Was in bed late; early start once again. I had only 2 hours of sleep.
My plan to use as many night trains as possible didn’t work out well so far. There simply weren’t any, and travel times weren’t so long most of the time anyway. Today, however, was an 11-hour trip from start to finish. This would have been nice to travel over night. Instead, trains often leave very early in the morning. Yaaawn…
Latvian Railways have a service to Valga, just across the border in Estonia. The last stop before Valga is Lugaži (really not more than the ‘station’, from the looks of it), still in Latvia and just 3km from town and border. I got off there and cycled into Estonia over icy roads. There is finally snow here.
The border runs right through the town, with Valka being the Latvian part, and Valga the Estonian. I had 3.5 hours to kill until the connecting train would leave for Tallinn. I think I have seen most everything of Valka/Valga, and had lunch as well.
The train was new, comfy, sometimes fast, and bike transport is free. That is a first.
I’m in a hostel in Tallinn’s old town. It’s a touristy beauty (the old town). Hostels, on the other hand, are not what they used to be. Nobody says ‘hello’ anymore, there is no ‘backpacker feeling’, no ‘community’. Just cheap lodging. I’m too tired for this shit.
Hm, a day out in Rīga. The center is a maze of right-angled streets, lined with massive stone houses and tiny wooden ones. All of them beautiful.
There is waaay too much motorized traffic here. However, the number of cyclists has steadily increased since Minsk (which is not difficult).
The old town is the usual pretty tourist trap.
Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous.
As usual I tried to find some nice spots in the suburbs and was lured along the river Daugava towards the port and industrial areas. Also as usual, it is difficult to get anywhere near the interesting bits. There are lots of decaying buildings there and all over the city.
It is still around 0°C.
The bouldering options didn’t appeal. Is it time to set up a proper bouldering gym in Riga?
So, by bus to Skoudas. There was one other passenger (ok, it’s Sunday morning). It did have wifi.
From Skoudas the bus goes along the Lithuanian-Latvian border all the way to Mažeikiai and Naujoji Akmenė, both of which would have been good starting points for the ride north to the Liepāja-Rīga rail line. Writing this I feel a bit like in the Wild West, where people would trek towards the rail line and it wouldn’t really matter where exactly they hit it. Anyway. There isn’t much difference in the distance I’d have had to cycle, so my choice was Skoudas, hoping I’d manage to be in Liepāja in time to have a wee look around.
While temperatures were comparatively mild in Klaipėda (slightly above 0°C), further inland puddles and flooded fields were covered with thin ice.
The ride from Skoudas pretty much started with crossing the border to Latvia, which was easy enough. This is all Schengen. There was just a sign, “Latvia” (not even “Welcome to”…).
And the ride itself? Grand, gorgeous, just great! The sun was shining, there was hardly any wind, and I didn’t feel cold at all, perfect! It was also exhausting due to the backpacks. I rode mostly on compacted sand and tarmac roads of debatable quality, but the bike held up well. It has, by the way, never been this far away from home.
I arrived at Liepāja’s train station at 3pm and first of all I verified that the train was indeed going today at 5.30pm. That left me with just over 2 hours to have a look at Liepāja’s center and its suburb Karosta.
I left my luggage at the station’s kiosk and cycled – free and light! – into town. Liepāja is amazing (from the 1-hour look I had at it), especially the architecture (that’s basically all I saw). It is also a bit crumbling. Many of the old wooden houses are in desperate need of repair.
Karosta is also interesting. During the times of the Russian Empire, and after that during Soviet times as well, it was a Secret City, closed to all outsiders. After Latvia broke off of the Soviet Union, Russia withdrew its personnel and the town is now open. The population dropped from 25000 to now 7000. It is a most weird place. A mix of red brick housing blocks, houses that look more like villas, those typical Soviet concrete tower-blocks (Plattenbauten), and newer (and older as well) detached houses. And in the very center a massively impressive Orthodox cathedral.
I was back at the station at 5.20pm. Interestingly, the ticket booths there are now used to sell bus tickets. Train tickets can be bought only on board the train.
The rail network seems to be well used for fright, but passenger transport is mostly done by bus. Earlier, when I arrived at Liepāja’s station the first time, people where queuing up for the bus to Rīga (and there was more than one going today). This train still has some capacity, to put it nicely.
Hm, if the other lines operate only once weekly as well, they could get by with one train, one conductor, and one train driver. Nah, fortunately, my next connection to Valga in Estonia, is served three times a day, every day!1! (That is also the only currently existing connection to any neighboring country – and Valga is literally just across the border.)
Yesterday’s hostel was a treat, but the hotel I just picked in Rīga leaves a bit to be desired. Plus I have to park the bike in the backyard, without roof. That’s a first.