Latvian cycle trip

Jun 9th, 2019, 08:07 AM
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Latvian cycle trip

BritishCaicos added his Bordeaux cycle trip so I thought I should offer up this more sedate trip at the end of May. Mrs Bilbo and I try to have a 2 week cycling holiday every year and normally fly with bikes to the destination. However, we live in the north of the UK and getting to the Baltic means we run into a problem which is that just about all flights there go via Ryanair. Ryanair is, well....., clumsy, expensive for bikes and offer a poor insurance policy for the bikes so we decided to hire locally.

We chose to hire from Riga Bikes who worked out a great deal for us (E10-12/day) and their bikes were just as we had hoped, solid but light and well maintained. They would need to be, because, though Latvia has no hills it also has a limited number of roads covered with Ashfalt, instead our bikes were going to have to survive gravel, rocks, beach-sand and cobbles. We also like to holiday within striking distance of a railway system which we can use as backup if things go wrong or we get slowed down, unfortunately, the train system in Latvia would not be up to this as the majority of the trains are used to transport goods and passenger trains were maybe once a day on the most likely routes for us.

We decided to visit the area to the west of Riga as that would allow us to travel all over it in about 12 days based on 40km per day. Research showed that the Eurovelo 10 and 12 were complete in that area (they aren't) and that a number of Latvian cycle-paths had also been laid out and signposted (they hadn't) but we were able to download the GPS path files and read them on “MyMaps”. If anyone really wants a class on how to do this techie thing then PM me and I'll do my best.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 08:18 AM
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What is Latvia? Latvia is one of three Baltic states at the eastern end of the Baltic that are not Russia or Finland. They are all pretty small and were very much the battlegrounds over which a lot of countries fought during the last 500 years. More details at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latvia

It was the last country in Europe to become Christian, with its own special language and historically it was a source of amber, fish and long lengths of wood for the shipping industries of Europe, it was and is pretty poor.

The nation was born during WW1 when the Russians (in charge at the time) recognised the Latvia Rifle Regiment as being of special merit and independence followed as Russia had other things to think about in 1919.

Still, WW2 rolled around pretty quickly and the Germans and Russians then fought over the place. Latvia was next swallowed into the Russian Empire (sorry CCCP) until that collapsed and Latvia along with its two neighbours made a bid for freedom and joined Nato and the EU.

Unfortunately the CCCP had left a large number of exiles (Russians and Ukrainians) in the country who now have citizenship and speak their own language and look to the East rather than the West for religion and politics, while for historical reasons (see above) a fair few people speak German.

Riga is the capital where 1/3 of the population lives and Jurmala is the main beach resort where wealthy real Russians come to desport themselves every summer.

There are 2 million Latvians, the Jews were destroyed by the Germans but they have lots of different churches from Russian Orthodox to Protestant Christian and Roman Catholic. Currency is the Euro. The most famous Latvian is probably Eisenstein the film director. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Eisenstein.

To maintain a group spirit in defence of a small country with a unique language the country sings a lot. In small choirs and every five years as a nation they sing.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 11:13 AM
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Looking forward to reading more!
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Jun 10th, 2019, 06:57 AM
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Now the good news, the country is basically flat and is surrounded on two sides by fresh water (or virtually fresh water seas) what that does mean is that there are a lot of bogs everywhere. Food is a bit bland, think grilled meats, fishes, plain cheese, dill, potatoes, beetroot, rye bread and pulses of various types. Luckily they have many small breweries for a variety of beers, lots and lots of different vodkas, wines from Europe and Georgia (no not that Georgia) and the usual soft drinks along with Black Balsam (a “bitters” with a hint of tar).

Wildlife is pretty good, three types of snake, wolves, lynx, wild pig, deer, jackdaws everywhere, woodpeckers, storks (10k), and on and on.Weather is warm or hot from June to August. Chill and cold the rest of the time, with long long days in the summer as we are pretty far north.

We flew Leeds Bradford to Riga arriving at the airport at 9 at night, rather than hacking into town we stayed overnight at the airport before catching a bus into town in the morning (not really required but we were on holiday). That also introduced us to the Latvian diet for the first time. It consists mainly of bread, meat and eggs. Oh boy, a lot of eggs. Still, the airport hotel was clean and empty and the breakfast was included in the price.

The bus dropped us right outside the old city and we discovered that Riga old town is closed to all traffic. So we picked up our bike panniers and walked the 800m or so to the very central hotel to dump our bags while we did a walking tour of this ancient (post-Russian/post WW2) city. Frankly, it is lovely, think a small Prague without the tourists, with a large park down one side and a lot of restaurants. A fair few of the best sites were free. Especially good was the Latvian War Museum (which really went into a lot of detail!) and we had a good old nose around before checking into Rixwell Konventa Seta with a free upgrade to Junior suite.

Supper that night was in a cellar with the chance to have some traditional food (a bit bland but fine) and we then discovered that Latvia has a lot of little craft beers available, yippee.

What became more obvious is that restaurants and bars tend not to have menus outside and are open for a long time each day often with no customers in them. So don't be surprised if you walk into a darkened room and a man appears in the gloom to take your order before putting the lights on.

In the morning we went to the boys at Riga Bikes and received instructions.
  1. It is legal to ride on the pavements but take care and not everyone likes it
  2. Lock the bikes up everywhere
  3. Passing distance for cars is a minimum of 1.5m in town and 1.0m in the country, but not all BMW drivers know this law
  4. You can rent helmets but only foreigners do that.
  5. You can ride over Zebra crossings, cars must stop for Zebras (they all do).

Last edited by bilboburgler; Jun 10th, 2019 at 06:59 AM.
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Jun 10th, 2019, 07:42 AM
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Signing on. I loved Riga - did you see the Art Nouveau section outside the former walls?
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Jun 10th, 2019, 09:21 AM
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“To maintain a group spirit in defence of a small country with a unique language the country sings a lot.”

i love that idea, just like the Welsh bless them.

“think a small Prague without the tourists”

mmmm.. interested. Do the cruise ships call in ? Desperate to find a place on the coast without cruise ships. Skegness seems like the only current viable option.

OK, I’ll ask the question but is meant in the best possible taste. Why Latvia?

We are actually looking for new places which are way off the usual suspect list. Looking at the north Tatra Mountains or the Polish/Russian border.

As cyclists, how much respect do you get on the road?


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Jun 10th, 2019, 11:11 AM
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On for the ride. Sounds fascinating - how do I get my tandem out there?
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Jun 10th, 2019, 11:26 AM
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It does sound like the ideal diet for a Hobbit, though. I'm in for the ride.
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Jun 11th, 2019, 12:43 AM
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Ok, I'll start with British's question as there is a bit of background to fill in for those who are not British.

I cycled over about 2/3rds of European countries as the two countries I don't like riding in are Poland and the UK. Both countries have poor resources for "utility cycling" (the going to the shops sort of thing) and few resources for car users compared to car ownership while the people there are a bit confused between the importance of "rights" over "duties". In both countries, I've been shouted by car users for basically "getting in their way". This fundamentally not the case in most European countries. I am a utility cyclist and a touring cyclist.

I'm not a sports cyclist so I don't really see this stuff perfectly from BC's point of view but I would suspect it is worse than for Utility Cycling as most UK drivers have forgotten the cycling bits of the Highways Code long ago.

When we turn this idea on Latvia the first thing to understand is that apart from the few cities there virtually no cars on the road. We travelled 2km on a major road (they call it a dualcarriageway, which means one lane going and one lane coming) and were passed by 3 trucks and 10 cars over a space of 8 to 10 minutes. For many countries that is a back-country road. Nearly all other roads were really quiet. Conflict opportunities were non-existent. We did see a few Mamils out cycling and they seemed pretty laid back as well as some hipsters in small flocks.

In Riga, outside the historic centre the roads are very busy and confusing (trams, trolleybuses, buses, wood-loaded wagons, cars, motorbikes) and at rush hour pretty well solid. Allowing bikes on the pavement adds a certain frisson to the process as pedestrians and scooters were also there, the signage was frankly cr$p and often the pathway was narrow. Using Zebras made up for a lot but a sports cyclist would be driven mad by this element of the journey. The official route also included a fair few 90 degrees narrow bends so I imagine that tandems would have fun taking those. We also encountered the "zombie young" with headphones in.....

Latvia is still at that point when kids cycled to school with their mum, so I would say that cycling is still part of their soul, I hope they see the results of cycle tourism has on the outlying areas, because many of our fellow guests were in Latvia to cycle, especially from Poland and a few from Czech.

Why Latvia, because I've cycled around 2/3rds of Europe and Latvia's time had come. I also run Selfguide bike tour advice, links, how to in Europe; France Germany Holland Portugal UK Switzerland as a hobby and you have to experience stuff on the ground to write about it.

Would I move to Latvia, no, the winters are too cold I'd prefer the Mosel. However, there are over 600 mansions "manors" falling down all over the country that the government is keen for foreigners to rebuild. The drag of the young to Riga is always going be there and talking to kids only a few were staying home and normally because a returning Latvian-ex-pat had brought money to bring tourism to their birth town.
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Jun 11th, 2019, 12:48 AM
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Other points

I've cycled in the Tatras and they are pretty nice.
Riga has cruise ships but not many, it also has British wedding parties and a Finish ferry that comes for the cheap booze and wedding parties.
I'd not cycle in Russia or Poland, have a look at the death statistics. I'd not buy land in Russia as they have no laws (trust me I used to work with them).
Art Nouveau, yes we rode around a took a few photos both outside the historic centre and inside. Young Mr Eisenstein's dad Mr Eisentstein senior designed a lot of them, we also looked at a few Russian Orthodox churches that were bright beacons of despair in a modern world.

I think I got most of the questions, I'll carry on.
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Jun 11th, 2019, 02:30 AM
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Goodness Bibo

I’d no idea that you had covered so much of Europe.

I really take the point about the government management of and local culture with sports cycling. The city of Bordeaux is a perfect case. 10 years ago, the local government redesigned much of the road system to accommodate cyclists. It was a noble idea and works really for school kids or anyone on a mountain bike.

The general idea is : drastically reduce the width of the road for cars and create stand alone cycle paths which share with pedestrians. It’s fine if you are a leisurely cyclist or if the lanes are laid like roads with continuous tarmac.

Unfortunately some French cities have created a nightmare if you are using a bike with 25mm tyres and travelling at 23 mph plus. You can’t use the cycle paths as they have far too many bumpers and small curbs, they aren’t cleaned and have much glass and they aren’t maintained so have many issues like tree roots breaking up the tarmac. There’s also the added bonus of sharing with pedestrians on mobiles, with prams or large groups taking up all the path.

This is leaves you with the road which is too narrow for cars to overtake you safely and irate drivers.

I really didn't enjoy The city of Bordeaux. We cycled in Copenhagen recently and they have installed networks of bespoke paths. In this case we were using rented city bikes with quite wide tyres so no issues.

Where have your favourite cycling spots been?

I’m really going to radically revise the next trip and probably do 40 miles a day. Over a 100 miles a day, gives you a huge chance to experience large parts of an area but you invariably end up in a rut of cycle, eat, sleep. No chance to see the sights of a destination town or time to consider anything but the first restaurant you fall on.
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Jun 11th, 2019, 04:16 AM
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Denmark was great if a bit empty of people and cold (2 years ago)
Hungary was pretty good so we went twice. The spas make up for a lot.
Italy is always good especially the Po valley and Puglia, Tuscana needs a bit more planning but is doable and the views are special.
Holland is great for the ease of use and the food has come on a long way since the 1980s
German rivers and canals. Elbe (twice once from each end), the Mosel.
France but then again select with care, we cycled Northern Spain to Toulouse last year and that was lovely.


We find a shorter day is great, breakfast is not a hurry we check out 9:30 to 10:00 cycle to a coffee stop, cycle to lunch and then cycle to a hotel with a check in at 3:00 to 5:00 pm shower, wander around town then eat and sleep. Along the way, we can visit a castle, a museum or a vista with a cafe. Probably too many pancakes with ice cream. The website covers most of where I've been with Mrs Bilbo, so it has to easy and comfortable. For me, a road bike is too fast.

Last edited by bilboburgler; Jun 11th, 2019 at 04:19 AM. Reason: fodors keeps destroying paragraphs
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Jun 11th, 2019, 05:01 AM
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Cyclist here following along. Also interested because our son is in Riga this week. Highlight of yesterday was the Euro qualifier - Slovenia 5, Latvia 0.

Cars coming too close has almost ending my touring. Just not enjoyable. So reports like yours are pleasant to read.

Last edited by xcountry; Jun 11th, 2019 at 05:53 AM.
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Jun 11th, 2019, 05:46 AM
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hi xcountry

Day 1 of the ride.

We went out on the Euro13 to Jurmala roughly 45km through town and along a sea-side development for the Russian elite to pass their summers away from Putin to an apartment, (bathroom, kitchen, sitting room, bedroom and very large balcony, very clean, very tidy, E45) and an Armenian restaurant. MyMaps worked well, the saddles and our bottoms were becoming acquainted and we had become used to incredibly low levels of car traffic. Jurmala is a bit like Bournemouth only flat, lots of pine trees, some very large expensive houses and a few beach huts. Jackdaws everywhere, the cycle path, on the pavement, took some getting used to.

The Eurovelo system is supposed to offer well-signposted routes mainly off-road. While the app we use is working well the actual Eurovelo app is also proving useless. So that app was deleted from our phones.

Last edited by bilboburgler; Jun 11th, 2019 at 05:52 AM.
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Jun 11th, 2019, 05:52 AM
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Day 2 We follow the route out of town west. Lots of pavement cycling, which sounds great until you realise at every junction you have to ride down to a road and up the other side. Still, the parks we ride through are lovely, a low hanging tree forces me to ride into a scaffolding pole and knocks me off my bike (no damage). The ride on the map appears to be next to the sea, but due to a lot of trees, it is impossible to see so we decide to head more inland which proves far more interesting territory of lakes and mixed forest with slight hilliness. Every village has a mixed graveyard at its entrance but there are not many villages, few places to eat but mini-marts come along every 20km or so.

We end up at an excellent apartment £28 in a courtyard in Tukums a town of no special merit but fortunately with a number of restaurants (3) and a supermarket (1). Supper appeared to be in funeral directors but was actually a conference centre with added restaurant. Staff helpful as ever and food cooked to order.
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Jun 12th, 2019, 05:33 AM
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Day 3The weather has become colder and we now start wearing all our layers of clothes to cycle further inland to Kandava, still no rain but we end up spending lunchtime in the modern cafe of a chocolate museum, soon after we hit our first gravel road and finally peddle into Kandava as the rain starts. Nice hotel next to the old castle ruin “Pils” with a good supper. B&B costs £36 for two while our supper was roughly £18 and our bicycles are sheltered in the wood fed boiler house.


A bit too cold


Day 4 After the storms of the night, the morning broke a bit wet but actually, we managed to stay dry all day, helped by the expedient of lunch (and the only restaurant on the road) occurring at the same time as the storm broke. After the deluge, we headed into Saule to a guest house (£38 per night) looking over one of the two lovely lakes in the town. The last quarter of the journey takes place along modern roads with good cycle lanes and stork wheels on posts every 250m. So many storks.

We stayed in Suale for two nights here and found the town to be basically pretty but dull with two good restaurants and three poor ones, a cinema and two supermarkets. The town has two lovely lakes in the middle of town, by far the best Tourist Information based in a business start-up building which also acts a film/theatre space at the end of June for a festival. We walked into the local "international tourist" hotel for coach tourists which was ghastly. Our little guest house (with large hotel sign over it was far nicer) and the owner washed all our clothes for E6.
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Jun 13th, 2019, 01:42 AM
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Bilboburgler can I ask about my other favourite irritant - dogs. Any taking a run at you?
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Jun 13th, 2019, 03:24 AM
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Originally Posted by xcountry View Post
Bilboburgler can I ask about my other favourite irritant - dogs. Any taking a run at you?
No, just at one point a Roti and a canine friend came over to say hello and behaved perfectly.
If you don't like dogs don't cycle in Romania, still wild packs about since the Communist period.
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Jun 13th, 2019, 03:45 AM
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Day 6 After this, the weather brightened and we headed off to Dundagas on gravel roads. A lovely day with lots of dragonflies, butterflies, birds, deer trotting about and finally a woollen mill. Now Mrs Bilbo loves a good woollen mill and this was a good one. All natural dies, natural fibres and low prices so I left her to it and an hour later she came out with enough wool to fill a cycle pannier. That evening we stayed in Dundagas castle £44 in a renovated room, lovely park all around only one cafeteria in town but also a supermarket.

Day 7 Now we headed up to the Cape at Kolka where the Bay of Riga meets the Baltic proper. A good mixture of empty roads on black-top and the odd bit of gravel. A little dull but the weather was warming up. The cape is special as it is where the fresh water of the Bay hits the slightly saltwater of the Baltic. Very few people on the white sand at the tip but a line of swans feeding along the line of the water mixing. A bit sad as we start to head towards Riga and stay in the Zirini £44 B&B. It gets a poor score on TripAdvisor and it is not helped by all the water being sulphurous, but they give us a free bottle of water, the English is excellent and the food ok. Staff are friendly enough but why do I feel the guys won it in an all-night poker game? The internet and the room is clean what more do you want?

Day 8 The road on this side is more boring, just fir trees and black-top, we end up in a small fishing port called Roja. A lot of effort is going into Roja to make it a tourist town. Two good hotels, three good restaurants, lots of beach boardwalks and four supermarkets. The highpoint has to be either finding a bit of amber on the beach or the Blue Piglet of Hope and some fool climbing on it. Best restaurant meal all week (blood pudding with cranberries, who knew).

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Jun 13th, 2019, 04:09 AM
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Day 9&10

More flat and straight to Engure; strange two nighter at an old beach resort with access to 5 restaurants and two supermarkets. It must have been lovely in its hey-day but now …. Sunday morning was enlivened at 10am by a man running up and down the hotel corridor banging a saucepan lid with a stick. It turns out it is a wedding custom.Anyway we now had clean clothes and our bottoms were rested.

Day 11

The plan was a long day of 70km and temps 27C. We went looking for breakfast on the road and found brunch at Villa Anna where we turned up at 11:15 and blagged the hotel into re-opening to sell us all the waste breakfast to us for brunch. Horribly overcharged (from their perspective) it was a great breakfast for very little money with a view.
Crowded beach Villa Anna
We then headed inland towards the national park, this entailed a certain amount of asphalt cycling, a fair bit of forest trail cycling a visit to a castle (with pancakes) and a long long trip through a bog/lake land (with horse flies) on large-gravel roads to Hotel Kemeri where we were upgraded from the cheapest room to the most expensive (two bedrooms, large balcony) £35 for reasons which made complete sense to the management. Kemeri is a faded CCCP spa with nearly all the spa services burnt down it still has lovely parks and the beginnings of a modern hotel industry. Only one supermarket to find the makings of supper as the hotel has a small guest's use kitchen.

Day 12

Next morning it was going to be hot 29C and all we had to do was the last 45km through Jurmala and into Riga. Going back on the same route is always a little dull but we still managed a good lunch, a visit to a beach, some ice cream and a final bike tour of Riga before delivering the bikes back as the shop was about to close. Meanwhile, Rixwell Konventa Seta had managed to upgrade us to a senior suite B&B £55 which seemed to be because we were the only guests with young enough legs to climb 3 floors of stairs.

We dug out a Latvian restaurant that night and had “Black Balsam” in a sort of terrible tiramisu with rye bread and cream for dessert. It was never going to catch on, but it has a certain something.

In the morning we had a day to kill until the flight so toured the National Library which had a massive exhibition of Propaganda from WW1 and WW2 but it could have been the “fake news” of D Trump today. The waterfront and a few street markets seemed to fill the day until we took the bus back to the airport and a large supper at our airport hotel restaurant.

Last edited by bilboburgler; Jun 13th, 2019 at 04:11 AM.
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