Latvian colours and sounds

July 2, 2011 (day 45) Latvia

Entering Latvia I had to merge into the stream of trucks going the infamous Via Baltica. I had done it already for some moment in Estonia, but this time I had no optional road to follow for one and half a day of cycling. Fortunately for most of the time a hard shoulder was available and the asphalt had been replaced in the most worn parts. However, it is still far from being called a comfortable cycling route.

The old road will serve smaller vehicles

The old road will serve smaller vehicles

I smell socrealism

I smell socrealism

The busy and noisy road was often contrasted with the view of pine forests and Baltic Sea on my right. Occasional villages and towns didn't provide much of interesting views, until the capital — Riga.

I entered the city by a back door, through the harbour district and then across a huge park, which is actually a patch of forest included in the city limits. Then, circling around the center, I reached the hostel, located just in the middle of Riga's main bazaar.

The remains of the communist era are obviously visible in the city. Not only the monumental buildings, which are actually not so abundant there, but mostly the rough infrastructure, rich in anti–bicycle obstacles. One can also find numerous traces of earlier times, among with signs of modernity. A brand new slick tram stopping by a wooden house, on a cobblestone street is nothing unusual here.

Let me guess... a gift from soviets?

Let me guess... a gift from soviets?

In the old city and nearby quarters the image changes to more inviting and socialized. Restaurants and cafés usually have outdoor seats and the streets are bustling. The most characteristic feature of Riga's center is music. It can be heard at virtually every corner, coming not only from numerous street musicians, but also from those contracted in restaurants and bars. Nearby parks fill with people too and show that a ban on beer drinking is not necessary to keep order there.

Music fills the streets of the old city

Music fills the streets of the old city

Colours of the entertainment district

Colours of the entertainment district

All around the old city one can find numerous examples of fine Art Noveau architecture, for which Riga's centre has been placed on UNESCO World Heritage List. Most of these are perfectly redecorated gems, hosting embassies or other significant institutions, but some fell in disrepair and cry to be taken care of.

Riga is famous for Art Noveau architecture

Riga is famous for Art Noveau architecture

Some buildings are still in outrageous condition

Some buildings are still in outrageous condition

The marketplace neighbouring both bus and train stations is dominated by sweet cherries, strawberries and apricots — the seasonal fruits of late June, but my favourite are the kvass sellers, serving it in plastic cups straight from a huge trailer tank.

My favourite stall

My favourite stall

I left Riga through the Jurmala sea resort and headed west, trying to avoid the main roads. As a result, I avoided asphalt as well. About 50km between Tukums and Kuldīga were covered with gravel. Actually it was not hard to cycle on, but the blazing sun had made it as dry as tinder. Each passing car raised clouds of white dust, which settled down on my clothes and bike. Could I wish anything more than having a bath? Exactly at the end of the gravel, in the town of Kuldīga, I encountered a river. Venta is broad here, yet shallow. The bottom was visible and many locals had been bathing there, so I didn't think any longer. As I love construction works, and there had been plenty of material, I quickly erected a small dam, which raised the water over knee level, giving a perfect place for cooling down.

Is it Africa already?

Is it Africa already?

Self–made bathing area

Self–made bathing area

There I have also seen the first stars. Dark nights began somewhere around Riga, and with the day shortening after the summer solstice, they will get longer and darker until somewhere in the Middle East, where I should arrive in the winter. No more cycling overnight, goodbye polar day!

The last city I had been planning to visit, was Liepāja. Also full of nice architecture and situated between sea and lake. There I found a gymnasium that was attended by the first Polish president, Gabriel Narutowicz. Before, at Riga Technical University I also had found a plaque saying that our third president, Ignacy Mościcki had studied there. As both of those findings were accidental, I can bet there are much more of Polish traces around.

More storks than people in the countryside

More storks than people in the countryside

Latvia surprised me positively with it's nonintrusive diversity. I had been prepared for quite mundane plains and more gray, coarse towns. Instead, I found a country pleasant to both eye and ear. Flat, but not boring. With sightly traces of history, spiced up by rough soviet remains, which do not dominate the big picture. Although an investment in the road infrastructure could improve a lot, the country has been already discovered by bicycle tourers. Thanks to cheap flights to Riga, here I have seen more cyclists than in three previous countries together.

Time to meet the trucks again and head south to Lithuania!

Comments:

Marta
Marta
7 years, 7 months ago
1-rzędna relacja :) zaczyna się, po woli, robić swojsko?
Ramacity
Ramacity
7 years, 7 months ago
...no proszę, okazuje się, że nie tylko w warszawie mamy taki ładny pałac :) moim faworytem jest "beczkowóz" z kwasem chlebowym. bardzo ciekawy blog!...