Ville riding a statue of Baron Münchhausen, best known for his adventures riding atop a cannon ball.
Just rolled into Riga, the capitol coastal city of Latvia today after a packed full week of remembering what it feels like to ride bikes. Luckily, the saying "it's like riding a bike" is actually true. Once you know how, you kinda should always know how. It's just that, well, it's been a year since we were in the saddles for longer than a spin around town and we both were a bit out of shape and pretty rusty. But dang girl it felt goooooood!
After spending a few days in Helsinki trying to cram in seeing as many friends in town and not on summer holidays, we boarded a giant ferry headed for Tallinn, Estonia. Having lived in Finland a while and never having made the trip over, we planned ahead and booked a couple nights in Tallinn to see the sights. Having grown up in Finland, Ville had remembered coming to Tallinn in the 90's, having only come out from under Soviet Union rule in 1988. According to Ville, it was stepping back in time to a country still playing the Soviet Union part, had a lot of shady areas young Ville was told not to go, and was recommended to travel with a guide. The country has developed leaps and bounds beyond what Ville said it was like.
Tallinn is a bustling and hip little capitol; full of cobblestone streets, three-storied old stone buildings, decadent inexpensive food joints, breweries, bakeries, creperies, and cheap booze, all surrounding an old giant fortress up on the hill. It was cool! After two full days of walking all over so we could justify stuffing our faces, we got on our bikes and pedaled west to near Paldiski on the coast. We camped with a great new friend we met on the ferry from, where else, but Portland, Oregon. Small world we live in. Meghan had only a handful of days to bike, but we ended up getting to meet up a few nights to hang together. From there we biked to Haapsalu, another cute little Estonian town on the coast with a fortress and a handful of lakes. We took a day off already (thanks to the massive heat wave in Europe, our butts were not loving it) and ate too much good food with Meghan.
While in Haapsalu, it finally rained and cooled down from high 90's to 60's and we were so pumped. I had worn biking shorts most of the Alaska to Argentina ride, but had only really used chafing cream in the Central American heat. It had been so long, I hadn't even brought cream along and was a bit stranded without it. It really is a miracle I can even feel from the waist down anymore. I know you are probably thinking that is the REAL reason we don't have kids :) From Haapsalu it was a day and a half ride to Parnu. Along the way we camped in a super nice lady's yard. Lucky for us she was voted one of The Most Beautiful Homes in Estonia 2005 & 2007, so her outhouse was the nicest one I have ever seen (it even had a sink with running water).
Parnu, another large coastal Estonian city, we rode in early and decided to only stop for lunch and make a few more miles down the road. The road dumped us onto Via Baltica, the I-5 of the Baltics where the shoulder all but disappeared and giant semis careened past our faces and and we actually had countries with worse roads to compare it to, such as Honduras. Although longer, we opted off the road to some side roads as soon as possible and met the sweetest little old lady, Tiiu, who was so excited we asked to camp in her yard. Actually, there has been a bit of a language barrier since entering Estonia, because although the language is similar to Finnish, most Estonians speak Estonian or Russian, a product of their checkered past. So Tiiu called her son and he translated for her and she was still very excited to have us camp, hugged us profusely, and even made us some coffee before sending us on our way in the morning.
The next day we were able to stay on side-roads all the way until we entered Latvia, and then we ended up on a side-road into a massive forest that turned into a bit of a sand pit and we opted for the crappy Via Baltica highway instead of risking pushing bikes through sand. The shoulder was hit or miss, but the landscape was pretty, flat, lots of trees and pretty much the same as Estonia. By end of day we ended at a really swanky resort that we contemplated staying at because we could (it was in the budget), but after walking in and seeing the fine linen table clothes and super quiet dining guests, we opted for the wacky campground nearby instead. Empty, quiet, with a working shower and random cartoon painted RV trailers scattered in the yard to rent. We slept in our tent and met a really nice Dutch bike-touring couple that showed up and another very different Russian family who stayed in a trailer.
Now the Dutch couple were really nice, but wanted to ask me a bunch of questions about Trump and, well, why? I completely understand why travelers ask me, but I always get so bummed because I wish they could go ask him themselves why he doesn't care about the planet, tweet terrible things about other countries and basically be the opposite of a diplomat. I can't answer them, but I realize why they are upset. Wish I knew how to make it better. As for the Russian family, they were super nice, just a little different. Odd. I was sure I would find a dead horse head in my sleeping quilt, but in the morning, they packed up, and as they pulled out, stopped, rolled down the window, and with a thick Russian accent that sounded just like Bulrat, said, "Have a nice journey."
We had a full day of biking on and off the highway, had an unexpected mouth-watering burger stop, and when we arrived at a hotel on a lake we thought might pan out to stay, they were booked for a work event and we opted to stay at the hotel next door. Of course the restaurant was also closed and the one time we don't hit up the grocery store in the last town, there is no dinner. So we opted to drop panniers and bike without bags three and a half miles back to town to get dinner and man it was probably one of the best meals we have had! Mussels, salmon and jambalaya all better than some of the nicest restaurants in Bend. We stocked up on candy at the gas station and pedaled back to our hotel. There was some partying festivities from next door well into the early morning that could be heard through the walls, but we did get some sleep before the cannons (yes, literal cannons) started going off this morning. Turns out there was a military base on the lake and who knew there would be rounds of gun fire and cannons all morning. That and some pretty cool wasted Latvians and Estonians stumbling around. After breakfast, we had only 30 miles into downtown Riga and most of them winding through little towns on back roads.
There was a really nice bike path this afternoon winding us into the capitol, Riga, and we fairly easily found our hotel. The afternoon was spent walking all over the Old Town area, which is so similar to all the old towns of the Baltic region. But outside the Old Town was a much more run-down and sadder looking city where you can almost see the corruption. Ville left me sitting outside a few stores to go find me headphones, and it was some pretty spectacular people watching in Eastern Europe. Not that I am the poster child for fashion, but the outfits and t-shirt sayings are just too much. The roads in Latvia off the Via Baltica are really bad and as we rode through so many seaside towns with gigantic houses, we would joke that the Head of Transportation must live in them. Latvia is like the US, and so many other countries where there is a big divide between the haves and have-nots.
We tried to book a second night for a day off the legs, but no go and so we are back in the saddle tomorrow and heading south. No set plan in place, Ville mentioned a quirky motel in 30 miles that gets great reviews. I hope they have a work party and cannons. Until next time ya'll, keep on keepin' on!
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K.G. & Ville
In New Zealand on bikes.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson