After our great experience with the national cycle route of Estonia, we had good expectations for Latvia too and decided to pick up some of the sections on Latvia’s route 6. I think I will just quote two young Latvian girls that we spoke to later in the day;
“Ha ha, it is a joke in Latvia that we have the worst roads in the world!”
So there we are, we didn’t say it!
Marked as yellow roads on our Maps With Me App, the single-track roads are of course much quieter, always a bonus!
After a day of concentrating on nothing much but the road and our tyres, it was time to call it a day. Zooming in on our map, we were scanning for a fresh water source so we could scrub up from the hot, dusty day. And there it was, Latvia attempting to redeem itself after our bumpy start; a big blue patch, surrounded by a darker shade of green and another narrow track to get to it, only 800M of it this time!
As we emerged out of the trees, in the middle of the forest, there before us was the most beautiful lake and a prefect patch to pitch our tent on the waters edge.
Check out http://www.latvia.travel/en/multi-day-cycling-routes for better advice, we didn't do this first!
In Riga, we were lucky enough to stay with hosts Ruta and Gints. You may be noticing a pattern here that it is in the big cities that we generally arrange to stay with a ‘Warmshowers’ host. Heading into a crowded city with your entire life packed onto a touring bike can be far from relaxing! Knowing that you have a safe place to store your bike and panniers so you can take the opportunity to see the city, makes the ‘city hosts’ very popular. Ruta and Gints were no exception! When we arrived, they were also hosting two Spanish brothers, Ignacio and Javier, who had just completed a cycling trip from Amsterdam to Riga. Ruta had very kindly cooked us all a wonderful meal and we had a great evening talking together into the night.
Ignacio and Javier had seen a free guided tour in English advertised on Trip Advisor and so we all decided to give it a go. The tour was 2 ½ hours and although it began outside St Peter’s church in the old town, the guide wanted to show us another flavour to Riga. First, we went to Riga Central Market, it was AMAZING!! You will not be able to miss the buildings if you are looking, as they have recycled a total of 5 old Zeppelin hangers from the first world war, dismantled them and incorporated the roofs into this 1920's ingenius engineering project. Outside the hangers, under market stalls there is a sea of bright colours and the mouthwatering smell of fresh berries, as they sell the seasonal fruits, vegetables and flowers. Inside, each hanger offers different produce; a meat market, fresh fish, dairy produce, bakeries and a general store. This is one of the best food markets we have been to and a real teaser for the hungry cyclist!
Finally, the guide led us into a grimey underground pass with graffiti on the walls and proceeded to tell us that she couldn’t believe that we had all volunteered to follow a complete stranger around a rough city and that she could easily be a part of an organized crime where by the gates would now close at either end of the underground tunnel and the heavies would move in to remove our organs and sell on the black market! We remained in the dark, rank underpass for another 10 minutes and I think it was supposed to be a reflection of the economic crisis and plight that this city has been through over the centuries and is still struggling with now. I am not quite sure the value of this respite whilst on a cheerful city tour, but we learnt about the inadequate wages and soaring unemployment figures and then resurfaced on the edge of the old town, sun shining and offered to make a contribution to the hat if we enjoyed the tour.
Overall, I am not so sure I would recommend the tour if you only have a limited amount of time in Riga. Check out Central Market for sure and soak up the atmosphere in the streets of the Old Town. There is some fabulous architecture, again Hanseatic like Tallinn and the colour brings it to life.
We celebrated with a popular Latvian drink ‘Riga Black Balsam’. It is a strong spirit with a medicinal taste and is traditionally drunk to warm you up in the cold winter months. The Latvians also like serving it over ice cream. It was another warm and wonderful night and we had persuaded yet more friends to come and join us for a ‘Forest Gump style’ following ‘on the Australian leg!
Our thanks to Rohloff for supplying us with the kit!
Having already mentioned how popular Ruta and Gints have been on Warm Showers, later in the afternoon, just a few hours after we said goodbye to the Spanish brothers, another cycling tourist called Rudy arrived! Rudy has been cycling Europe following a very similar route to David and I so far. In Rudy’s own words, every cycle tourer has their own reasons and motivation for taking off on a big adventure, Rudy’s motivation is to raise awareness and funds for a cause that he is absolutely passionate about and now dedicates his life to. The project is called the Blue Planet Network and they are fighting for the right to have clean water for everyone, across the globe. In 2007, Rudy actually ran around the world as part of a team of 21 international runners, running 24 hours a day for 95 days and covering a total of 15,200 miles!
In the summer season Rudy organizes fundraising events and sponsored challenges and in the winter he visits schools and businesses and talks about his adventures to gain interest in the bigger cause here. Rudy is an inspirational guy and we wish him all the very best of luck with his continuing work.
Please visit; www.tourdewater.com to find out more about the Blue Planet Project .
On Friday 02 August, Dad’s 60th Birthday (Happy Birthday Dad!!), we cycled from Riga to Lithuania in 4-5 hours. I won the race to the sign AGAIN (Dave wins all the ones in between, but I save my energy for the big ones!) and we stopped to take the mandatory photo next to the welcome sign. Standing on the bridge that stands as the border between Latvia and Lithuania, two more cycle tourists arrived from the South. Here we met Kim and Ryohei from Japan! Ryohei has been on the road travelling by bicycle for 5 years and he met kim in Kenya whilst touring Africa. Kim has now been cycling with Ryohei for 6 weeks. The sun was setting and we had all reached our goals for the day, so we crossed the border and camped together under the apple trees of a small Lithuanian farm. A perfect start to a new country!