David and Camilla Taylor's slow bicycle ride through the Baltic lands

Journey South through Latvia

map of route

Friday 22nd August from Kabli to Salacgriva

Expecting an easy day today we delayed departure until 10h00. The weather was overcast with a strong southwest wind but the road runs south through pine forest with rare glimpses of the sea so is fairly well protected from the wind. At one rest stop we picked whortleberries which although ripe were not very sweet. The so-called beach resort of Treimani is a joke. We were expecting to stop for a cup of coffee at the beach. No beach. No coffee shop. The frontier with Latvia is just a notice at the side of the road and Ainazi begins immediately. We visited the Naval School Museum which has some old sea chests, photos and a hand rope-making machine rigged with he handle on the wrong side. We found a very good coffee shop in Ainazi and then set off to follow the Salaca river to Salacgriva. It is 9km east to the river from Ainazi and then an 18km sand and gravel road in very good condition follows the river although the river is never visible from the road. A couple of km. down the road however a sign points to Sarkanas Klintis (Red Cliffs) 0.3km, a track which took us to a beauty spot for which alone it is worth taking this route.

Sarkanas Klintis Inflateable raft's Crew

Camilla spoke to a group of Latvians who were setting off to raft down the river while I had a quick swim. The rest of the way was uneventful and we booked in to the Hotel Brize in Salacgriva. We recommend this as a good bicycle route from Ainazi to Salacgriva as it avoids the heavy traffic on the Via Baltica. We took our evening meal in a tiny fish restaurant "Kambise Pie Lasa Kundzes" which we can strongly recommend.

Saturday 23rd August from Salacgriva to Country House Dzirnupes

We did not set off until 10h00 as we did not expect a ride of more than 50km. and we had hoped to use the information bureau in Salacgriva to check on possible guesthouses en route. However on Saturdays the Information bureau does not open until 11h00 so we bought fresh bread and set off regardless.

Nesting Storks

We sat in a field at midday for our lunchtime sandwich and found that we were sitting in a patch of mint. Earlier we had ridden through the village of Korgene instead of bypassing it and we were rewarded by the opportunity to photograph nesting storks.Some of the road from Salacgriva was sandy gravel but is in very good condition. We took the turn-off to lake Astere and passed Dzirnupes on the left hardly giving it a second glance. It looked tiny and abandoned. We spoke to a couple of Estonians on holiday who were stopped by the lake with their BMW. Their map which in retrospect must have been pretty old showed a guesthouse in Astere village so we went on there and found nothing but a combined pub and post office so returned to Dzirnupes and were successfully accommodated.

Sunday 24th August from Dzirnupes to Country House Jokas

With a very friendly send-off we left Dzirnupes at 10h15 in a scots mist which required rainjackets for the first hour or so. The road is bitumen as far as Limbazi with a surprising amount of local traffic. At Limbazi we could not find the road out for the next leg at first and a very helpful russian-speaking lady who could not mapread tried to put us onto the main road. Camilla was nervous that we were on the wrong road until we passed the local aerodrome which is shown on the map alongside the correct bicycle route. There were a couple of old Cessnas parked outside the clubhouse and next to the road an old russian biplane appeared to be there as a monument although it seemed to be in surprisingly good condition considering exposure to the weather. This section is a good gravel road. We photographed piles of hand-cut hay in a field at the side of the road. In due course we found our way to Jokas but we were rather puzzled by the absence of the railway crossing shown on the map. We later learned that the rails have been taken up for scrap.

Hand Cut and Stacked Hay

Monday 25th August from Country House Jokas to Sigulda

Due to heavy rain we ate an extended breakfast and did not depart until after rain cleared a little at 10h30. Camilla had a slight tummy upset probably due to the rich sauce of Chantarelle mushrooms last night which I did not eat. The road south is rather muddy and potholed after the rain. John's latvian mother in her broad yorkshire accent had said "Yer nowt goin doon that mucky road are yer?" At Ledurga we switched from following the map recommended cycle route to going via Vanagi and Inciems in an attempt to minimise the mucky road. At Inciems we actually found a very good coffee shop and enjoyed an excellent coffee outside beneath a rain umbrella. Crossing the very busy A4 in the afternoon scotched any thought that we had of cycling the highway to Riga tomorrow. The P8 road to Turaida was bitumen but patch upon patch upon patch and a certain amount of motor sport type traffic. There was a lovely sight of the river as we crossed the Ganja and then a very steep climb up to Sigulda. I wound up to the top in granny gear. Camilla managed a couple of hundred metres but then chose to push her bike which was nearly as fast.

Livkalns is well signposted and after checking in and unloading the baggage we rode into town and bought the train tickets for tomorrow. On the way back to the guesthouse Camilla had a collision with a large quiet husky type dog running loose in the street. The dog I believe is called a Malamute. She did not come completely off the bike but hurt her knee quite badly. Back at the hotel we showered in our very fine en-suite and I was grateful to remove my cycling shoes which had been soaking wet all day since wading around in the long grass this morning looking for the bikes because I could not remember in which shed we had secured them. We ate our evening meal in the Livkaln's restaurant. The pork knuckle and beans which I chose (local speciality) held at least 500 grams of lean pork beautifully cooked and sufficient to feed four or more people.

Tuesday 26th August from Sigulda to Riga by train

Bike racks We departed for the railway station at 10h20 and arrived 17 minutes later. The train was waiting in the station so we were able to load bicycles and baggage at our leisure. The bikes hang by the front wheels from hooks and the rear wheels are secured within rails a respectable 50mm apart. The conductress - no english or german was friendly and happy with our multiple tickets. The train started out nearly empty but stopped frequently at local stations each time picking up groups of people returning from excursions in the woods laden with 10 litre buckets of mushrooms and bags or 2 litre buckets of small red whortle-like berries. The train arrived in Riga absolutely packed with returning gatherers.

Freshly gathered mushrooms It took us 30 minutes to unload the bikes and find the way out of the station. We had to take a lift down to avoid the stairs. We walked the bikes to the centre of the old town to find the information bureau but no real help towards packing up bikes. Then we rode the 10 blocks north to find the Hotel Victorija After booking in we went out seeking packing materials and scored two large cardboard boxes from the Miele showroom and a roll of masking tape and builders membrane from a building supplies store. We found the local supermarket and bought beer and preserved fish for our evening meal.

Wednesday 27th August in Riga

After breakfast in the 1st floor cafeteria (issue confused because they call it 2nd floor in the North American style) we went directly into bicycle cleaning and packing in the courtyard behind the hotel. The bicycles have to be spotless because of the Australian quarantine. We scrubbed with soapy water, cleaned chainwheels and cogs then dismantled handlebars, lashed wheels to each side of the frames and padded with corrugated cardboard. Then we taped a foam sleeping mat over each bike and finally wrapped the bikes in yellow builders membrane from the building supplies store but only sealed with masking tape which seemed a bit dodgy so we went out again and found a stationer selling packing tape which did a much better job. We cut down one of the Miele cartons to the exact size to hold our panniers other than the carry-ons, our tent, eating utensils, sleeping gear and bike tools. We sealed it with packing tape and tied with polypropylene cord. This took us all of four hours.

In the afternoon we took the No. 6 tram into the centre and visited the Occupation Museum. This is a very sad story and apart from anything else explains explains why the population density in this lovely country is still so low. The traffic in Riga is furious. All road crossing is done at traffic light controlled pedestrian crossings or in the centre by understreet walkways. Outside the information office we spoke to a pair of Berlin cyclists of about our age who were just starting a round Baltic tour. Camilla is having trouble walking after the collision with the dog but we managed to visit the famous Riga markets and be amazed at the enormous selection of foods on display. After returning with Camilla to the hotel I popped out to RIMI the local supermarket and purchased stuff (beer, roast chicken, pickled fish etc.) for an evening meal in our room. On the way I noticed that on the corner opposite RIMI there are at least 6 separate small florist's shops next to one another.

Kabli Chalets Hotel Brize Dzirnupes Jokas Livkalns