And so it began. I dragged myself out of bed early on Sunday morning and caught the bus to Ainazi, the last town in Latvia before the Estonian border. Bravely volunteering to come with me was Antra, who runs her own geneaology site (link here.)
Rain had been forecast, but the day was fine so far. 16 with sunny periods. Perfect weather for walking. The bus journey was pretty uneventful. I kept my ear to the radio to see if I could hear any walking songs, but Chris Rea with “my world is miles of endless roads” was as close as it got. Around Salacgriva, the bus emptied, making it effectively a private journey from then on.
With both of us only having slept a few hours, and the bus journey lasting nearly 2 and a hlaf hours, we agreed that coffee would be the main thing after hitting Ainazi. We headed for what seemed the town’s only cafe, the aptly, but unimaginatively named “Robeza” (Border cafe.)
An Estonian border guard was ahead of us and order a double (50ml) balzam (43% alcohol content.) It was 12:10. I guess illegal immigration isn’t a big factor in these parts.
The cafe itself wasn’t bad. I saw much worse in my Riga wanderings. I especially liked the wallpaper, which seemed to be an engraved version of The American Declaration of Independence. Who knew such class existed this far out?
The border seemed to be the main thing. Since the entry into Schengen less than a decade ago, it’s mostly unmanned now. Given the alcoholic nature of the border guards, probably a good thing.
The journey between there and the cafe is an uneventful one. The main thing, oddity if you like, was a lighthouse stuck in the middle of a field, a long distance from the sea. The field wasn’t even elevated, it was at sea level, so I didn’t get this one.
Ainazi is the first settlement of any size on my travels. Located 116 km from Riga, Ainazi has seen better days. Once a thriving port and ship-building centre, it declined after the port was bombed in both world wars so that today its sole claim to fame is its location beside the border.
Directly behind me in the pic above is the path to the sea along Ainazi’s north pier. It’s a pretty picturesque, if somewhat lonely, walk to the sea. First along a raised wooden path through marshland, then a stone path through the fields.
The coastal part itself was mostly deserted, apart from a couple of people walking their dogs.
The plan had been to head along the coast, but here it wasn’t possible, as the ground near the sea was wet and muddy and further along there were some private areas which we’d have to swim around. Not fancying that option, we made a decision to head inland and pick up the coast later.
Another winding wooden path took us inland and had a monument, giving us the excuse to add a cultural touch to our travels.
And here it is. the Baltā Saule monument, built in 1998…
and nearby, a sign told us all we needed to know about Ainazi’s seaside
including the fact that Ainazi doesn’t do proofreading. I see that a lot with official signs around Latvia… can’t they get some native speaker to look over them before printing? It doesn’t cost that much (my fees are reasonable…. cough….) and looks amateurish if they don’t.
So, we’d come to the end of Ainazi, with Antra’s distance app informing us that we’d already done 5.5 km. We’d initially planned to get as far as Svetciems, but with the last bus leaving at 18:40, that was looking highly doubtful. The roads along here were long, straight and empty, with the odd lorry rumbling past.
Finally, we stumbled on a rest point: Plavas restaurant. The original plan had been to wait until we got to Salacgriva and eat, but my stomach was starting to say otherwise and we’d already covered 10 km, so it was time for a pit stop.
Now for an interlude.
A word needs to be said about service in Latvia. While it’s improved slightly in the last 10 years, it’s still utterly awful. Staff seem to receive no training at all and often have the personality of a piece of wood. A typical entry to a Latvian establishment usually goes this way…..
A young girl is standing somewhere near the tills. (Waiting staff in Latvia are never aged over 20 and 90% of them are female.) She looks up, sees you, grunts, then resumes the all important task of folding napkins, adding them to the millions in the pile which, since few people ever visit this
craphole establishment, will probably not be used until the year 2023. Another waitress passes you, carrying a plate. She returns, passing you twice, carrying a single glass, seemingly believing that multitasking is a computer programming language. She heads behind the bar and checks her mobile, breaking into her only smile of the day as she checks her messages. She then proceeds to flirt with the bartender. (90% of bar tenders in Latvia are male. Latvian women are apparently incapable of pouring one or two liquids into a glass.)
Frustrated, you look round and spot a third waitress, who pointedly ignores you. You stand up and wave with both arms at the bar. The girl flirting and checking her phone grunts at the napkin folder, who, after spending a further 2 minutes ensuring the Great Pyramid of Napkins is in order, slouches over. She throws 2 menus on the table and immediately takes out a notepad and starts staring at you expectantly and impatiently, even though you haven’t even opened them.
At this point, aside from losing the will to live, there are 2 options if you decide to stay. The instinctive one is to tell her you need a few minutes. Bad move! This will result in her disappearing for 20 minutes. Be advised that the compromise option of requesting drinks while you think doesn’t work. She’ll still disappear for 20 minutes or, like the lovely lass in Ganbei last year, will bark “DRINKS LATER!” in a stacatto tone. The smart option is to quickly open the menu and place the order. Only then can you be assured of getting your food some time before Christmas.
Plavas went very much like that, without the napkin folder. In fairness, the interior was good and the food was worth the wait, but there’s a lot that can improve in the service department.
We hit the road again, well fed and watered, but it turned out that the break wasn’t the best of ideas. The rain hit hard and we slogged along, deciding to stay on the road rather than the beach, as at least the road had a pavement.
We were very glad when finally we got to the promised land:
Salacgrīva has been around quite a while. Over 1500 years in fact, as a port on the Salaca river. It’ll be familiar to anyone who’s ever gone by bus from Riga to Tallinn. With the rain and the last bus of the day to Riga due to leave within 40 minutes, we didn’t have much time to enjoy it, as we were in a rush to find the bus stop. However, along the way we did see
with the latter looking a bit dull in the rain.
Antra’s app read
Subtracting the 2.8 km she’d walked, that meant 20.5 km covered on the first walk. Even if I didn’t get to Svetciems and the rain dampened things, I was pretty happy with the start.
Salacgriva is the starting point for the next one this weekend, so maybe I’ll get to see more of the place.