An anticipatory hush fell over the crowd as the deep voice boomed through the sound system. The ceremony was about to start. Seconds later, officials strode past scores of saluting military as music–we guessed it was the national anthem–played. Toddlers sat atop their parents’ shoulders, the elderly leaned on canes. Many waved sticks with tiny flags attached, and held candles and torches, glowing in the early evening darkness. Before long, people fell into place in an orderly parade that moved slowly across the Daugava River from Old Town. We were in Riga, Latvia, on Lāčplēša diena, known as Veterans Day in the United States.

Later Keith and I stopped at a kiosk to try black balsam, a traditional, herb-infused Latvian liqueur that’s been around since 1752. Added to hot water and garnished with a cinnamon stick, it was a tad medicinal, but warming and delicious.

Church bells tolled as we sipped, while inside a nearby restaurant a band played pop music and people dined on local favorites like traditional dark rye bread laced with butter and garlic. Click here for a taste of the action.

Why were we in Latvia? Keith and I had visited and fallen in love with Riga a few years ago on our trip to Russia and the Baltic States. So when we learned a Women in Travel Summit (WITS) was to be held there, we were on it. Affordability was key, and, happy to say, achievable. Finnair flights were inexpensive, and as we would later discover, offered superb service. I also contacted Hotel Gutenbergs, where we had stayed the last time. Housed in a historic 400-year-old building, the hotel offers charming rooms at affordable rates. It’s truly a place where old world elegance meets new world convenience. Ever-present front desk man (and archaeologist) Levs was a treasure to us and all the hotel guests.

Next time: A walking tour of Riga and the lure of countryside manor houses.