Riga – 15 days – 10 metres above sea level

Version française disponible ici. 

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!