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.

DSC07736

No one here….

DSC07737

….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)

garezers

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.

DSC07740

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.

DSC07742

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.

DSC07746

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

DSC07748

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.

DSC07752

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.

DSC07757

DSC07762

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.

DSC07763

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

DSC07768

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

DSC07773

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!

DSC07775

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!

DSC07784

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.

DSC07789

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,

DSC07806

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

DSC07812

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.

DSC07820

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.

DSC07826

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.

DSC07824

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

DSC07829

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:

DSC07844

Overhead, numerous planes made their way to warmer climes

DSC07853

air baltic

DSC07868

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.

DSC07850

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.

DSC07859

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.

DSC07499

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

DSC07507

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.

DSC07511

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.

DSC07516

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

DSC07521

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.

DSC07524

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

DSC07528

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

DSC07529

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:

DSC07551

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

DSC07556

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

DSC07562

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.

DSC07567

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.

DSC07568

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.

DSC07570

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

DSC07576

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.

DSC07585

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

DSC07590

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.

DSC07600

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.

DSC07606

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

DSC07609

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

DSC07616

Who he?

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

DSC07622

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

DSC07623

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