally by UNESCO.We explore Alsunga and find out more about the Suiti: their traditions, culture, textiles and costumes, and drone singing and bagpipes. Thanks for listening!
22/11/2023 • 32 minutes 7 seconds
On the Latvian who made pigs fly
Anatole ‘Tony’ Lapine lived a dream to be a great car designer. He was chief designer at Porsche for nearly 20 years, one of only four chief designers at the car maker since it was founded exactly 75 years ago. He had a hand in shaping some of the most impressive and iconic sports cars ever. Despite being a refugee from war-torn Latvia, his story is a remarkable one of ambition backed up by hard work, a bit of luck and a sense of humour.Let’s explore his story, look at the cars he designed for Porsche and marvel at the pink Porsche racing car with its body painted like a butcher’s drawing of the parts of a pig, which was recently displayed at Riga Motor Museum in an exhibition in his honour. Anatole ‘Tony’ Lapine, the Latvian who made pigs fly. Thanks for listening!
28/10/2023 • 36 minutes 11 seconds
On a bright weekend at the end of September, I went to Kuldīga. The town was buzzing with people, strolling the cobbled streets, sitting at cafes, walking down to the waterfall. The small electric tourist buses were full. Why? Kuldīga had been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list a few weeks beforehand. In tourism terms, that is a huge thing.We will look at Kuldīga's journey to gain this designation. We will explore what you can see and do in Kuldīga. Come with me to Kuldīga, the small, unspoilt and beautifully preserved town in the west of Latvia. Thanks for listening!
17/10/2023 • 34 minutes 31 seconds
Ķemeri is a former resort in Latvia. It has seen many highs, like being regarded as an outstanding spa of the Russian Empire, rebuilt to be one of the finest resorts in the Baltics during Latvia’s first independence, and later developed into a sanatorium for the Soviet elite during the Russian occupation. To the lows of being destroyed during the World Wars or from neglect. When Latvia regained independence in the 1990s, it was practically abandoned.A love of hydrangeas took me there in 2023. I was amazed to find this wonderful space of sculpted park and history on Riga’s doorstep. Join me as we explore Ķemeri and its rich history. Thanks for listening!
02/10/2023 • 33 minutes 50 seconds
On an artist, Edgars Valdmanis
In the 1990s, while working as a diplomat in Latvia, I bought three paintings by the artist Edgars Valdmanis. I found the first one in a gallery in Rīga’s old town. It is a landscape with trees in the pointillism impressionist style. Soon, I had my second and third paintings from this artist. The third one, a winter scene complimenting my spring and summer paintings, won an award in Latvia. Fast forward 25 years, and I still have the three paintings. I wanted to learn more about the artist and his art style. That is the topic of this episode, on the trail of an artist, Edgars Valdmanis. Thanks for listening!
21/09/2023 • 26 minutes 56 seconds
On film and animation
Latvia has a rich history in film and animation making. It is also re-emerging as a significant industry. Latvia is the choice location for many European and UK films. I will take you on a tour of Latvia’s Cinevilla studio. We will explore the history of Latvian film and animation and discover a few fascinating characters. We will visit the Latvian Film Museum in Riga and talk to the Head of the Museum about the importance of film and animation in the cultural life of Latvia. Thanks for listening!
08/09/2023 • 37 minutes 20 seconds
Latgale is Latvia's easternmost region and the country's poorest. It is a region of contrasts, with some distinct cultural differences from the rest of Latvia. For example, while most of Latvia is Lutheran, Latgale is predominantly Roman Catholic. The region’s history helps explain the religious differences in Latgale and its ethnic diversity. I spoke to Aldis Pušpurs to find out more about Latgale and Latgalians and to Father Guntars Skutels, a young Roman Catholic priest, for his perspective on Latgale. You will also learn about places to visit in the region. Thanks for listening!
26/08/2023 • 29 minutes 27 seconds
On St. Saviour's
St. Saviour’s Church is in the old town of Rīga. It is an Anglican parish church, part of the Church of England. It was founded on British soil, shipped to Latvia in 1857, and built with British red bricks. It has a fascinating history, from being made by British businessmen in Rīga for wayward British sailors, to being closed down as a church during the Soviet Russian occupation and becoming a student disco, to reforming when Latvia regained independence as a church for an English-speaking congregation. We will look at its remarkable history and talk to its chaplain. And meet the church cat, Grācija. Thanks for listening!
14/08/2023 • 22 minutes 39 seconds
On the Livs
The Livonians, or Livs, are an indigenous ethnic group in Latvia. They were one of the first nations to settle in what is now modern-day Latvia. They speak a different language, yet only 30 people can now converse in it fluently. Few people outside of Latvia, and many people living in Latvia, are unaware of the Livonians. We will get to know this wonderful ethnic group. I speak to the Chairperson of the Livonian Union to get an insight into the Livonian language, culture and history. Thanks for listening!
28/07/2023 • 38 minutes 36 seconds
On Song and Dance
The Latvian Song and Dance Festival is probably the most important Latvian cultural event. Held every five years and started 150 years ago, 40,560 singers and dancers and a 500,000 audience joined events in Riga in July 2023. We look at this phenomenon and explore interesting aspects of the festival like the food served to participants, how environmentally friendly it is, what the police were up to, and love and dance. Thanks for listening!
14/07/2023 • 25 minutes 44 seconds
On Jāņi, midsummer
Midsummer is the biggest annual celebration in Latvia. Bigger than Christmas or Easter. As with many Latvian traditions, it is pagan in origin. It involves oak leaf or flower garlands, a special cheese, plenty of beer, fire and singing, and witches! I’ll tell you about the origins of this celebration. I’ll share my experience of participating in Jāņi. An Englishman’s guide on how to enjoy Jāņi. Thanks for listening!
17/06/2023 • 20 minutes 31 seconds
On George Armitstead, Mayor of Riga
George Armitstead was an engineer, entrepreneur and the fourth Mayor of Rīga. He is fondly remembered in Latvia for turning the city into a modern European capital. The city flourished under his management between 1901 -12. He was also British. I want to share his interesting story with you. We will go on a hunt around Rīga for memorials dedicated to him. We will also visit Jaunmoku, 70 km from Rīga, to discover his connections to the palace. Thanks for listening!
31/05/2023 • 35 minutes 15 seconds
On wetland bogs
Approximately 10% of Latvian territory is peatland, and 5% is wetland mires - bogs or fens. These mires act as carbon sinks and play a massive role in helping to reduce the impact of climate change. We explore two bogs and one wetland lake with fens to find out more about these beautiful wetland mires. Thanks for listening!
18/05/2023 • 33 minutes 48 seconds
On the coronation
On 6 May 2023, King Charles III and Queen Camilla were crowned King and Queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth in a coronation. How was this event marked in Latvia, and what does it mean for British-Latvian relations? I report from the British Ambassador’s coronation celebration at Latvia’s National Library. I make the official coronation dish at home in Rīga, albeit with a Latvian twist. We look at King Charles’ past visits to Latvia. And include some amusing stories on Britain and the coronation. Thanks for listening!
07/05/2023 • 29 minutes 10 seconds
On fashion and knitting
Latvia has a long tradition in fashion, from stories from ancient times of knitted mitts and folk costumes to Latvia being the centre of fashion in the Soviet Union during the Riga Fashion House era, and to the present day - holding the only fashion week in the Baltics. In this episode, we will explore folklore and traditions, and end with a wonderfully rich discussion with a former top Latvian model. Thanks for listening!
29/04/2023 • 35 minutes 1 second
Latvia is a country full of traditions. Easter is no exception. We will explore the origins and practice of colouring eggs, swinging, and beating each other with willow catkins, for a slightly different take on typical European Easter celebrations. Plus, superstitions and stories of ghosts and witches. Thanks for listening!
07/04/2023 • 20 minutes 20 seconds
On beaches and forests
Latvia’s natural landscape is characterised by its forests and seascape. Nearly 53% of Latvia is forested and it has 504 km of sandy coastline. I tell a few stories about these natural features and recommend my favourite beaches and forests to visit. I also interview a hunter about forest management and conservation. Thanks for listening!
31/03/2023 • 32 minutes 53 seconds
On language and integration
In this episode I explore the connection between the Latvian language and integration. We look at the challenges that Latvia has faced in integrating its Soviet Russian population and implementing a one official language policy. I interview my Latvian language teacher to find out who is learning Latvian. I also interview my Brazilian friend who loves Latvia and intends to gain Latvian citizenship. Thanks for listening!
09/03/2023 • 39 minutes 40 seconds
What is it like to live and travel in Latvia? An Englishman in Latvia is my story-telling and reportage podcast. Please give it a listen on your favourite podcast platform.Thanks for listening!
06/03/2023 • 31 seconds
On health, wealth and education
A country's health, wealth and education levels are three of the most important socioeconomic indicators. Latvia has done much to improve these factors over the last two decades. In this episode, I will give my observations on the present state of these indicators in Latvia, with some stories to illustrate my views and the occasional comparison with my home country of Britain. I interviewed a Latvian doctor to discuss health, looked at some banking scandals and interviewed my eight-year-old son about his education. Thanks for listening!
25/02/2023 • 34 minutes 51 seconds
On food and drink
In the episode, I explore the cuisine of Latvia. I visit the largest market in Europe. I tell the stories of two Latvian chefs. We taste a few Latvian food and drink products, like Birzī sap, smoked fish and Getlini tomatoes - that are grown using waste. I also countdown through my list of ten important dishes in Latvian cuisine. Labu apetiti! Thanks for listening!
11/02/2023 • 38 minutes 22 seconds
On driving in Latvia
In this episode, I describe what it is like to drive in Latvia. We explore why Latvia has a high road accident mortality rate and what the authorities are doing to address that. I recommend some great drives and three campsites to stay at. I also visited the Riga Motor Museum and saw its excellent collection of Soviet-era vehicles. Thanks for listening!
27/01/2023 • 25 minutes 8 seconds
On animals, birds and plants
In this episode, I talk about the animals, birds and plants that to me characterise Latvia. I will tell their stories. Things that have either amazed or amused me. Two animals, two birds and two plants.We look at cats, and their historical significance in Latvia; lizards, the Latvian animal of the year for 2023; the thrush nightingale, bird of the year 2023; storks and the folklore around them, but also discuss the endangered black stork; the marsh fern and its significance as a fertility symbol; and hydrangeas everywhere. Thanks for listening!
15/01/2023 • 28 minutes 23 seconds
On New Year's Eve
In this episode, I explore how Latvians celebrate New Year's Eve. I tell stories connected to New Year's Eve from present-day Latvia, the Latvia I worked in as a diplomat in the 1990s, and also stories from living in Moscow in the 1980s. We look at fireworks, drink and food. Also some traditions from the 18th and 20th Centuries. And, of course, how Latvians will celebrate this New Year's Eve 2022/23. Thanks for listening!
31/12/2022 • 13 minutes 58 seconds
On castles and invaders
Over its history, the territory of present-day Latvia has been occupied or settled on by people from many foreign countries. This podcast tells the story of these past invaders and the castles, and other monuments, that they built. I visit the Occupation Museum in Riga. I tell the story of the Minox spy camera. I tell the tales of two castles, including a ghostly visitor and the possible Latvian origins of the Crocodile Dundee film. Thanks for listening!
18/12/2022 • 34 minutes 17 seconds
It is December, minus 10 degrees Celsius in Riga and snow lies on the ground. Christmas is coming! In this episode I visit the Christmas market in Riga. I explore Latvian Christmas traditions, like the nine things you need to eat on Christmas Eve, how trees are decorated, and the ceremony around giving presents. Thanks for listening!
10/12/2022 • 12 minutes 10 seconds
On memories of living and working in Latvia as a diplomat in the 1990s
In this episode, I reflect on what it was like to live and work in Latvia as a diplomat in the 1990s. I look at some of the issues on regaining independence. The changes that were happening in shopping habits, in the restaurant scene, in culture and popular music. In sports, in the economy and in crime. I also share experiences of being a diplomat visiting a condensed milk processing factory to attending the inauguration of Latvia's first female President. Telling a few stories along the way from the 1990s. Thanks for listening!