No trip is complete without having a bit of fun! Our final two days in Riga were spent exploring the city. We conquered the competitions, additional performances and the awards ceremonies were behind us. It was time to enjoy our surroundings and enrich our experience by immersing ourselves further into the Latvian culture.
On Sunday July 20, we gathered for breakfast in the hotel. After breakfast, we walked to the center of what is considered “Old Riga.” We boarded small tourist buses with audio voiceovers to explain the history of the sites we saw along the way. The buildings in Old Riga date back as far as the 13th-18th centuries. The intricate architecture was stunning, and nothing like many of us had ever seen. As we traveled on the cobblestone roads, we waved to other tourists and natives along the way, and took several pictures. Some of the most beautiful buildings include the House of Blackheads and the Dom Cathedral.
Once our tour was over, we met in the center of Old Riga. We listened to a young Latvian girl sing and play a string instrument. She sang several songs as people gathered around her and gave euros for her beautiful talents. Before long, several people began approaching our group, recognizing us as a choir that had just participated in the World Choir Games. They asked for a song, and VOUYC agreed. The choir sang several songs in the center of the market square, and their voices angelically echoed throughout the town. Once they finished, they were rewarded with a great applause from several onlookers.
When the singing was over, the group broke up into their smaller chaperone groups to have lunch at McDonald’s and then to do some shopping in the local markets, stores and malls. After a long day of shopping and walking the city of Riga, it was time to head back to the hotel for dinner and then to bed.
We spent our last full day in Latvia on the beach in a city called Jurmala, just off the coast of the Baltic Sea. Monday July 21 was the perfect day to spend at the beach. We took a bus into the city, which took about 45 minutes. As we approached the beach, we saw several beautiful beach homes, resorts, restaurants and a water park. The group enjoyed walking in the sparkling sand, laying in the sun, wading in the Baltic Sea and taking paddle boat rides. It was the perfect way to relax after such a long, eventful week. When we left the beach, we took the rest of the evening to prepare for our long trip home the next day.
We woke up early the next morning and gathered for breakfast with our dear friend, Liva. Mr. White stood and made a presentation to her on the behalf of the entire travel group. We presented her with a notebook full of personally written notes from everyone in the group, as well as 200 euros. Liva volunteered her time, even for our last two days after the World Choir Games had ended, to spend time with the Voices of Unity Youth Choir. She even sacrificed time with family and friends to be with us. She was the perfect person to have as our guide during this journey, and she quickly became one of the family. After the presentation, with several teary eyes in the room, Liva presented us with a gift as well! We received special sweet treats, and a book about the Song and Dance Festival in Latvia, in which she danced last year. We exchanged hugs before it was time to gather our luggage and meet in the lobby to go to the airport.
Nearly an hour later, the entire group was in the lobby with their luggage, ready to board the bus to go to the airport. The closer we got to the airport, the heavier our hearts became, as we were sad to leave our new friends behind. It was hard to say goodbye, but we took several memories home with us. This trip was a trip of a lifetime for many of us. One we will never forget!