RB#9&10: Civilisation: Riga and Jurmala

I’m going to slip into full British/Irish mode now and talk about the weather for a bit. The weather in Latvia often follows predictable patterns in Summer. To start, there’s a really nice period from the second or third week of May lasting until the first week of June. This has people raving about how they heard it on some blog/forum/programme that the coming summer will be the warmest ever. I never take such long term forecasts seriously, as June normally brings people down to earth with a bang. The first few weeks of June are usually rubbish, with rain and grey skies dominating until after the midsummer festival on 23-24 June. The weather usually goes through a good period until the third week of August, with sunshine and only a few days of rain. Late August until the first week of September gets yukky, before giving way to the “atvasara” the Indian summer, which can last a week or two before the full horrors of the true end of summer dawn.

This year, it was almost like June and August were reversed in the usual scheme of things. June was unusually good and August has been unusually horrible, with the first 3 weeks seeing constant rain, grey skies and temperatures in the 17-20 degrees range. As a result, my trips took a bit of a hiatus after the walk through Riga on Sunday 24 July, as thereafter, trudging through mushy beaches and forests didn’t appeal.

We’d picked up on the other side of the Daugava, at Daugavgriva.I’ve blogged before about this area, in the Russian, forgotten zone of Riga and how it has some kind of weird appeal to me. As well, as a fort, river views and Stalinist bars and commie tower blocks, Daugavgriva also boasts a beach, though its one that is far less popular than its rivals at Jurmala and Vecaki. The route to the beach goes through some typical Daugavgriva backstreets, with bins overflowing with vodka bottles.

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However, Daugie does retain its hidden charms and one of them is its beach, accessed through a nature park.

It’s quite weird to see this nature, with the backdrop of Soviet-era tower blocks

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nestling behind the trees. They’ve even constructed a well-paved walkway to access the beach, a significant improvement on some of the overgrown bumpy forest paths I;ve tracked along.

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Civilisation has its advantages!

Despite being a Riga native, Elina told me that this was the first time she’s ever been to Daugie beach and I suspect that that’s common with a lot of Rigans. The beach itself is a bit of a mixed affair. Daugavgriva’s location between two major rivers and consequent currents means that its strictly demarcated into swimming and “non-swimming” areas.

The latter are sparsely populated

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with only a few sunbathers against a backdrop of cargo ships entering and leaving the Daugava.

The swimming bits are packed, especially with locals who can access this easier than Vecaki and Jurmala.

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Locals in this part of the world usually means Russians, similar to Jurmala, but in contrast to Vecaki, which is a more Latvian affair.

Further along, the crowds thin out and give way to yet another nudist beach. Unlike the ones I’ve come across on my previous walks, this one is at least clearly delineated, with sign showing a bikini, so there wasn’t the usual slight shock of an old fat guy suddenly emerging from the bushes with his sausage dangling down.

I did sample its charms, but swimming with no swimming trunks on felt a bit odd, so I was happy enough to dry off and get clothed again.

It was so warm that I’d been padding along just in shorts

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At the end, the beaches give way to the Lielupe (Big river) which, again is uncrossable except by swimming. With so many yachts around,

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it’s undoubtedly dangerous and illegal to do that. We were now in the Bulli area which I’ve blogged about before and its riverview marked the end of this outing.

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For the tenth outing, we picked up where we’d left off across the river.

Jurmala is Riga’s sister town. The unimaginative name translates as “seaside” and the town itself is a playground for tourists, millionaires and playboys, mostly from Russia and neighbouring Russophone countries. To be honest I’ve never really got the place. If I had 2 million to spend on property in a seaside town, Jurmala would be one of the last places I’d choose. You can get the same property for nearly half the price in Spain , where you can use the beach for 6 months of the year. In Jurmala it’s 6-7 weeks. You’d also have access to better seafood and a wider range of nature than the forest, forest, forest which Latvia offers. Just why would you choose Jurmala? I even broached the subject to some former students and they shrugged and said that they could speak Russian there, but that seems a fairly poor reason to me, especially since they all aready spoke 3 or 4 languages. You can easily learn another language in those circumstances and it’s not like there are not Russians in southern European beach towns who you can practice with. Nostalgia is often another reason: they spent their childhood there, but I spent some childhood holidays in Blackpool and am thankful that I now have more choice. It just seems that some people buy property there as a status symbol rather than because it has its own merits. Oh well.

Jurmala starts at the often ignored Ragakapa (Horn Dune) which has a type of forest park not unlike those I’ve walked through on the wilder parts of the coast.

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The beaches around here are empty, as it’s hard to reach on public transport and all of the beaches suffer from the same problem as the other side of the coast: they’re too shallow and require a lot of walking to reach a  decent depth.

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Further along, though, at Bulduri, things pick up and the beaches here are crammed and at least 80% of the people are speaking Russian. The people count peaks around the main beach at Mayori

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which has the backdrop of the Baltic beach hotel, one of the more imaginative bits of architecture here, jutting out in a cruise ship shape. The main street at Mayori, Jomas Iela, is the main hangout, filled with cafes, bars and restaurants. There are worse ways to spend a weekend here, though I prefer the Dzintari park, the stop before Mayori station when coming from Riga. Here is a viewing tower which offers a view above the trees on to the beaches. When my brother visited in late June, I just had to drag him there

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Past Mayori people start to thin and for many people, this is the dark side of the moon as far as Jurmala is concerned. I think I’d been in Latvia over 8 years when I first ventured there and I found that I hadn’t really missed anything. As in Riga, most of Jurmala’s action is concentrated in a central area. Around Dubulti and further out, it’s mostly sleepy (and boring) residential districts punctuated with the odd small guesthouse.

We finished up at Asari station, safe in the knowledge that we were now over halfway to our goal.

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Kolka here I come!

 

 

 

 

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RB #6,7,8- Reaching Riga

I’m still alive! My excuses? Enjoying the sun in July and then, in recent weeks, I’ve had some kind of repetitive strain injury, possibly carpal tunnel syndrome, which has meant that the last 2 fingers on my right hand have been numb. I’ve been intermittently walking and have now reached the other side of Riga.

On Thursday 30 June, I continued on from Lilaste, dragging my long term sidekick Eddie Mantle along for the ride. We headed down the roads beside Lilaste train station, discussing the previous week’s Brexit result as we went. It was a fine day, but again, when we hit the beach at Lilaste we found it curiously deserted for as far as the eye could see.

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No one here….

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….or here.

If you want unspoilt beaches, I guess now you know where to visit!

What makes it all the more odd is that Latvian schools have a crazily long Summer holiday, finishing at the end of May and only restarting on 1 September. (It’s a wonder the little mites learn anything.) So where are all the kids? Can’t they persuade granny to take them to the beach? We did pass a school group or summer camp group, but that was the peak of civilisation.

We cut inland, the forest around here has a series of lakes. “Garezeri” (the long lakes)

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also looking totally abandoned, even in the bright sunshine. It’s an eerie feeling to see nature, just begging for tourists but sitting untouched like this!

We were soon coming to a major landmark, The Gauja. The longest river wholly in Latvia, though some would argue that the Daugava is longer. A quick glance showed that trying to jump across or wade across simply wasn’t going to happen.

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Ahead of us on the riverbank were a group of young Russians doing what young Russians who sit beside rivers seem to enjoy doing in Latvia: drinking, smoking, swearing and doing reckless somersaulting dives into the river.

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We were glad to leave them behind, but we had a fair walk to get round the river, as a recent storm had caused trees to fall on some of the paths.

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and the bridge was a fair bit inland. Again, despite sandy parts that looked like they’d be nice for a picnic or relaxing beside the river, we were on our own

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We’d started to hit a small residential area, with farm animals in the fields around us and a road which we followed, only to reach a dead end.

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We doubled back and wandered through the empty streets until we hit the railway line. Google maps had suggested that we’d need to go further and stay on the road, a bit weird since there’s a perfectly usable pedestrian bridge which makes that unnecessary.

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We’d now hit the satellite towns of Riga. We had hoped to get to Kalngale, but time was running out and I had students later, so we called it a day at Carnikava, one of the biggest towns so far.

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It took me just 2 days to pick up. Heading with Elina on the train to Carnikava, we had the same issue as with Ed: a long walk to the beach, which ended up with us getting lost in Piejura, the national park by the sea.

On the way to Piejura, there are a few landmarks which are definitely worth a look. Carnikavas parks is a pleasant enough walk

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and there’s an unusual looking mini-castle by the train lines.

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The Old Gauja, “Vecgauja” is there, but unlike a lot of rivers and streams I’ve encountered on my travels, this one is in civilisation so there’s a bridge across. Easy!

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I wish the Piejura was a bit better marked. Wandering off the beaten track isn’t a good idea, we were soon lost and without the sound of the road, sea or train lines, we’d no way of finding the route. In the end we solved it by the ancient method of putting a stick in the ground to create a makeshift sundial and then heading north from there. To our relief, out we came on the beach. While it was sparsely populated at first we soon hit what I’d been lacking for a long time: people. Lots of them!

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so this is where they’ve been hiding.

Again, there are weird stretches of nudist beaches jsut past Carnikava. I don’t mind this but it often seems a bit disorganised, random and haphazard and often these beaches aren’t even marked.

I even had a dip myself. Here, as on the other side at Jurmala, there are the same 2 problems. Firstly, even at the height of summer, the water temperature is still a few degrees short of being really comfortable to enjoy. Secondly, the water is really shallow for a considerable distance offshore and is punctuated by sandbars. This means you have to walk a fair distance out to get enough depth for swimming and often, by the time you’ve walked that distance, you’re too tired to swim much.

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3 miles out

 

We’d had ideas of maybe making it down to Riga this day, but it was really warm for walking, nearly 30 degrees and when we found our path blocked by the creek at Garciems,

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we decided to call it a day and got the train back. They’ve been at work renovating some of the stations on the west side of Riga, giving them fancy signage and better platforms, but Garciems station still retains its old-skool look and feel

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with wooden signs and benches.

We were just short of the biggest target so far. I could almost smell Riga and so on 10 July, it finally happened. We caught the train to Garciems, had another wander through unmarked forests, which at least had paths this time, even if we knew not where they led.

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We hit another fairly deserted nudist beach (what is it with Latvia and these?) and plodded on. I’d been hoping for a big fat “WELCOME TO RIGA!” sign, but I had to make do with some kid’s sand drawing.

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U R IN RIGA

The sign for Vecaki beach was the closest I got to official confirmation that I’d reached the halfway mark, so I just had to stop for a celebratory photo.

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I’ve blogged before about Vecaki and how it’s one of my favourite Riga districts so I’m not going to linger on this one. Vecaki is one of Riga’s better districts, with a decent beach that is hampered by the usual Riga problems (too cold, too shallow, dead out of season.) In summer, it’s at its height and we had a celebratory kvass in one of the beach bars before continuing along to Mangalsala, which offers different vistas to those seen before. A cruise ship was exiting the Daugava river

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beside Mangalsala pier and the shipwreck which I blogged about in the distant past, which seems to date from World War 2.

Here’s a close up:

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Overhead, numerous planes made their way to warmer climes

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air baltic

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The weather was great, giving little hint of the sheer awfulness of the August weather to come. Clear blue skies, water shimmering in the sunshine as yachts made their way in and out of the Daugava.

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We strolled along the pier, enjoying the views and the weather and eventually posing for a photo at Mangalsala. When I’d last posed for this pic, it had been in winter and I’d been so muffled up with multiple layers that only my bleary eyes were poking out. This time, in shorts and t-shirt, seemed so radically different.

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Happy to have hit the halfway point, it was time to head home to a celebratory dinner.

 

RB#4 and#5: lost in a forest

Jelgavkrasti was the first destination. I stopped off for a coffee in Sidrabiņi, a small place that me and Ed had thought about visiting the previous walk. A nice little place, even if it was deserted on a Sunday morning. At least the waitress spoke Latvian to me.

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Across the road, I’d spotted a cemetery and figured there’d be a way round that to the beach. I followed the road, only to find it curling back to the main road. I didn’t fancy plodding along the main road, so I had a decision to make. There were no obvious paths through the forest, but it didn’t look too bad

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I figured if I pushed through for a while, I’d soon hit a path. Big mistake. After 45 minutes I was still flailing around in the pathless undergrowth, my hoody now protecting me from insects and my sunglasses doubling as makeshift safety goggles. I ‘d lost my directions and could no longer hear the road, nor hear the beach. There was nothing for it, though, but to push on.

Finally, after a tiring hour of this, I came upon a road, but my right foot was already hurting. This hadn’t been a smart move. The road at least offered better scenery, with lush green fields.

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and I even got to cross a little stream on stepping stones. The child in me was delighted.

I still hadn’t seen anyone but after finding another road, I started to head the sea and finally hit Riga Bay again. It had taken me nearly two hours to get there. As usual, despite the pleasant weather, the beaches up this way were virtually abandoned, apart from the odd fishing boat.

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As I followed the beach along and got closer to the village of Varzas, I spotted a group of Latvians in the distance.

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As I got closer, I saw that they were older and, despite the weather being nearly 20, were dressed in autumnish clothes. It’s one of the mysteries of life in Latvia why people aren’t more accustomed to the cold.

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Dressed for summer.

The beaches were getting rockier here and they soon gave up and went inland, leaving me on my lonesome again.

I soon took the path on the tiny cliff and came to the town of Laci, with its lighthouse

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and fields of flowers beside the sea. A really nice sight.

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After passing Varzas swimming place and village, including a golf course, I was back on the main road, which though boring, provided me with a happy sight:

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Over half way to Riga from my starting point north of Ainazi.

The road was a bit monotonous as usual and I had an awkward moment when I came to a crossroads and had to decide to stay on the road or take the fork to Saulkrasti. I chose correctly and reached Skulte. The end point of RB4. I’d done about 27km on this one and got the bus back, marvelling at how anyone could wear a thick wooly hat on such a nice day

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The following week, I picked up where I’d left off, taking Elina with me.

After pounding down the road from Skulte, we reached another landmark

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Saulkrasti (“sunny coast” often a misnomer!) the biggest town between Riga and the Estonian border and a popular holiday home and summer weekend beach destination. After many kilometres padding through deserted forests and empty beaches, it was a bit of a shocker to walk through an urban zone with people around. We didn’t plan to stay there long, though. Hitting the beach just past Skulte wood port.

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and passing through the mostly empty Zvejniekciems (fisher men’s town.) We weren’t sure what had happened but there were lots of dead fish on the beach.

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The beach at this point was still largely free of people but at last we saw signs of progress, as the coast started to curve round toward Riga, the halfway point.

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The weather was really nice, so we’d changed into shorts and, after having to wade across a knee-deep stream, the t-shirt and boots went as well

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At last, there were people on the beaches (without scarves!) enjoying the sunshine.

Eventually, with our feet hurting from walking barefoot along the sand, and a larger stream coming up, we headed inland, exiting Saulkrasti and reaching Incupe, the first time we’d passed a railway station.

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The only real thing of interest on the road was a memorial to a Finnish junker downed in 1943.

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South of here, the woods became hillier and we could see the after effects of the storm which had occurred two days earlier

We hit the beaches, finding that most of the people had disappeared and preparations were under way for Latvia’s midsummer celebrations.

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We alternated between here and the forest path until we were startled by a guy nonchalantly walking along naked, we’d come upon a nudist beach.

Recovering from the shock, we fumbled around in the forest, struggling over a few hills and losing the path. The broken trees didn’t help. But we came out beside the train line and crossed it to find we’d reached Lilaste, one of the planned destinations.

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Lilaste was one of the nicer places we’d come to, with Lilaste lake

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and Porto resort for refreshments, with a nice lakside terrace where we spotted someone that Elina thought was a local member of parliament.

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Who he?

We’d walked the whole of Saulkrasti county and were now at Carnikava county, the last one before Riga.

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All that was left was to catch the bus from the charmingly named Medzabaki (Honey Boots (!)) stop.

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Only 40km now to Riga and within 2 or 3 walks, I should be halfway.

Middle Earth’s Rocky Coast (RB#3)

Last Saturday continued my odyssey to Kolka. Picking up where I’d left off the previous week in Dzeni with my sidekick Eddie coming along. We caught the earlier bus to give us more time and, after getting off,  made a beeline for Karle, where I’d finished the previous week, for a kick start coffee. I was relieved to see that the waitress had changed and the service had picked up a bit.

The weather was perfect. Blue skies, sunny and +23. We hit the beach nearby trying to kid ourselves we were in the Med or the Carribbean.

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The beach, as usual, was totally deserted. We followed it down towards the headland behind me. Thereafter the going got tough. The beach began to disappear

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and eventually we had to tiptoe our way over rocks which made for slow going.

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After a while of this, on top of the small hill above the “beach” we spied a group of kids, nonchalantly strolling along. We mutually groaned at the idea that, all along, there was an easier path.

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Following this along past Veczemi, we’d reached the day’s main destination: Vidzemes akmeņainā jūrmala (Middle Earth’s Rocky Coast.) My thoughts on seeing this place for the first time were: why hadn’t I heard of this in all my long years in Latvia? Why on earth don’t more Latvians talk about this place? It really is a hidden gem. Small rocky cliffs, dotted with numerous caves.

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How can people miss this and why aren’t the Latvian Tourist Board doing their job at promoting it? Answers on a postcard!

We hit the path again and came across another semi-hidden gem: Rankulrags, a small cafe/restaurant in the middle of the Klintis (cliff) campsite. The campsite struck me as a bit pricey 70 euro for some of the small cabins, but the food and service were shockingly good and cheap.

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Suitably refreshed, we hit the beach again and were relieved to see that it was less rocky

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though there was one bit where we had to hop over a small river

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A min version of the rocky coast appeared later

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but we started to find the going heavy again for a different reason. Walking along sand for a few metres might be nice, plodding along it for several kilometres is tiring.

Ed reckoned there might be a path above the cliff. He scrambled up and sure enough there was a path, sort of.

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It meant pushing through undergrowth and ducking under branches at places, but it got us moving again. But the path soon ended at someone’s back yard and we were forced to hit a rocky beach again for a while.

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Rock on

Luckily round the corner we were able to head up pick up the path again on the edge of Kurmrags, with a sign advising me that I’d done 32 km on this trip and the previous one from Salacgriva.

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Progress!

 

The weather was so good that, after a while, we fancied hitting the beach again, but it proved impossible with numerous signs advising us that the land was private. This went on for several kilometres, frustrating us. Can’t they just put a small path between these houses to allow access to the beaches which are, after all, public?

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What were they hiding? Eventually tired of being able to pass we darted across somebody’s land anyway and found this

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A pristine, if empty beach. A real scandal that they’re blocking this off with walk-10km-that-way restricted access. After following this, we came to what had planned to be journey’s end, the back lanes of Tuja, which contained some nice private housing.

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Despite having done 20km over some rocky terrain, we still found we had reserves of energy and pushed on down the main road, hitting one of the towns on my original list.

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At this point, we’d done close on 25km, so we flopped down at the bus stop to catch the penultimate bus of the day.

There’s a way to go, but by my reckoning, I’ll be over halfway to Riga and a quarter of the way to Kolka after the next walk.

walk 1

Riga Bay#2: Salacgriva to Dzeni

The walk hadn’t happened the previous week as I came down with a bad case of that classic Latvian sickness, PPDS (Post-Panama depression syndrome), which meant that staying in bed binge watching tv series seemed a better idea. Rejuvenated, I was ready to hit the road again yesterday.

It almost didn’t happen. My laptop stopped working, the same problem I’ve had before with it refusing to boot after windows updates. The hard drive which contains my system image is with my friend, who is out of Riga until Friday. Luckily, I have my old super slow laptop as a backup, so I can still get my internet fix. I spent quite a while messing about with the newer laptop trying to get it to work, with the result that I forgot the time and next thing I knew it was 09:37, with the bus due to leave in 13 minutes. I grabbed my stuff and dashed like a maniac to the bus station. Getting there, my heart sank to see a huge queue for tickets, as I knew that I’d miss the bus if I waited. I decided to go directly to the bus and see if I could pay there. Luckily, I could. The time was 09:49, I’d made this by the skin of my teeth.

So, it was back to the previous week’s final destination: Salacgriva.

Salacgriva: one of the greatest places I can imagine. Where the sun shines brightest.

Salacgriva: the undiscovered pearl of Latvia.

Salacgriva, where, ummm, the whirls of snow are the strongest.

Salacgriva, the centre of the universe.

No, I’m not being sarcastic. I’m just quoting verbatim from the official blurb outside the tourist info place.

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I know it’s the job of people who write these to big up their place, but come on? Do it within reason! It’s a pleasant enough small fishing town, say that and leave it at that.

I needed a coffee kick to wake me up for the walk ahead. Kambize looked promising and didn’t disappoint. Welcoming exterior

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and nice naval-themed interior, where I was the sole customer.

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The only disappointment was that, even though I was speaking Latvian, she kept speaking English. When it came time to pay, I asked, in Latvian, how much. “One sixteen” she responded. Thinking that an odd price, I duly handed over the correct amount, which she told me wasn’t correct. “Sešpadsmit vai sešdesmit?” (16 or 60?) I asked, smiling smugly at her mistake.

I didn’t stay too long in Salacgriva after that, the last two buses back to Riga leave at 16:45 and 18:45, which doesn’t give so much time for dithering around.

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local art

I hit the beach, with the intention of following it to Vitrupe. There were a few more people about, but it was still dead. I don’t get it? The weather was perfect. 23 degrees, blue skies and sunshine. Why don’t more Latvians take advantage of that?

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the crowded beaches of Salacgriva

There was a makeshift beach bar (the yellow tent) in the pic above, with the barman blasting out crap techno tunes for his own amusement, as there were no customers. I soon left the three other beachgoers behind and continued on, with me and the seabirds the only living things around.

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Walking  started to become more difficult, with small wet patches left by the tide which I had to walk across. Luckily, they were small enough to paddle across.

At one point I got cut off by a small stream.

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Determined to stay on the coast, I followed it inland a bit until it became narrow enough to jump over. But my luck soon ran out.

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My heart sank as I looked ahead and saw a bit which looked too deep for my boots. Swim or double back and lose 1.5km? I’d no towel with me, so the options weren’t appealing. In the end, I took my boots off and waded across, with the water coming up to my knees. The main problem was the rocks which murdered my feet. On the other side, I still wasn’t sure that I’d made the right decision as the terrain had become difficult. A mix of long grass and rocky, seaweedy mush.

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I battled on but walking became a struggle and I started looking for a way to make it back to the main road, but there wasn’t one. Just a tangle of undergrowth in the forest which looked even worse and the sounds from the road were distant. I decided to tough it out. I came to a clearing later where there was a house, but just as I headed in that direction, an evil-looking dog (my least favorite pet) came out and started barking at me. Not fancying that fight, I had to continue.

Eventually, I rounded a bend and saw a joyous sight. A woman sunbathing. I doubted she’d swam round the coast so there had to be a path nearby. I was going to ask her, but her dog bounced up and started barking at me. Seriously, are dogs nature’s most annoying animals?

“Dogs. Low creatures which howl and whine at the sound of a strange footstep.”

Barlow’s words in Salem’s lot. A vampire has never spoken truer words!

I hunted for the path myself and found it near the solitary gravestone for a Valdis Celmins.

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Joy! After padding through long grass and over rocks and seaweed for an hour, at last I had a relatively easy walk. Sticking to forest paths, I soon made it to Svetciems.

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“Objects” of interest. Don’t they ever proofread these?

A small enough place, but this had been the intended destination the previous week.

It was deserted. Even the manor house was uninhabited and up for sale.

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Even with the lack of people, there were still strict rules.

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The sign advised me to take only nice photos, my fear of the photo police meant I complied with that one. I also didn’t give any autographs, not that there was anyone to give them to in any case. Here’s one of the nice photos, the eponymous river.

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Svet river.

I was able to hit the beach again after this. Again, it was mostly deserted. I think at this point, I’d seen one person, a solitary cyclist, in the previous 2 hours. But I soon started to see more people and the views from the forest path were nice.

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More people meant I was getting closer to my final destination.

And here it was, the Vitrupe, the Vitr river.

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The bus stop was close by, but there was still a while until the 1652 came along. My feet still felt ok so I decided to continue a bit down the road. Eventually, however, the path stopped and there were just crash barriers near a fast moving highway.

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I decided to walk along the grassy bit and follow this along, in the hope of finding a path later, but it deepened into an overgrown ditch and ended with an opening for a small channel, fed by a suspicious looking pipe. A sewage pipe? I wasn’t sure. I briefly considered trying to jump over it, but soon decided that the consequences of failure could be… shitty. I also wasn’t sure how far the next bus stop was.

This left me with a dilemma. The Vitrupe bus stop was 40 minutes behind me. I really didn’t fancy padding back that way, again losing 80 minutes of walking in the process.

I’d passed a hotel shortly before so decided to return to that, have a kvass and ask.

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Guesthouse Karle

There were 2 tables occupied by a total of 6 people there. Despite this, the waitress huffed and panted around as though this were the most tiring thing in the world. She frequently passed me bringing food. Again, wouldn’t it be easier to just give me the menu first? I was there nearly 15 minutes before I got it and more time waiting to order. In the end I got this

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Trout with potatoes and salad with chili lemon sauce and two 300ml kvass for 10 euro. The benefits of being outside Riga are that the prices are much less. Sadly, the food wasn’t up to scratch. The fish was tasteless, the vegetables had seen better days and the chili sauce had obviously been toned down for local palates to the extent that I questioned whether there was even any chili in it. To add to the fun, the waitress told me I “was crazy” for having walked there from Salacgriva. What a sweety!

She did at least tell me that the bus stop was only 500 metres away, but that I’d have to brave the road to get there. On this, at least she was right. I dozed at the bus stop (Dzeni) for an hour until the last bus came.

Google maps says I’ve done 30km so far, as the crow flies. By my reckoning, I’ve done a bit over 40. I’m now a quarter of the way to Vecaki at the end of Riga, so progress is being made. The next stage involves the dilemma of whether to stick to the main road or risk going to the coast, which might involve impassable bits and difficulty returning to the main road. To be continued.

 

 

 

Walking Riga Bay #1 (Estonia&Ainazi to Salacgriva)

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.

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My own private bus

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.)

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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?

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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.

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Estonia. The beginning of my road to Kolka.

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.

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“Hey you guys, is the port really in the middle of a field?”

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.

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border, Estonian side

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.

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The coastal part itself was mostly deserted, apart from a couple of people walking their dogs.

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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.

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And here it is. the Baltā Saule monument, built in 1998…

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and nearby, a sign told us all we needed to know about Ainazi’s seaside

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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.

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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.

<INTERLUDE OVER>

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:

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Journey’s end

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

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The (Russian) World War 2 memorial

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The 1873 church

and, lastly….

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the port and river mouth

with the latter looking a bit dull in the rain.

Antra’s app read

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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.

 

Walking Riga Bay

So, back in Latvia from an utterly excellent 4 months in Panama, I need something to pass the summer and give me something to write about. Inspired by walks outside Riga I’ve done the previous 2 years, I decided to set a challenge for myself and walk the whole of Riga Bay in stages. It’s close on 300km from Ainazi to Kolka. Doable in 3 and a half months.

Using google maps, I worked out a rough route and schedule, which will undoubtedly change as I go along. It’s below and the first walk is scheduled for tomorrow. Wish me luck!

RIGA WALK