With all of the Latvian coast ahead of us, what did we do? Choose the Via Baltica for our hike. Well, it wasn’t too bad in the end, as a bycicle path was going along it, leading through quiet villages. We were looking around us, spotting the differences to Estonia. More stone than wooden houses, red-white-red instead of blue-black-white flags, a very different language (lots of accents replace the double vowels), and people are very surprised when strangers greet them.
In the hotel in Ainaži, we had received a free regional map with all information we needed: bycicle routes, attractions and all accommodation available along the route with website and phone number. This was much better than the general information of a road atlas and in combination with the GPS helped us organize our trip. It was time for a rest day, which we would spend in the port town of Salacgrīva, so we had reserved accommodation for two nights, based on the regional map. It is always a bit of a gamble when we book a place to spend a rest day (remember the “Flower Camp”?), because it has to be comfortable enough to simply hang around, write and read; it has to have a good WiFi for us to connect to the world and preferably offer a nice kitchen and be close to a shop and/or a restaurant.
The place we found in Salacgrīva was perfect for a rest day. We were the only guests in a very nicely renovated country house in the middle of a huge garden, with cosy rooms and a good kitchen. There was even fresh mint from the garden! Later that day, Janis the owner told us that this was his grandmother’s house, which he had renovated and turned into a guesthouse. In winter, he lives and works in Rīga, but from spring to fall he moves back to the place of his childhood and enjoys the nature, the sea and the company of his guests.
We used the day to discover the town a bit and walked along the river Salaca, where fishermen catch lampreys according to a centuries old method, and to the port, where huge piles of timber were waiting to be shipped to the world. We had Latvian lunch from a buffet (in case you were wondering, you typically get a piece of chicken or meat, potatoes, and cabbage salad; they often serve a cold or hot beetroot soup as a starter), stocked up for dinner and breakfast and went back to the guesthouse. Later in the evening, Janis invited us to join him at the campfire, where we shared some beers and talked a lot about Latvia and the world.
Day 34 was a hiking day again and we left Salacgrīva to reach a camping site further down the coast. Janis had assured us that the beach was good for walking all the way to Rīga. That was not always the case; sometimes the sand was too soft for long distance walking or there were too many rocks to walk comfortably or a river cut through the beach – but it was true that we could finally follow the coastline almost all the time.
We spent the night on a huge and very professionally organized camping site. Every tent place was numbered and had its own table and fire place and toilets and showers were in perfect order. And we were not alone; a couple of cyclists, many of them German, had chosen this spot on their route along the Baltic coast. We had the opportunity to chat with a woman, who just came from where we were heading to and we exchanged some experience. It was funny for us that her destination for the next day was Pärnu; it had taken us one week to walk down from there!
Day 35 turned out to be a long hiking day. Somehow the actual distances were longer than indicated on the map. Maybe that was because, after trying to cross a small river at the beach, Moiken got stuck until her knees in wet sand, and we had to change from the more direct route on the beach to nearby small roads. That was a pity, because the sights at the beach were so beautiful. We were passing by impressive red cliffs on our way, not to talk about long stretches of sand and the waves gently breaking close to our feet. A bit later, we gave beach walking another try, but the pleasant sandy beach changed to a stony one and we became tired of jumping from stone to stone on the beach. So we were relieved to find stairs leading up to the road. When we reached the top, a sign indicated that the road was interrupted at that point and pedestrians and cyclists were required to descend the stairs and walk on the beach for about 300 meters before getting back to the road. We found that very odd, because that road was part of an official cycle path. The detour on the beach was even worse for walking than the part we had tried to escape from and definitely longer than 300 m. It was hard to imagine how a long-distance cyclist would manage that part. When we climbed up the stairs at the end of the detour, we discovered the reason for the mysterious road interruption: Some friendly citizens had their property there and apparently did not want to be disturbed by passing cyclists and pedestrians.
We did not have a reservation for that night, but Janis had recommended a hotel in the area, which turned out to be very nice, reasonably priced and an excellent place to eat. Well, we actually had brought our own dinner, so we enjoyed an evening beer and a rich breakfast the next day.
On day 36, we did a lot of beach hiking again and only changed to the road when a river crossed our way (and Moiken didn’t want to get her feet wet again). It was a beautiful sunny day and we had reached one of Latvia’s beach resorts, Saulkrasti. Its 17 km long sand beach is cut by four rivers, we had the pleasure of walking some part of it barefoot with our feet in the refreshing sea. We arrived at the accommodation for the night relatively early, so it was clear what we would be doing next: Leave our backpacks in the room, put our beachwear on and enjoy a lazy afternoon in the sun. That’s what we thought. We fought our way into the hotel – gate was locked, we had to call a number with a grumpy Russian lady at the other end, who of course would not speak any other language (probably not even Latvian, although that wouldn’t have helped), we managed to make ourselves understood and she came to open the door to her fortress, i.e. beach hotel. Once we had put our stuff in the room, we went straight to the beach, only to find that the weather had changed and it was too cloudy and cold to stay outside. We went back to the hotel, which we were now able to enter without any phone calls, changed back into warmer clothes and set off to discover downtown Saulkrasti. The grumpy lady had become a bit friendlier now that we were guests at her hotel and recommended a visit to the open-air market, which was just opening in front of the hotel. We were more interested in sitting down in a sheltered place for a coffee and/or beer, which we found after a 3 km walk to the center of Saulkrasti. There was a nice café where we ate a lot of cake (Moiken) and a tasty kebab (José), had coffee and beer – all for the price of a single kebab in Zurich. It was early evening when we returned to the hotel, no need for dinner after that feast in the afternoon, so we went to sleep pretty early.
The city boundary of Rīga was still an enormous 44 km away on day 37. However, we started very early that day, full of energy and determined to get as close as possible to the city, so that on the following day we could already enjoy the afternoon there. Was it that motivation or the warm and sunny weather on that day – with two longer breaks for lunch and an afternoon shandy, we covered 34 km distance! We had decided to change our accommodation strategy; instead of booking ahead and trying to make it there, we would just walk and look for a place when we started to be tired. This strategy did not work so well for us in Estonia, where accommodation was sparse and the weather was not favorable for tenting, but with warmer temperatures and summer season starting in Latvia, this should work. It kind of did. We started looking for places to stay after 25 km, but ended up hiking a total of 34 km to a village, where the indicated hostel was not existing. There was a bus stop, however, and a kind gentlemen explained us in Russian that the next hotel was to be found a couple of stops from there. He was taking that bus, so he could indicate where to get off. This is how we reached the legendary Emmas Viesnīca (hotel) next to the industrial port of Vecmīlgrāvis. We had never seen anything quite like it: A little shop occupied the entrance area, the reception was manned by a security guard who only spoke Russian, the corridors to the left and right reminded us of a hospital or worse and very serious looking men, probably workers at the port, were heading to their cells, er, rooms. We managed to convince the officious security guard to give us a room for the night and after he carefully copied the names of our ID cards (we already had our passports ready, in case he asked) to two receipts (one for each inhabitant of the double room), we were shown to our room and to the shower on the corridor – locked with a separate key.
By taking the bus to the hotel, we had actually shortened the distance to Rīga, but you know us, that’s not how we work. So on day 38, we took the bus back to the bus stop from the evening before and walked the 5 km to Vecmīlgrāvis. The weather was kind to us and we could appreciate the movement of the port from a huge bridge, then we walked another 5 km to the city boundary on a bicycle trail next to the main road. Yay, we reached Rīga!
Not so fast, we still had another 5 km to go until our hostel downtown. That part was quite interesting. First, we passed massive Soviet style residential blocks, behind which a small path led into a green area. We expected that area just to be a small stretch until the next residential blocks, but no – we had just entered Mežaparks, one of many parks of Rīga, this one covering an amazing area of 530 ha. After the park, we were in the middle of a huge cemetery area and after that, we just had to follow a tram line for about 2 km straight line in order to reach our hostel.
What did we see and do in the Latvian capital? Wait for the next post to find out!