Latvian bathing

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The Baltic Sea was, in my mind, representing the North with snow and cold. A sea space which was the playground of the Vikings at the 9th century. These people were famous for their spirit of adventures. The legend was telling they didn’t hesitate by diving in the sea, even during winter. Still, this story inspires nowadays the bathing clubs through Europe during winter. How in these conditions we couldn’t resist to the appeal of this magic sea for some moves of fortifying breaststroke?

I didn’t go traveling around the world with the idea of bathing in the seas that I will see. But step by step, the idea started. Upon our arrival in Latvia, this pleasure was associated to the wish of swimming. In April, in the North when at this period it’s often difficult to swim in the Gulf of Morbihan. 

This morning, the sunshine was going through the wooden windows to heat up the interior of our chalet in Jūrmala. The elements were reunited and the unique opportunity to reply to the call of the Baltic Sea. After a nice breakfast, I went down to the stairs leading to the garden. Backpack on the  shoulder, swimming suit and towel in a bag. I went towards the beach. I used a little path surrounded by trees, enjoying the nice weather of this weekend of April. The savour of this beginning of Spring and the freshness of the marine air. 

There were duckboards leading my steps between the pine trees up tho this wide sandy beach. On this wide golden flat path there were many families strolling.

On my left hand side, there was a swimmer doing breaststroke. Looking this swimmer tackled my proudness and made me decided for good. No choice anymore, there was a Latvian guy in the sea so I needed to follow. I put my bag on the sand and took my swimsuit. Changing of clothes stayed in my memories due to the Nordic cold being freezing. 

After a couple of steps in the fresh waters, for not saying in the iced sea, I didn’t have any doubt. I didn’t check the timetable of the high tide. Mistake of a beginner. I needed to walk during a hundred of metres to have water at the waistline. A trial in plus to go deeper and to enjoy swimming the crawl or to float on my back a few seconds. Quickly, the temperature of the water reminded me the reality. I went back to my towel and dried myself with a lot of energy. I quickly put my fleece jacket. The gulls flying above my head were laughing about the situation. We deserve the Baltic Sea, a true rite of passage for the “vikings” that we are leaving in the next few days to reach Russia…

Latvian experiences

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I didn’t think by starting skateboarding at 21yo, that I would like to take a skateboard and slide down a serie of curves on this black asphalt. Plus, I would play by crossing the yellow line from a side to another one. This line separating the road in two equal parts before to follow the bend, like a life line showing the best trajectory in these hairpin beds.

In Latvia, rollerblades are the kings. The kick scooter was not as famous as on the streets in Paris. Skateboards were only on specific spots of the city. In a rock and roll shop of the historic town center of Riga, selling many knick-knacks, the seller gave us the address of a skate shop. Once we open the door, we were sad to see mainly rollerblades. However, there were ten skateboards on racks waiting for us. There were a wide range from the longboard to the cruiser including the traditional skateboard.  

This was an impulsive purchase but Julien and I made a reasonable choice. Due to the numerous contraints of the trip, we needed a resistant board due to the vibrations and the bad weather, plus a good price for our little budget. We even didn’t know if there would be enough space on our sidecars, already (almost) full. 

Finally, I chose a green plastic cruiser with wheels of a pastel colour. 

For the first slope, we opted for the bicycle path going along the Gauja river. A nice ride on the quays at sunset. A smooth recovery before to try the straight lines in the Taïga. 

The underpants-traveller

We prepared our trip over months. Just a few weeks to decide for the cloths, and just a few seconds for the underpants! Far away from guessing the pain that my underpants will feel during our new daily life. Serenely, I picked 5 underpants from my old closet. By taking not too many, I even picked my favourite ones! I didn’t think they would have a tough life. From the first days in Colombia, I realised the washing machine would be a luxury. As I had less underpants than there are days in a week, I didn’t have any other choices than washing up them by hands. Any tap was the signal for cleaning the underpants. A nice task which was our new routine for any shower.  But here we go, the frictions of the fabric and the twists for spin drying have distended the fibres of the cotton. 

The vibrations of the seat of our sidecars on the paths of South of America finished the work. My underpants were used to live many years, but during the trip the first holes appeared after the first weeks spent. 

No need to precise upon our arrival in Latvia that the most worn has been already used as a cloth for mechanics. It was time for changing the other ones. For this, I went to a shopping centre of the town centre where I loved the green pattern with leaves in a shop, sadly which was not very ethic. I was seduced by this pattern allowing me to have a piece of the Laotian jungle always with me. 

The recovery of running

Our break in Riga during a few days was also the opportunity to enjoy some time for ourselves. Usually, the routine of our trip do not let us much time for some workout. This break in the Latvian capitale gave me the opportunity for wearing my running shoes. At the end of the morning, I went towards the Bikernieku park, on the East side of the city to stretch my legs. The enthusiasm of this running gave me wings for the first strides. I was even getting impatient at each traffic light of the wide avenue leading to the park. But quickly, I felt the weight of my body. Each stride was getting heavier, like during a nightmare when we would like to run to escape from the monster but we can only walk. 

But the session was nice. I crossed the road to reach the lake being in the middle of the path. The sunshine was reflecting in the water before to cross the branches of the pines. No engine noise disturbing this quiet place. The asphalt was more used by rollerblades and  bicycles. The weather was nice and encouraged people to enjoy the park. On my way, I saw the elderly and mothers walking with pushchairs. There were the spectators of my day. Each time I caught their eyes, they smiled and said a word that sadly I was not able to understand but I guessed it was just to say hi. 

For spicing up, I left the main axis of the park and I followed the bicycle path. The path was going up and down, following the little hills of the park. 

It was lunch time, time to go back home. A mechanic session was scheduled for this afternoon!

Latvian night spot

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Our arrival in Latvia marked our return on the road and the wild camping nights. After two months without setting up a camp, we couldn’t wait anymore to pitch up a tent. Our visa issue was the perfect opportunity for exploring around the Latvian capital city.

After a day of riding on the winding road and through the waterfalls of the National Park of Gauja, we went towards Césis at the end of the afternoon, the main city of the park.
We left Césis by going towards South and followed by curiosity the signs with a pictogram of skier. After a crossroads, we were in front of an old ski-lift. The snow was melted and the ski-lifts were having their winter break. We went on the left and took a path going towards the river. After a hundred of metres, on a narrow path in the middle of the trees, we arrived on a wide clearing which will by our spot for the night.

With the last rays of the sunshines, I had a nap in the side-car. I woke up at dusk, a bit confused as I didn’t know the time and how long I slept. Plus, I was embarrassed for my friends who were waiting for me to enjoy the beer of the “end of the day” with a nice wood fire before to eat our traditional pasta with a pesto sauce, the speciality of our wild camping nights.
At the end of this month of April, it was quite chilly and we quickly took our sleeping bags for getting warmer in our loyal tents.

When we woke up, all the camp was humid with the dew. But the sun was already shining with beautiful colours over the pine trees around the clearing.
We took our time for the breakfast, the time for the tents to dry. We packed everything and left. We went back to the capital city by using the countryside roads going through the park. We had a lunch nearby the waterfalls of  Septinavotu Lielais Udenskritums. Sat on the log, we enjoyed our roasted pork sandwiches. The road was going alongside the nice lakes of Raiskuma and Auciema, before to become a path with an uneven surface over a few kilometres until the Stable village.
We left behind us the National Park of Gauja which offered this sweet first wild camping night on the Eurasian land.

On the Latvian roads

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Our adventure on the Latvian roads started with the collection of our sidecars at the Riga port.

To help us in this mission, Mikhail, the agent contracted by the shipping company gave us an appointment in a café of the town centre, early in the morning. The first signs of our anxiety appeared when we opened the doors of this posh place and discovered an empty room. To wait patiently, we ordered one of the most expensive espressos of our trip. Finally, it was with half an hour of late that Mikhail arrived and sat next to us. The presentations made in just a few minutes, Mikhail left with Julien and Emilie. The three of them sat in the big white Dodge Challenger, owned by Mikhail, and parked on the other side of the road. When it started, the engine made a nice noise before to go straight in the wide avenue. The three of them went towards the port, letting Marie and I, on our own with our backpacks. Once again, being not the “main” drivers, we cannot take part of the process for importing the vehicles. We watched the car going further away through the café window, hoping to see Emilie and Julien tonight on our loyal sidecars. For them, the marathon day of administrative tasks started at the customs office before to continue at the port. The most worrying moment was when the authorities asked for a X-ray check for our sidecars. As they arrived from South of America, they wanted to check the content of the container before its entry on the European territory. A step that Mikhail managed to avoid thanks to its force of persuasion. Lucky us! The logistics process would have been tough and the costs would have been expensive. Again, we needed to wait patiently. Nothing hard as finally only a few hours were required for their freedom. A short time, compared to the little week we spent in Cartagena in Colombia when our sidecars arrived for the first time in South of America.

What a pleasure to see again our sidecars and to ride them again! Nothing fancy to ride the first kilometres in the Latvian capital but its smooth atmosphere and the low traffic, compared to our crossing of the previous capital cities, were in a perfect harmony with our driving. For the first time of our trip, I had the feeling that the Ural was in the perfect place with this scenery. It’s now far away the time that our vehicles were the perfect opposite of our South American friends riding horses or driving powerful American or Japanese cars. Here, we can almost behave unnoticed on these wide avenues, along the rails of these old blue and white tramways from the Soviet time.

After a 40-day trip on the turbulent waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea ; we started by a maintenance day to start serenely our trip towards East. In the Riga streets, we started by looking for 2 litres of engine oil (one of the quickest research of our trip thanks to Mikhail help) before to change the oil of our engines, gearboxes and final drives. We checked the tightening, greased with WD40 and our sidecars where finally ready to hit the road!

At the end of the afternoon, Mikhail met us for a ride. He was proud to show us his white Victory motorbike. Accompanied by his friend Vitalys riding a navy blue BMW 1600, we went towards Noth-East to visit the National Park of Gauja.

This park was our privileged place for the next few days, the time to collect our visas for Russia. We visited the bobsleigh track, nearby the small city of Sigulda. On the top of this metallic building, we discovered a breathtaking view over the curves of the Gauja river.

The small roads of the park offered an amazing scenery for the two or three-wheel lovers. A succession of curves around lakes or streams crossing pine forests. We lunched by the Vaire river, nearby a nice closed building before to explore the waterfalls. At each corner of the park, they were the perfect opportunity for a refreshing break.

We discovered the Davida Dzirnavu Avoti waterfall and the de Daudas Üdenskritums one ; the third highest waterfall of Latvia with a 2-meter height. I must admit, this size needs to be put into perspective compared to the impressive waterfalls of the Asian jungles.

On the roadside, in the middle of a forest and far away from any villages, we were surprised to see orthodox cemeteries. They have the weird specificity of being located in a middle of a forest. The graves were placed randomly under trees in a peaceful atmosphere, perfect for meditating. A beautiful scenery which is actually nicer than our oppressive wide grid arrangement made of concrete. These first nice days matched with the opening season for the bikers in Latvia. Here, like fishing or hunting, the bikers have their privileged time for riding. This first sunny weekend was the opportunity for going out with the sidecars! We saw many motorbikes looking like the “Gold Wing”.

Early in the morning, before to collect our Russian visas in Riga, we enjoyed a clearing to change our back tyres. With brand new tyres, our sidecars were ready for our Eastern adventure. The Russian roads, and the birth place of our sidecars, were getting closer. But for this, we needed to wait patiently a few kilometres, the time to cross Estonia and the Narva river being the border between the European Union and Russia.

Riga – 15 days – 10 metres above sea level

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From Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, our flight landed in Helsinki. As soon as arrived on the tarmac, we jumped on another plane going to Riga, the Latvian capital. It was almost 10am when our feet touched for the first time the European ground, 7 months after the beginning of our travel.

At the airport exit, the first task was to read the signage. First, everyone was happy to see a Latin alphabet. But we quickly discovered they are too many accents on the consonants. Moreover the Latvian has no Latin, German or Russian roots. This a unique language resisting to the various invasions through the centuries.

But let’s comeback to our bus research, which was on hold… We finally went to the parking, empty… But we identified the minivan doing the journey to Riga city center.

After a few minutes journey, we arrived at the entrance of the city center. It was only the end of the morning and we decided to look for a travel agency, loaded with all our luggages. Our objective was to get our Russian visa.

Our return in Europe allowed us to use our web data for searching on our phones. We found 3 agencies which could help us. The two firsts were a fail. At the bottom of the building of the last one, we were still full of doubts. Nothing was showing the existence of an agency, only the small signage next to the door. We climbed up the 3 stairs and we found a poster confirming the existence of the agency. At the end of a dark corridor, we saw a light coming from a small office. We were welcomed by a woman with a limited English, but good enough to help us and start the paperwork for the visa.

After this, we quickly enjoyed a bagel before to settle in a flat of the town centre. For the diner, we decided to go to the central market (Rupniecibas Precu Tirgus), just next to our flat. The building was unusual, built initially for storing zeppelins, now it receives fish, cheese, bread, veggies and many local produce.

Around these buildings, a beautiful flower market was taking place, bringing a nice colourful touch to the great concrete building. Behind a daisy vase on a picnic table, I recognised Grandma “Nénette” selling the flowers from her Normandy garden…

After a long night to get better after the jet lag, we went exploring the historic town centre of the Latvian capitale. A stroll with the sunshine revealing the beauty of the medieval streets, famous for its cobblestones and old buildings with colourful walls of the buildings (which the most famous ones are the “House of the Black Heads” and the “There Brothers”). We saw the changing of the guards at the castle, residence of the Latvian president before to go back on the wide avenues where go the old tramways. At the end of one of them, the Freedom monument was straight like the letter “I”. 

To enjoy the softness weather of this Easter weekend, we went to the Baltic Sea. At the central train station, we went in a train looking like a “commuter train” to reach the seaside destination of Jurmala and more specifically the borough of Jandubulti, a old fishermen village. 

Upon our arrival in the little station, lost between the pines, there was no one. The information desk was empty and there was no agent to indicate the direction of the city. We took, randomly, a tarmacked path through the forest leading us to our cottage. 

Jurmala, is a succession of old fishermen villages in the pine forest. But today, for this Latvian destination, the main activity is the tourism. In the forest, there are many villas and old beautiful houses with a cladding painted with nice pale nuances. 

The access to the beach was possible by the same path used previously, going through the forest. We reached the wide sandy path going over tens of kilometres. Where the sand was mixed with the pine needles, there was the sculpture of Raina Priedes, a metallic tree paying hommage to a local poet. An artwork reminding us the ones of the LMB workshop. 

Our stroll with sandy feet led us to the next borough, the Majori one. We stopped for a beer on a terrace under the April sunshine before to go back to our cottage. 

It was at the Dubulti station that we took a train to Sloka. In the new building of the train station, we discovered a modern art exhibition. The plastic artworks have been probably made by tortured artists due to their darkness. 

A few minutes later, we stopped at Sloka for hiking up to the National park of Kemeri. The path went alongside an impressive lake where nature offered an impressive contrast between the green nuances of pines, the yellow tons of tall grass and the intense blue of the sky. Located at the gate of the park, we entered after a few kilometres in the little city of Kemeri. We were choked by the wide cracks as an impressive scar on this abandoned buildings of the Soviet time. 

On the other side of the city, we stopped our stroll to discover the swamps of Kemeri. A magical place where trees and clouds were beautifully mixed in the reflection of the water. The place was a protected area to protect the fauna and flora. The stroll was on nice wooden paths reinforcing the charm of the place. 

After this lie-on of Easter and collecting the eggs, we took a bus to go to the fishermen villages of Lapmezciems and Ragaciems. We went alongside the lake of Kanieris on new wooden paths going through the tall grass before to reach the beach of the city. All the seaside properties had a smoking room for fish. At the anchorage, four fishing boats were waiting their captain. Further away, the metallic lights house of Ragaciem painted in red was also waiting the time to fill its mission as a guide. 

Back to Riga by train. The following days were focused on collecting our sidecars and their maintenance to start well this second part of the trip. 

At the end of the afternoon , it was time for the first test. As a warm-up for the sidecars, we went to the national park of Gauja with Mikhail, the agent contracted by the shipping agency to open the container and to facilitate the administrative process. After a hundred of kilometres, we did a first stop at the bottom of the national Bobsleigh track. With the lift, we reached the the departure area overlooking the Gauja river at the entry of the national park. Some kilometres further, we visited the castle of Turaida. This fortress of the Teutonic knights was built in the heights between the curves of this river! 

We were back to Riga by 9pm and enjoyed diner with Mikhail at the Stargorod pub along the Daugava river. We got some nice beers brew on site accompanied with delicious local specialities. We enjoyed grilled pork ears as appetizers before a delicious pork hock cooked on spit with cabbage, potatoes and bacon with a sauce of wholegrain mustard. After this hearty meal, we strolled in the historic town-centre of Riga with a nice friendly atmosphere. 

In the morning, we packed. At 4pm, we received a call from the agency taking care of our visas. They had an issue with Emilie’s one and need immediately a new ID photo. Just the time to order a taxi and to go down the stairs that we received a second phone call from the agency. Finally, they don’t need the photo and the visa will be ready by 6pm. At 5pm, we learned that only three of the four Russian visas were available at the travel agency. The Russian consulate made a mistake on Emilie’s one, it will be only available on the Monday morning.

So we delayed our trip to Russia and planned a “motorbike” trip in the Gauja park, while waiting to receive this last visa. Sunshine and warm temperatures during these two nice days. 

Monday morning, at 11am, we arrived at the travel agency to collect Emilie’s visa. This time, we left the capital for good and went towards Russia. The road led us to go alongside the national park of Gauja, a last time. We got a sandwich at the Circle K petrol station of Valmiera. A guy gave us some strawberries… He rode a Ural sidecar when he was a kid! We crossed the border with Estonia by going through a city named Vlaka on the Latvian side and Valga on the Estonian side, a symbolic border between bothEuropean countries. On the Estonian side, the birches were mixed with the pines between the curves spaced of some kilometres. We did a last coffee break in the suburbs of the main city of Tartu, to warm up. Indeed, we felt the freshness on our sidecars. In the evening, we reached Narva, the city at the Russian border. 

Where to have a drink?

Backpackers pub
Valnu iela 43, Riga 1050

As indicated by its name, its a good adresse for travelers where you can enjoy beers. With its Split combi for the bar and the table foot table on the second floor, no doubt you will have a nice time.

Alus Krodzins
Jomas iela 64A, Jūrmala, 2015

Located in the pedestrian street of Jūrmala, the nice sunny terrace with the big wooden tables attracted us. Beer is food and the speciality with fried herrings and garlic potatoes.

Where to eat? 

Big Bad Bagel
Baznicas iela 8, Riga 1010

A warm atmosphere with delicious bagels. Due to its success, it was on the tables on the pavement that we enjoyed our lunch in spite of the freshness.

Stargorod Brasserie
Republikas Laukums 1, Centra rajons, Riga 1010

Big pub on the riverside of Daugava. A delicious speciality of meat including a pork hock cooked on spit with beers brew on site. Quite expensive but a true local place!