Posts Tagged With: Latvia

Day 12: Riga to Biržai – 102k

991km down: 5,234km to go.

Not sure how it passed me by but there are SNAKES in Europe!!! Only found out after a couple of days of happily going for rest breaks in long grass, my biggest concern had been ticks! But sitting at camp one of the riders was showing other riders the picture of a stork slurping up a SNAKE! Oh my god!

Those who know of my totally ridiculous worm phobia are no doubt smirking right now. To my mind SNAKES are big worms but more vicious! The Aussie guy Brett said helpfully MOST (!!) of them are not poisonous.

Anyway I got it in back into context after an hour or two and a remedial wine (or two). The biggest danger is cars, or as I found out yesterday other cyclists! However no more long grass rest stops for me!

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So today up at 6am and back on the road again. The day was overcast and looking like rain, it looked like it might but actually didn’t! The traffic coming out of Riga was a bit hideous but thankfully we turned off the main route after about five minutes. The road today was through farmland with a constant up gradient. Lots of vegetable gardens, some were huge!

Today we crossed from Latvia to Lithuania. Once again no sign of the border, this time did not even see the Lithuania sign apparently it was there but was not in English!

As we were riding out of Riga today I saw a dog trotting along the street with that purposeful look on its face and important business trot that dogs have. While we were riding along I was thinking about this, like what is the purposeful look and trot all about? I was imagining what was going through the dogs mind: “So, I’m going to look for the neighbour’s cat to chase, then I’ll pee on the brown fence, and after that I’ll check out the rubbish behind the dairy” etc!

Anyway lots of run down houses, falling down barns etc still. The ride today never really got going and feeling good today, still feeling the effects of the fall off the bike coming into Riga.

Coming into town we somehow missed a turn and added 3k to our ride as we found the flags and followed them but worked out after coming past the same shops again that we had been following the flags from the wrong direction. Anyway sorted it out and got to the hotel. Once again we got to the camp site and there were rooms available, so it was a very hard decision to make – warm, dry room, no tent to put up, no worry about rain during the night, inside toilet and shower, for 20 euro. Took me all of 0.1 of second to decide to get a room.

I am sharing with Walli so will see how that goes, I am a bit concerned because there is a TV in the room but at least I have my music on the phone. I am really pleased we have a room as it is really cold here tonight and windy, only about 8 degrees! It also looks like it will rain.

Europe is having an usually cold and windy summer (which I have mentioned previously) which is hurting their tourism – but it does mean that so far there have been vacant rooms at each place that has accommodation. So far I have only slept in my tent twice – both places did not have extra accommodation on site.

To give you an idea of the temperature when we are riding, in the past few days I have been wearing biking pants (2 out of 3 days over boots), my ice breaker t-shirt, a riding top, arm warmers and at least 2/3rds of each day a rain jacket! So it’s not just New Zealand that did not get much of a summer this year. I’m hopeful that the weather will improve but as I was reminded today: I am on holiday. Also you generally keep pretty warm when moving.

Tomorrow weather forecast is not great but I have my full clothes now. I had been able to get my not-daily bag until yesterday, as we only get access to our permanent bags on rest days, so at least will not get cold wet soggy fingers.

Towororrw we are cycling 118k to Anykščiai, staying at the Zve Jo Sapnas campsite. There are rooms available there so we have rung ahead and booked 🙂 Otherwise the fast riders get in first, and if it is limited there may be nothing left.

Rob and Jenny tent every night, no matter what the weather is like. Then there are a group of riders – Michele, Dan, Scott, Yarn and Dana – who tent every night except the really wet miserable night. Then the rest like me who jump into a room if available.

Tonight at tea there was a comment and congratulations that I had gone an entire day without an injury! The wind caught the whiteboard that our instructions are written on for the next day, Jen said she was surprised it had not ended up on me!

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Transport, dogs, wind and directions

All the cites so far have had trams and buses and trains. Every country road we have been on has also had a bus stop about every two kilometres. Some of them have shelters but most don’t – it must be horrid in the sub zero winter! However although there are plenty of stops the buses do not appear to be that frequent. I have been past hundreds of bus stops in past two weeks in the country but so far have only seen a couple of buses. The bus stops seem to be in deserted places, but if you look really hard you will see a wee dirt drive going to a house or a house in the forest.

The transport has been excellent in the cities. In Russia I thought “well they have a population of five and a half million in the city, of course they will have a great transport structure” but even in Tallinn with a population of 400,000 in the city they had great transport. Today in Riga with a population in the city of 300,000 and there are trams and buses. The longest wait for a tram all day (have caught 5) was three minutes.

The buses are like two buses hooked together with a middle bit that bends, not sure if you walk through it, have not yet been on one to see.

Double trolley bus in Tallinn photo from Virtual Tourist

It seems to be very common to have a dog, in particular in the countryside, there are lots of really enormous dogs, thankfully mostly are fenced. We have had a couple of run ins but they have thankfully left us alone after barking at us until we have rode past what they obviously consider to be their zone. A number of people keep dogs in the apartments and you can see them out walking them in the shared grass spaces. Given that the apartments are not big and they are in apartment blocks, the dog must take up half the lounge and it would be a pain taking it in and out to the toilet but then I guess it is all about what you get used to.

At the open air market in Riga today it seemed every third stall that was not produce was dog food and treats.

The wind
It is not as windy as Wellington but it has been fairly steadily blowing, not sure what the phenomenon is that causes the wind to change direction every time you do, to me it is just like biking in Wellington but it is really getting to some of the other riders. I must admit though when I was imagining the ride I had imagined it minus the wind. The temperature in Latvia is about 17 degrees in summer and drops to -5 degrees in winter so not as harsh winter as Russia but a much milder summer.

Those of you who know my navigating abilities will be interested to know that apart from a couple of wrong turns that I quickly spotted, I have not yet got lost (helped of course by following Daphne and Shirley who are experienced at this and have a good sense of directions).

As I already blogged about earlier, we get instructions on the route plus the major turns are orange ribbon flagged.
The types of written instructions we get are
S – straight
RA – round about
L – left
R – right
LRA – left at roundabout
X – cross road
RHS – right hand side
LHS – left hand side

So typical day’s instructions look like:
R out of hotel
2.8k R onto dirt road (Euroveld 1)
X 10.8k S
Pavement / Euroveld 1
13.6k dirt
13.8k sharp L
14.1k R
15.3k R
16.9k R at t junction/ sign to Tallinn
24.35k L
Sign to Viru – Nigu
Immediate L follow sign
35.75k L follow Euroveld signs
36k R at t junction/ sign to Kunda
47.6k L at RA
Take 3rd exit to sign to Tallinn
48.9k S ra follow signs to kapepa
51k lunch truck!
72.8k R sign Vihaka and Vosu
78.8k stay L St T junction sign to palms
82.2k R onto Euroveld sign to Tallinn
85.5k sharp L
94.4k L at RA take 2nd exit
97.1k R sign to Kasmu
101.6k Laineka camp LHS

This is backed up by the orange flags and maps and GPS. There is also the sweep who is one of the tour guides riding at the back of the group, not that this would help if you had gone in the wrong direction.

Detailed directions, photo from Tour d’Afrique

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Day 11: Rest day in Riga

It was nice to get up and take time having breakfast then plan activities for the day. Walli and I went off to find the sightseeing bus, it was a bit of a mission as the stops did not say sightseeing bus stops here. We asked questions and got sent from one side of Freedom Square to the other three or four times. We finally saw it coming past and just flagged it down.

We also went to the open markets – they were totally huge. Although they say open there are three  buildings the size of a Bunnings or Warehouse, filled with meat vegetables and groceries. The outside had fruit and vegetables and usual stall stuff.

Riga Central Market from Wikipedia

We wanted to go to Blackheads House but it was closed for renovation sadly, so I took some photos of the outside  which is very spectacular. We stopped to listen to a  man playing the saxophone and ended up buying his DVD.

Blackheads House from Wikipedia

We had pizza for lunch and beef salad for tea. I managed to find antihistamine pills and cream thankfully as my foot is red, hot and itchy where the wasp bit me. I am keeping a close eye on it. I have taken anti inflammatory pills for my shoulder today as it was starting to stiffen up and hurt more as the day went on. Hopefully it will be ok for riding tomorrow.

Now I have to  pack and get ready for the next three days riding and three nights in a tent. The plan for tomorrow is:
6:30am: Bags out front
7:00am: Breakfast

7:30am: Leave here in convoy until out of the city

Tomorrow we are riding to Birzai which is in Lithuania – 105k, and no dirt roads!
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Day 10: Mazsalaca to Riga – 95k

889km down: 5,336km to go.

Good news is the weather is fine, bad news is the day once again started with a dirt road for 6k. My tyres handle it better than Daphne and Shirley as they have a light touring bike and much thinner tyres (also means their bike rides faster on the Tarmac than mine but as not as robust off track).

After the dirt road it was a gentle climb through farmland and a few small little towns. We stopped for coffee and to see a Latvian bike museum. At one stage there were six bike factories in Latvia alone. There were all sorts of bikes – I have taken some photos, one worked on rail tracks, one had a basket out the front large enough to do the weekly shopping.

The lady who runs the camp we stayed at last night was telling us that there is lot of unemployment in Latvia. In Estonia when the Soviet Union dissolved the Estonians kept all the industries going but the Latvians didn’t. A lot of the young people are leaving the country to find work. Added to this, business is bad for the tourist industry, locals have no money as the summer is very bad: windy with lots of rain so tourists are not coming to the camp grounds (apart from us crazy bike riders).

The second part of the ride today straight after lunch was a bit of struggle, I had tired legs but came right after about an hour. 5k out of Riga our friend the rain returned to join his best friend the wind, but we were happy knowing only a few kilometres separated us from a soft bed, a warm shower and a rest day.

Unfortunately today I had my first spill off the bike. Michele and I had stopped at a kerb to let a tram go past and we started across the road together, but for some reason Michele decided to jump up onto the next kerb directly in front of me. Bang, down I went. I can not see why anyone would ride a bike without a helmet – I could hear and feel the whack as the helmet hit the road. Thankfully only minor injuries to me – sore elbow, neck and collarbone, the bike is unscathed. I was a bit shaken but got back up and rode on to the hotel (keeping a considerable distance from Michele).

I have added this to my list of other injuries:
1. Numerous blisters from St Petersburg – one of which is still on my heel
2. In the drying room at the camp I had gone in and shut the door but when I went to go out someone had opened it and I did not see it through the hanging tents and walked into the door and smacked my forehead
3. Sitting at dinner on a bench/beam, I was sitting on one end and Dan was sitting on the other (he is quite a large man) he suddenly got up and the beam upended with me on it – I hurt my left palm (which is of course right where I rest it on the hood when riding)
4. And to top it all off I was sitting at dinner minding my own business when a wasp for no reason flew up, stung me on the top of my right foot, and flew off. This was when I discovered I do not have antihistamine cream or tablets – they are now on my list to buy today!
Apart from that it is just the usual aches and pains of continuous riding, which will improve as I become accustomed to it.

On a positive note:
• There have been no serious injuries with anyone
• There has only been one puncture within the whole group
• The riding so far – and for the next week – has been mostly flat
• And I am on holiday – even on the wet miserable day I was still happy to be here on tour!

So after my spill, I got to the hotel, it was a very nice one:

The first stop after a shower was the laundry to wash the no doubt very smelly bike clothes. However the hotel was not able to tell us where to find a laundry (language barrier) but Jenny googled it and found one so we (Jenny, her dad Rob and I) hopped into a taxi and off we went. We found it ok but it was going to be two hours to get washed and dried, but the lady said we could come back and pick it up, she would transfer it from the washing machine to dryer for us – what a change from the lady in Tallinn!

While we were waiting we decided to go and have some tea – no one else seems to use the word tea for dinner and I have confused a few people and myself with their responses as you can imagine:
Kaye: Do you want to go and get some tea?
Fellow bike rider: I don’t drink tea
Kaye: No I mean eat tea
Fellow bike rider: You eat tea?
Anyway, I managed to communicate myself well enough that we had dinner and a drink at the alehouse across the road. I have been trying different beers as I go through the different countries. Yesterday I had a Flying Dog Brewery: Double Dog Double Pale Ale. It was ok, would not make it my usual. I was intrigued by the Flying Dog: Raging Bitch but did not try in the end as my first beer was 11.5% and had already had a reviving beer at the hotel before we set out. The meal was great – salmon steak with white wine sauce, portobello mushrooms cream, bouillon, leek, rice with spinach, olive and greens – it was really nice.

Plus – and it’s really sad just how excited I am about this – I finally found snap lock bags!! Big ones, small ones and middle sized ones!! Or should I say allzweckbeutel bags. Yay I now own about 100, ha just smiled again with the joy of it, sad person aren’t I? It is amazing the things you treasure and miss. Luxury becomes an inside toilet, dry clothes, and in my case – snap lock bags. For those of you curious what I want them for, in particular it’s to put the phone, camera, and now of course the iPad, in for protection, plus they are very useful to make and put an extra sandwich in at lunch time in case you need it later.

We got back to the hotel at 7:45pm, just in time for the 8 pm massage I had booked to help with the aches and injuries – it was very relaxing, I came upstairs and feel straight asleep.

I woke up at five am this morning, once again really pleased that I have my own room so I can potter around without worrying about disturbing anyone.

Today I am going off to do the touristy thing again, I am off to the old city to see the old town, looking in particular for:
– Riga central market
– The black heads house
– National opera house
– Dome cathedral
Plus I will do another bus trip around the sites. And new to the list: to hunt out antihistamine cream and tablets. Plus if I can find a post office, I will get some post cards.

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Day 9: Joulumae to Mazsalaca – 118k

794km down: 5,431km to go.

Thankfully although the weather forecast had said rain all day there was no rain when we set off. We had a good flat and gentle climb once again through forest. The rain played games with us all day – the sun would come out then the sky would go dark and the rain would spit, we would stop and put on our wet weather gear then the sun would come out and so on ……. All day must have changed 6 or 7 times!

We went through the border to Latvia at 43k – no border control, just the Estonia flag and the Latvia sign together. Immediately though the condition of the road deteriorated!

Mostly the ride was flatish with a few steady climbs, 10k before lunch it was a dirt road again but not too bad. When we got to the lunch stop we were joined by a drunk elderly Latvian man on a bike who had a long conversation with us.

After lunch we continued the “rain versus sun and changing clothes” game. We saw another storks nest, but in this one 3 young fledgings were practicing flying. They were rising up and down on the nest but not actually going anywhere.

The ride seemed to stretch on and on today, I was very pleased to get to the last turn off the main road – unfortunately it was my old friend a gravel road again for 6k. This was really dreadful – the bike wheels kept losing traction, a number of people came off and it seemed to take forever. Finally turned into the camping ground which is very nice.

Today was also meant to be a tent day but convinced Shirley, Walli and Daphne to come in with me on our own villa at 11euro each – a bargain with its own toilet and shower – and no tent to pack away again in the morning, or rain to worry about overnight.

Tomorrow the weather forecast is rain but thankfully we have 95k to Rigga and we have a rest day the next day to look forward to.  I am refusing to think about how the only way out of here is back along the same horrid 6k stretch of soft dirt!

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