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.


No one here….


….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)


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.



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.


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


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


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!


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!


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.


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,


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


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.


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.



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.


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


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:


Overhead, numerous planes made their way to warmer climes


air baltic


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.


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.


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



Northern lights (Trīsciems, Mangaļsala & Ziemeļblāzma)

Want to confuse a Riga resident? Just tell them you’re going to visit the Riga district of Trīsciems.

<Blank stare.>

“That’s in Riga?” or “Is that on planet Earth?” are responses you might get. It might as well be on Mars for all most people know.

I’d heard of most Riga districts myself before starting out, but I’d also never heard of that one. So where is the place? Well, head north out of Riga centrs, pass Petersala and Sarkandaugava, then take Jaunciems Gatve around the top of the lake and there, on the left before you come to Jaunciems, down a road into the forest, lies Trīsciems, my 25th district of Riga.

My friend Zanda made her apkaimes project debut on this one and helpfully agreed to drive, so we hit the road to Three Towns to see why it has never made it into local consciousness. The first glimpse of the place is a set of private houses beside a frozen river, against the backdrop of a forest.


Local guides and Latvian Wikipedia recommended seeing the Magnushof, an 18th century Manor house, but it was mostly fenced off with a private property sign and this didn’t look like the type of place where they were used to strangers nosying around, so this was as close as we got.


Nice building, but the side of it reminded me of the house in Amityville


so probably not a place to hang round on a dark night. If you’re one of the mad people visiting Trīsciems in mid February, you can also enjoy views across the frozen lake.


The main part of Trīsciems is hidden down a forest road. You drive down it, avoid knocking over several monster dogs, which have obviously been trained to scare away all non-residents, and then the field opens out into a forest clearing surrounded by detached private houses.


Parking the car, we saw a couple of other dogs actively running around, being chased by a frustrated young girl. Zanda, obviously not wanting her first apkaime trip to be her last, asked the girl if the dogs bit strangers. The girl gave her the sort of look that young girls usually gave strangers doing apkaimes projects and assured us it was safe.

The forests around here are supposed to be good for orienteering, so we climbed up the Fox Hill, the local mountain, to get a better look,but still, from the top Trīsciems keeps its secrets.


In truth I found the place quite nice, it’s hidden away, but would probably be a nice enough place to live if you had a car, were into nature and didn’t mind having any shops or amenities of any kind near by.

At this point in the afternoon it was coffee time, the local watering hole is Nika.


It’s only technically in Trīsciems, being on the main road just before you come to Sarkandaugava, but, with no other options available, in we headed. After we’d entered, Zanda’s initial reaction was “wow! these are the sort of places you guys endure on these apkaimes trips?” and I could see her point. Inside, Nika is actually well decorated with a bit of an attempt at a middle east thing going on. The problem was that it was so dark and dingy,


we could hardly see anything and, despite being the only customers, fumbled our way to a table in the corner beside a window. The table was filthy, but it was the only one that had any sort of daylight. I guess they’re not exactly overrun with customers out here so things like cleaning table can wait until next year. The barmaid (owner?) gave us her best scowl as we ordered coffees and took a seat, rushing through the coffee before poor Z got too traumatised to continue.

The next stop was Mangaļsala, which was worth a visit. The peninsula at the very north part of the Daugava river, just before it reaches Riga Bay. This is definitely a place to while away an afternoon if the weather is nice. Last Sunday though was a bit iffy. The temperatures were +4°C, unusual for mid February, which is normally subzero. After strolling through forest roads, we reached one of Mangaļsala’s main attractions, the eastern pier.

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Blown about by wind from all sides, I stopped to take pictures. It was so cold I thought I’d lost the use of my two middle fingers. “Oh well. Two less nails, to cut,” I thought, trying to look on the bright side.

From the pier, there’s even a shipwreck visible.


Mangaļsala’s beaches were obviously deserted, but even in summer, I’ve never heard of people going to the beach there. It’s close to the Daugava and that puts a lot of people off, also the area was restricted somewhat to military personnel in Soviet times, which prevented a cheery, beachy infrastructure from developing.

Finally, we reached the end of the pier, to see the lighthouse and the view down the Daugava

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Heading out of the district, we stopped to admire the architecture, as you do. It was a weird mix. Mostly, it consisted of nice private houses, but there were a couple of run down tower blocks among them. A bit of a contrast.

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The last stop on the line was Ziemeļblāzma, the northern lights district.

the way to the northern lights

the way to the northern lights

This wasn’t a new district at all, it’s part of Vecmīlgrāvis, which I’d visited with Ed back in late September, but for time reasons we’d skipped over the Ziemeļblāzma sub district. Its centrepiece is a cultural centre, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. However refurbishment of it only finished within the last few years. It looks impressive and hosts various events up here and only added to my unexpected love for Vecmīlgrāvis. The park around it includes a huge tower, though sadly it was closed when we got there

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With all of my fingers now back in working order, it was time to head back to the centre for some well deserved kimchi. 26 districts of Riga done, 32 to go.