Despite the piles of paperwork and never ending fundraising, I'd do it over and over again because my son is SO worth it!! Adoption is no doubt time consuming, stressful, and expensive, but the rewards far outweigh any of that. The minute you see the look on a child's face and know the relief they feel that someone finally loves them, you will totally understand what I'm saying!!
Besides the obvious, there is another added perk to adoption: traveling!! Many countries require you to stay in country for at least a week, sometimes longer, so getting to experience your child's native country with them is SO much fun! We had the privilege of staying in Latvia with our son for 28 days. Seriously the most beautiful country ever!!
When I say we had endless things to do, I really mean it! The day we left there was still places I would have liked to go. The coolest but most humbling experience of all was Mac's orphanage. It was 2 hours from Riga(the capitol), down a long gravel road, back in the middle of the woods. The kids were running around dirty and their clothes were spoiled, but they were happy!! Mac's orphanage is an exception. Their teachers may not have been able to give them the nicest things, but the kids were loved and for that I am grateful!
One of the highlights of the trip was Old Riga!! It's the original area of Riga before it was expanded in the 19th century. It's famous for its old churches and cathedrals. It's filled with cobblestone roads and different colored buildings; exactly what you picture when you think of a traditional European look! One of the highlights of our trip was going to the top of St. Peter's Cathedral! The picture above is the view from the top. Breathtaking!!
Riga City Festival
We were fortunate enough to be in Riga when the Riga City Festival was going on. Oh my, so much fun!! There were so many activities going on all around the city! Sporting events, car shows, activities in the parks, food galore, games set up for kids to play, fireworks, and the list goes on. Pictured above is just a few of the activities my children got to do in Esplanade Park.
Riga Movie Theater
You haven't been to the movie theater until you've gone to the theater in Riga!! There is an entire floor dedicated to snacks!! Rows and rows of candy are offered plus countless flavors of popcorn!! Ice cream, chips, pop, juice, even a beer fountain; it's safe to say it took us awhile to decide!! There were bean bags to sit in while you were waiting for your show, and the seats in the theater were huge and plush! We loved the movie theater in Riga. :)
Parks, parks, and more parks!
Most evenings you could find us at a park somewhere. There are parks on every corner!! Full of trees, ponds, and ducks! Our nightly activity was to take a loaf of bread to the pond near our apartment and feed the ducks. Such a simple thing but our kids looked forward to it every night.
Art Nouveau District
We stayed in the Art Nouveau district, and it did not disappoint! The architecture was AMAZING!! Flowers galore! Quaint little cafes on the corners! We were disappointed at first that we weren't staying in Old Riga, but that quickly ended because we loved the area. Lots of fountains and of course, parks! We ate at a little cafe in the area often and pretty much always ordered pancakes and ice cream because it was the only thing that tasted a little like home. Oh the food...more on that later!
The Baltic Sea
You might not think of beaches when you think of Northern Europe, but we had a blast at the Baltic Sea! It was quite the adventure actually. We had to figure out how to take the train to where the beach was, and we were SO confused. Normally there was always English speakers around to explain things to us but for whatever reason, they weren't riding the train that day! Thankfully, we managed to find the right train, but the adventure was only beginning! When the train would stop, you would only have a minute to hop off before the doors shut and away it went. The problem was we didn't understand how to read the map in Latvian! It all worked out in the end, and we managed to make it to the beach without too many mishaps.
When we got off the train, it was a little walk to the beach. Oooh, the flowers!! Every color imaginable and everywhere you looked!! My kids were thrilled as you can imagine with the many pictures I wanted to take of them with all the flowers. They were much happier when we reached the beach! Pretty sand and lots of play equipment!! The water was a little chilly, but you know that didn't stop my kids! Probably the most memorable part of the trip was the lack of clothing the Latvians chose to wear. Apparently, swimsuits are optional for kids and speedos are quite popular! You can imagine the questions my kids asked. ;)
If you know our family, you'll know we LOVE waterparks!! We were thrilled to find out one of the largest water parks in the Baltics was just a short train ride away from us in Jurmala. Omg, the train again! At least at this point we knew what we were doing so it went a little smoother.
It doesn't get very hot in Latvia so they have a different opinion on what "swimming weather" is than us. This particular water park was both inside and outside. It was the coolest water park I've ever been too! SO different! We went on a day when it was 65 degrees outside so we had a blast on the indoor part of the park because all the Latvians were swimming outside! It was like a heat wave for them!
Riga Central Market
While we did many, many cool things, my personal favorite was the Riga Central Market. It's the largest market in Europe and is made up of 5 old German hangars. There are over 3,000 trade stands! Each building has a different type of food they are selling. For example, one building sells all meat. Fruit, vegetables, breads, desserts, clothing, candy, and flowers are just some of the items you can barter for there. The prices are very reasonable so we often bought food. The homemade donuts that were made right in front of us were delish!!
Using the restroom in Riga is quite the experience! Weirdly enough, it isn't free! When we tried to use the restroom at the market, we had to pay. When we walked in, a lady was sitting behind a screen. We gave her some money, and she gave us a roll of toilet paper. My kids have never forgotten this! :)
The food...and I use this term loosely!
By this point, it's pretty evident I'm a big fan of Latvia! However, there was one thing we could not get used too; the food!! We cooked at home often because going out to eat in Latvia is so different than America. The main foods in Latvia are cabbage, beets, potatoes, bread, cold soups, and pork. Even when we ordered a hamburger, unless we were at McD's, it tasted different!! I probably ate more at McDonald's in Latvia than I have my entire life at home. There were a few differences though. One of the hardest things to get used too was paying for water and condiments. My kids used that as a bargaining tool. "If we have to pay for water and pop both, might as well get pop!"
Wylie had the funniest experience though!(He may disagree!) He wanted mayo on his hamburger, and the workers at McD's refused! They said they weren't allowed to put mayo on hamburgers so he'd have to choose between ketchup and mustard. It infuriated him every time! Each time we went he tried to convince them, and they never relented!
If we weren't at McD's, you'd find us at Lido(imagine Golden Corral or Ryan's). All the food was out, and we would just walk through the line picking out what we wanted. The girls and I consistently ate pancakes and strawberries with whipped cream, Wylie found a chicken dish he liked, and of course, Mac ate all the traditional Latvian food. There were many Lidos all over the city, but there was one called "Big Lido" that had an amusement park attached to it. It was cool because we were able to go there to play with another American family adopting a boy from Mac's orphanage!!
I'll never forget the first time we ate out in Latvia. We had driven 2 hours to pick up Mac the first day we were there, had court, and were starving/exhausted when we were done. There was a little hole in the wall restaurant our lawyer took us too. In Latvia, it's apparently rather good, but we did not share their sentiment. We had to choose between chicken or pork and then cabbage or french fries. Water wasn't even an option to order!! Pop or tea were our only selections. We also didn't eat nearly as much ketchup as we normally would because it cost!! We hadn't had a chance to exchange our money yet, and they didn't accept credit cards. It was a very eye-opening first day!
This and that
Some other highlights of our trips included the zoo, the SEVEN malls in Riga(maybe I was the only one who enjoyed this!), the Daugava river beach day, and dinner at our lawyers home. She fixed us a delicious meal!
There are so many other adventures I could share with ya'll! I'm so thankful my whole family could experience it together. While this was truly the trip of a lifetime, it wasn't because of all the sights we saw. It was because we gained a son that God designed just for us. Mac may not be biologically ours, but he is the perfect fit for our family! I encourage you to pray about how you can be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth. He protects the fatherless and defends the poor, and we are expected to do the same. Consider adoption; consider changing a child's life forever. I promise they won't be the only one changed for the better! :)
"Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed." Psalm 82:3