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Latvia
 

 
country summary

 

We entered Latvia in the second week of July in scorching hot weather. We had three nights rest in the capital city, Riga, before heading North along the coast to Estonia.

 

 
map

 

 

 
entry & visas

 

We entered Latvia from Lithuania had a 10 minute delay whilst they checked our passports - more due to computer problems than careful scrutiny of our photos and signatures.

Terry was eventually happy with a border crossing (just before we lost 20 lv's by the toilet attendant)

language

Latvian, as Lithuanian, is an Indo-European language. But the particularity in this country is that there are 40% Russian speakers. We need to accelerate our Russian lessons!

 

camping

The campsite in Riga turned out to be a bit of scorched grass surrounded by heras fencing, behind some industrial units. As it was 30 degrees C and bright sunshine and not a spot of shade to be seen we decided to give it a miss and ended up in a youth hostel.

Apart from that the camping situation was much as Lithuania, not many sites and all positioned next to lakes or the coast.

 

 
cycle shops

 

Due to a failing carcass on Terry's Marathon XR rear tyre Terry went in search of a bike shop stocking Schwalbe products - all to no avail. There are a couple of bike shops in Riga and these will be investigated as we leave the city.

cycle routes and maps

We are still using our map of the three Baltic countries (1:750 000 by Falk). Terry can now buy more maps. He found many 1:100 000 local maps. There are no contours, but as the country is flat it has not mattered.

The roads up to Riga are still desperately flat and boring. We hope, for other cyclotourer's sake that they are more interesting by the sea and lakes at the East.

 

 
food & drink

 

We are definitely into the poor bread area. All packaged in plastic and with a sell by date weeks away. It all has an element of sugar added to it.

Still lager everywhere, different names, same colour, same taste. There is evidence of some cider in the bars - but of the sweet variety. Where is all the proper gutrot scrumpy.

Water: people keep telling that tap water is no good for drinking, so we have resorted to buying bottle water. We are still drinking tap water though, and no problem to report.

 

 
weather

 

A guide book for the area said to expect temperatures in the range of 10 -20 degrees C in July. Well we've had three days in Riga all at 30 degrees - absolutely great when you are not woken in a tent by the fierce sunshine every morning.
 

 
medical

 

Nothing to report here, but there are plenty of Aptieka (chemists) on every street.

 

 
flora & fauna

 

Our route from Lithuania to Riga took us through the most heavily cultivated agricultural land in Latvia. It was very flat with an extremely sandy soil (making the off road routes very difficult to contend with). The agriculture was intensive with cereal crops as far as the eye could see. The outcrop of forests would break the monotony and provide some much needed shade.

 

 
graphs & stats

 

 

 
The Latvian Cycle Diary
 

11th July - Kairiai to Eleja in Latvia - 90km

The border crossing was easy. We were just waved off from Lithuania (funny, there was no passport control on our way in either) and there was a quick check on the Latvian side. There were no facilities provided on either side, apart from a toilet lady, who very friendly accepted to change our Lithuanian money to Latvian one. Believe it or not, Isa got off with some Lithuanian money (but 20 Litos less) without realising it straight away. Our first sting, but not a really bad one thankfully! We only found out while trying to get a bit of food for the night when our cash was refused. So here we were late in Latvia, with no money and nowhere to get some!

 

Ex-Communist trains

 

 
 

Russian Orthodox Church in Jegava, nice domes!

 

12th July 2005 - Eleja to Riga - 69 km

More heat, more sun, but we knew we were getting closer to Riga and a couple of days of rest.

Because of our lack of Latvian currency, we had to change our plans and head directly for the town of Jegava rather than visit Bauska and its surroundings that look pretty appealing. Never mind! The town of Jegava has a wealth of churches. All styles are represented and we are feeling more and more than we are approaching Russia. We keep on hearing many "Spassiba" (thank you in Russian) in the streets. In Latvia, there are about 40% of Russian speakers and you can clearly feel it.

Specialist cooking, following Kevin Sofield's carefully guarded secret burger recipe.

 

 
 

We arrived in Riga following the main E77 road. It started out as a big wide (and obviously straight) road and turned as a massive dual carriage way without even a small lane on the side to cycle. Truly hard going, and we were surprised to see some people walking when we came closed to some towns that had been cut through by this main road. But sadly, we also saw a disabled lady wheeling her chair really slowly in the opposite direction to us. We don't know how long she has been on the carriageway and how often she has to do this. Clearly, it is not nice to be disabled in Latvia. We have noticed wheelchairs on the roads in Poland, but never on a dual carriageway. And believe me, that stopped us from winging about the sun, wind and traffic.

 

 

 

A very uneven tan, a good wash required - and some cycling lessons (cycling proficiency badge confiscated)

 

 
 

We reached Riga early in the afternoon. The streets in the suburb were mainly cobbled (cyclist nightmare), so we decided to go for the pavements, which were in quite a state too. Terry did a fantastic skid and fell off his bike in a sandy section next to the road. What a stunt, he had a full set of spectators in the traffic waiting for the lights to change - and the only cheer came from Isa!

 

 
 

 

 
We planned to stay at Riga City Camping. What a disappointing sight! The camping was set in an industrial zone, packed with vans and tents and without a single tree in sight. Actually, nobody was in sight and there were no gates or fences and the toilets were in a containers and it was all too much for us at 14.00 in the afternoon. We needed a good rest in the shadow (all that wild camping makes you quite peaky you see) and we opted for the Youth Hostel.
 
 

13th July 2005 - Chilling out in Riga

The old town of Riga is really really pretty. It is set by the side of the wide river Dagga. Further, there are many beaches and lakes, but we did not have time to check them out. What can we say about it? A wealth of churches and very beautiful and tranquil old streets. There is a lot of Art Nouveau style too and many nice parks. We both liked it very much (and frankly after all the hard cycling and boring landscape from the days before, it was even greater!).

 

 

 

 
 

Stern statue in Riga

 

 

Big churches and domes in Riga

 

 
 

Narrow cobbled streets of Riga

 

 

14th July 2005 - looking at old wooden things next to Riga

On our second day in Riga, we went to visit the Ethnographic Open Air Museum, which display more than a hundred old Latvian buildings.

After a bit of a fight to find the right bus (everything seems deregulated here, with various companies running on the same lines), we were in for a wooden treat. Old wooden farms, barns, bath houses left, right and centre. Truly worth a visit, even though it all got a bit too much for Terry at the end of the afternoon (an ice-cream sorted out his impatience - easy!).

(Right) an old wooden windmill - for the windmill aficionados amongst you it will be obvious that this is a Dutch design, very effective - and includes a dual grindstone for extra wow factor.

 
 

 

 

 

Old churches and buildings in the Open Air Museum

 
 

Art Nouveau in Riga

 

 

And more Art Nouveau

 

 
 

15th July 2005 - Riga to Turaida 77 Km

We really did not fancy following the obvious road up North, which was the Via Baltica following the coast. We had enough wind, straight roads and cars before reaching Riga. We decided to head North-West towards Sigulda, where a few things seem to happen according to our map.

We did not regret it. As we approach the beautiful river Gauja, things started to happen: we saw some beautiful castle ruins in Sigulda, a beautiful renovated brick castle in the next village of Turaida, a proper hill, some cliffs and the biggest cave of the Baltic countries. Don't get too excited, the cave is only quite small, but it was quite thrilling after weeks of total flat landscape. Its sandstone walls are totally covered with graffitis, some from the 17th century.

 

 

Look at that, a valley, hills, rivers and a castle!

 
 

 

 

(Above) Turaida Castle, In England terraced houses are built of the same stuff!

(Right) Castle gate in Sigulda

 
 

After visiting Turaida castle (which conveniently closes at 20.00, great for late visitors like us), we were looking for a camping spot by the river. We met two local men with a massive barking dog and one of them volunteered to show us the way to the camping spot. He jumped on his bike, and off he went straight down the hill at a fair pace. We were quite impressed by his speed as we were struggling with the very sandy track.

This is before we witnessed the most impressive bike skidding we ever saw and an almighty face-first fall in the sand. The man has crashed so badly, we just could not believe what has just happened. But worse of all, he was not moving and not breathing - knocked completely unconcious! Isa ran back to the house of the other man while Terry was performing a recovery position. Braving the huge massive barking dog, Isa found the other man and manage to explain to him what has just happened. And the other man just laughed: "it's okay, he says, my colleague is a bit mad and very drunk, he will be fine" (In Latvian). So we went back down the track again, without haste, to find Terry and the other man very very badly hurt, with his face full of sand and blood. A good lesson for putting you off drink-cycling!

The man did not want any help at all, so we were invited back to his friend Yannis' home for a night in the barn, sleeping in the hay. Yannis later went back to take his friend back home, but apart from this did not seem to worry much about his injuries. Yannis was more interested in our bicycling trip, as he himself went around the whole of the USSR on a moped about twenty years ago. Despite him speaking no English and us talking a bit of Polish and a few words of Russian, we still managed to have a decent conversation about travelling. It is amazing how much you can say with two hands and a few words.

 

 

Nice spot for lunch, a swim and showing a bit too much to the local grumpy fisherman.

 

 
 

 

Would you buy flowers for your loved one from an establishment like this? (note the lack of carrot in the floral arrangement above the door)

 

 

 

 

After three months travelling this particular toilet facility certainly wins the prize for the least appealing. It's spartan facilities are even more impressive when one considers that this is one of the service areas that the Tallinn - Riga coaches stop at to provide their passengers a well earned rest.

 
 

16th July 2005 - Turaida to Kabli (Estonia) 137 km

Gosh, this was a long day! We started at 8.00 (early for us) after saying good-bye to Yannis. The road was lovely, swirling, gently up and down. We passed the main town on Limbazi and found a lovely lake for a bit of lunch and a bit of a swim. By then we had already covered 80 km. For the first time in the Baltic, the wind has finally been with us! In the afternoon, we followed the lovely river valley of Salaca before re-joining the Via Baltica on the coast. Clouds were then seriously starting to gather up. We briefly met a French cyclotourist, Nicolas, before heaven opened on us and we retreated in a bus shelter.

We could not believe that after weeks of sometimes too hot weather, rain has chosen to fall on the very day when we finally reached the Baltic sea! We had a long and wet stop at Ainazi, before the border crossing and braving the rain again!

 

Fancy a day at the seaside?

 

 

     

 
For more information or questions please contact us at isaetterry@mac.com