Latvia is a relatively peaceful, sparsely populated country on the East coast of the Baltic Sea. Lutheranism is the most popular brand of Christianity, the main religion of Latvia, due to historical ties with nearby Scandinavian countries. The climate is temperate, and plains, hills, and rivers make up most of the terrain. Agriculture takes up about 29% of available land. Organic farming is on the rise. Industries like manufacturing and real estate are big. Financial growth was proceeding apace, and then the country's economy took a nosedive in early 2009. It has been recovering since then. Latvia's environmental policies have ranked second-best in the world behind only Switzerland, and some species endangered elsewhere thrive here: the black stork, the corncrake, the lesser spotted eagle, the white-backed woodpecker, the crane, the Eurasian beaver, the Eurasian otter, the European wolf, and the European lynx. See the great outdoors at Venta Rapid in Kuld─½ga which has great waterfalls, or ─Âemeri National Park with its natural mineral springs and lakes that were once lagoons of the Littorina Sea. The large Central Market in Riga may have been around since 800 years ago, although it has moved locations several times. An eerie former prison in Liep─üja offers overnight stays for the brave (or foolhardy, depending on your perspective). The traditional Latvian diet is a well-balanced mix of fresh local foods, so it is not unusual to have vegetable soup, meat, dairy, and a fermented drink all in the same meal. Wheat and barley are major cereal crops. J─ü┼åu siers is a caraway cheese often eaten in the summertime. Soups often contain beets or sorrel, mushrooms can be eaten pickled, and cabbage is made into sauerkraut and then sauteed. Aukstais galds is the Latvian version of a smorgasbord. Raw organic or, yes, Latvian Ayurvedic food, can be found at restaurants, and natural foods shops in Riga carry organic provisions. If you get a wild hair, you can go out for some Balzam liqueur, or just buy a bottle of this herbal drink. Mix it with black currant juice for a taste treat!

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