We stayed most of this week in Riga. We had intended exploring more of Latvia’s countryside but Stuart goes back to the UK for his daughter’s graduation next week while I stay on here to babysit Molly. So wherever we travelled, we still had to be back in the city for his flights. Then as the weather forecast looked so gloomy, we decided a city stay was more appealing than rain sodden walks through a national park or rural village, however quaint.
And it looked like there was plenty going on in Riga to keep us entertained. Concerts, museums, streets lined with the greatest collection of Art Nouveau architecture in Northern Europe, an amazing market, a shibari festival…..all good stuff and that last one did sound interesting. I had a vague recollection that ‘shibari’ featured in an episode of ‘The Good Wife’ but couldn’t remember what it was. I checked it out. Eh, maybe not. (Do tell your significant other if you google this to avoid funny looks over the toast and marmalade should your browsing history come to light).
Before getting to Riga, we did see some of rural Latvia. Just over the border from Lithuania, we stayed at a campsite within the Pape Nature Park.
We bumped along the rough gravel roads…..
….searching for the wild horses ….not these ones grazing in the field near our campsite…
…but these distinctive grey coloured ‘Polish wild horses’. A small number were brought to Lativa some years back as part of a WWF rewilding project. The herd is thriving and helping biodiversity in the process by chomping their way through what was previously an impenetrable grassland of reeds and bushes.
Life in the wild for horses sounds like a soap opera where the lead mare who runs the harem is the central character and plot twists are provided by the young stallions tussling with each other to move up the herd’s pecking order.
A sign on the locked gate to the meadow warned against getting too close to them so we parked up and wandered along the boundary fence to watch from a safe distance.
Then it was off to the beach. Ah, those lazy summer days by the Baltic Sea….
Pass the factor 30 please…..
…so I can pack it away. I don’t think we will be needing it.
On second thoughts…..stopping off in Liepaja on our way northwards, the sun came out for a few glorious hours. We lapped up the heat….
….before heading north to Cape Kolka via Kuldiga, a town known for its traditional architecture..
…but especially for its waterfall which is the widest in Europe.
We stopped off in the port of Ventspils for a walk along the waterfront…
…and then set off on the 50 mile journey to Cape Kolka.
The scenery all the way gave us a flavour of what a few campervanners we met recently tell us we can expect to see when we go to Finland. Miles and miles of trees on both sides with added mosquitoes….hmm.
It’s not sounding too enticing and our Scandinavian itinerary looks like it will have to be rejigged.
And here it is, the tip of the cape which under Soviet times was a base for the Red Army and blocked off to civilians.
It was dramatic to see the fierce currents made by the clashing of the seas of the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic Sea ….
… and scary to watch this guy navigate the waves, beer in hand.
Mercifully he was back at our campsite that evening, unscathed, still with beer in hand and only slightly wetter than us.
Altogether now ‘oooh Jeremy Corbyn….’ Stuart works his Jeremy does Glasto look.
So that was Cape Kolka, an anticlimax really and we weren’t too sure if it had been worth the drive there. Next stop Riga…..
…and ‘hello rain’. We’ve been expecting you. But we are not going to complain because big motorway puddles are very good for…
….washing the van.
We based ourselves for the rest of the week at Riga City Camping which was one of the busiest sites we’ve stayed on. Every day newcomers rolled in…
…including this arrival from Finland which we gawped at in awe though not envy. Imagine navigating the narrow streets of some centro historicos in that monster?
Ok maybe they don’t have to….passing by later on, we spotted their secret weapon. A car that fits neatly in the motorhome boot.
So far, we’ve seen a little bit of Riga by day…
…but mostly, we’ve seen the city at night. The Single Malt Bar was a favourite haunt…
…and we came across this new concept bar called ‘Easy Beer’. (Easy Wine was further down the road).
So this is how it works…
….though Evita explained it better (sorry for the rubbish photo Evita!)…
….and then Stuart tried it out. The plastic card has a 20 euro limit and can be used to buy small amounts of any of the beers on tap, the idea being that you get a chance to taste one before you commit to a whole pint. I’m sure Stuart will add his considered view of the concept to the Beer Gallery page in due course (now updated to include Lithuanian beers)
We went to two concerts, both in Riga Cathedral. One was in the garden which was an impressive setting by night.
It was a double bill of Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini followed by the headline act US gospel/blues singer Ruthie Foster. We hadn’t heard of either of them and shifted uncomfortably a bit when Simone Zanchini first came on stage and said that once he started playing he would not be stopping for 60 minutes. It was going to be a journey and what he played depended on his mood and the mood of the audience.
Oh lordy, we were in for a 60 minute jazz improv. Nice. We braced ourselves….
…but aside from some a few exceedingly surreal riffs (was it meant to sound like a fly buzzing a bear?) he was great as was Ruthie Foster who belted out some fantastic music, especially her acapella encore.
The following night we were back to experience the cathedral’s acoustics at a concert of organ and saxophone.
Most exciting of all though, we went on a kayaking tour of Riga at night. There were eight of us on the tour, two to a kayak following an 8 kilometre route down the Daugava river and along the city’s canals.
I can’t remember the last time I felt so dry-mouthed with nerves as when our guide delivered his safety talk. We were reminded that ‘might is right’ on the water and to watch out for the boy racers borrowing daddy’s speedboat. Setting off trying hard to paddle in sync, I wondered why this had ever seemed like a good idea.
For the first while, when the guide made us huddle our kayaks together like a raft in the river so he could point out the city’s landmarks, I was finding it hard to focus on his chats.
All I could think about was all that deep water beneath us.
Stuart, as you can see from the photos, was also finding it hard to focus though it was pretty hard to retrieve his phone from the dry bag and take decent snaps while at the same time hold on to his paddle and manage the rudder pedals.
We eventually settled into it and managed an efficient speed to keep up with the others though it was a bit disheartening to get back to base and discover that it hadn’t actually been raining. We had just drenched each other with sloppy paddling.
Driving over the bridge into Riga city centre the next day, I looked down at the river and was wildly impressed that we had actually rowed across it. In the dark. In a little kayak.
‘Weren’t we really, really brave to do that?’ I said. Stuart was having none of it. ‘Brave? No. It’s not a fast flowing river and we were wearing life jackets.’
Ah don’t rain on my parade. I’ve had enough of rain. Thankfully though it is looking a bit better for next week when we can see more of Riga by day before we set off for Estonia.