Archive for the ‘Latvia’ Category

Gravel road to Lithuania

25 August 2018

Riga to Jelgava by train – Jelgava to Mazeikiai by bike

We took an early morning train from Riga to Jelgava, 50km south, to give us a head start on a long day to Lithuania. Jelgava impressed us with its orthodox church, fine historic buildings and attractive public areas along the river and in the city centre.

Latvia is about to celebrate 100 years of nationhood and this is commemorated in Jelgava by an unusual public sculpture.

Our route commenced on a busy road but traffic lessened as we turned off on to secondary roads. Three storks were spotted early and, after that, many nests, but none occupied – either abandoned (indoor plants taking over) or maybe just vacated until next year. What did storks do before people were around to provide them with poles for their nests?

We had a good opportunity to observe Latvian farms. There was crop reaping occurring on several but otherwise pretty quiet. At a roadside shop we spoke to a Latvian tradie in his hi-viz gear who enthusiastically told us about his 2 month trip around Australia. At Auce, our halfway point, we had black bread, cheese and sausage bought at the Riga market, but only unchilled drinks could be found in the shop.

Soon after this the bitumen ran out and we were obliged to endure 30 km on loose gravel with clouds of dust covering us each time a vehicle passed.

At one stage I looked back to see if Ian was in sight and saw instead a man in black. He was an toothless Latvian man on a single speed clunker with a metal jerry can on his carrier. He had cruised past Ian and caught up to me. He stopped for a brief conversation in which we agreed, with no language in common, that the gravel road was bad, then he rode off.

The temperature was too warm (high 20s) for dusty riding but we slogged it out and reached the bitumen just before the border into Lithuania. Big road works were underway to improve a badly worn out road and these gave us the chance to test out new stretches of smooth hot mix that were inaccessible to cars.

On the approach into our destination, Mazeikiai, a Volvo had run off the road and got bogged in soft sand. We watched as some blokes in an Audi tried to tow it back on to the road with tyres spinning and smoking until the tow rope broke! Our hotel, located in an industrial area overlooking a truck depot, was both cheap and good and provided delicious Lithuanian food. However they had the underfloor heating going which made the room uncomfortably warm, so we opened up the windows and got both fresh air and high volume live music from the bar below.

Riga at a glance

23 August 2018

We are staying in Cheap and Good Apartments near the railway station. They are neither particularly cheap nor good but manager Jarek was friendly and the location convenient.

The rock music in the station square stopped at about 11pm so that the road works outside our room could continue in peace for the next few hours. We eventually overcame our addiction to fresh air, closed the double glazed windows and went back to sleep.


We went on an early morning sortie and saw the Opera House, Freedom Monument, old city and the splendid Daugava River. We had a hearty breakfasts at Merkel’s Restaurant across the under- construction road using half-price coupons from our lodgings.


The huge Riga Market is amazing. It fills 5 relocated Zeppelin hangars. Several have fresh produce. One is dedicated to pickles and another to fish (mostly smoked or dried) and expensive caviar. We can’t carry any of it. However, looking is free and most stall holders are happy with photos. Riga is a party town with hundreds of bars and cafes. We haven’t seen so much street life since Germany.

Brooding next door is the Riga Holocaust Museum on the site of one of Riga’s wartime ghettos. The museum provides a sobering reminder of unspeakable things that happened here during the second world war.


We caught a lift to the observation desk of the imposing, neo-gothic, sovietsky Latvian Academy of Science for tremendous views of the city and river – well worth the 5 Euro price.

We had dinner with Anastasia who lives in Riga and stayed with us in Adelaide a few years ago. Her family is of Russian ethnic background and we heard that the Latvian government considers Russian-Latvians aliens in their own country.

Mobile phone roaming update

23 August 2018


I need to update my previous glowing report about international roaming with a mobile phone in the EU.

All was rosey, as I previously reported, until the initial month ran out and I sought assistance with an extension while in Finland. It was not smooth sailing.

It transpires that, while they took our passport details, the small mobile phone agency in Berlin that seemed to assist by registering our Ortel SIMs for us didn’t actually do that using OUR names. Consequently, we were unable to extend our contracts.

Ortel advised that this problem could only be rectified at a post office, any post office, in GERMANY.

Lessons learnt?

  1. Register your own cards or supervise the process closely.
  2. It’s cheap and easy to buy prepaid SIMs in Russia and the Baltic states as there is no registration process.

I wonder which dodgy person ended up with our reputable SIMs.


23 August 2018

Purtsi to Valga, Estonia by bike – Valga to Riga, Latvia by train

It was cold and sunny at Purtsi this morning. We stopped for breakfast at Torva where the centre of town has been partly modernised with a big plaza and the rest has extensive road works in progress. It was a pleasant surprise (1) to find a cafe and (2) that it was open. Many Estonian towns have only a Coop or Konsum supermarket and little else.

We saw one stork today as it flew close by us with a stick in its beak, obviously doing some home maintenance before setting off for Africa.

Our destination was Valga another 30km down the road. As we approached Valga the road followed the Latvian border which was marked with black and white bollards.

The town is divided between Estonia and Latvia. It has an orthodox church of St Isidor with a cluster of onion domes and a huge bright white railway station. The big Maxima supermarket has a good fish selection, and in the entry a woman was selling delicious smelling smoked sausage and pork laid out on a long table.

We took the 2.37pm to Riga, a three hour trip at speeds we are accustomed to in Australia. It had wifi though and space for bikes. There is no integration of train services between the Baltic countries with each terminating its lines at or short of the border.

Arriving in Riga, our accommodation plans fell through and we had to make last minute arrangements before finding a Latvian beer in a shady park and a slightly overwhelming but good value buffet restaurant – too many food choices is not such a bad problem!