On my last night in Estonia I was not alone – having sought out the last RMK free camp site (ominously named Krapi) before the border I found myself being joined by more mosquitoes than I had encountered on the rest of the trip. So I was more than happy to see another bicycle front light bumping along the pine forest track towards me as the light was fading – another cyclist to share the evening menu with. Marc is from Germany and was on his way back home having cycled up to the North cap and back. And as he was clocking 120km+ per day and taking the ferry from Lithuania, he was very near his goal.
We were both unsure what awaited us in Latvia, as with one of the lowest covid infection rates in Europe we had heard new arrivals had to quarantine, but did not know how it would be enforced and what it meant for border crossing. We parted company after breakfast and Marc sent a message back from further down the small road we were both following to say there were no checks, just cameras – something that became a recurring theme in Latvia, cameras everywhere. There were even signs on trees leading into fairly dense forest promising security cameras. The other initial difference I noticed over the border was the slightly sickly sweet smell of the cars going past me, the unmistakable waft of LPG reminded me instantly of riding in Georgia.
After one more night by the coast and a stop at the beautiful little Saulkrasti bicycle museum, I was in the capital city of Riga, where Miriam arrived by bus and we settled into our quarantine period in a top floor flat with a rickety old lift with comedy swinging doors (which made getting the bikes up to the 6th floor interesting). Visiting the city was limited to a couple of very socially distanced walks in the evenings and ordering food to be contact free delivered to our apartment door.
Getting back on the bike and back to the Eurovelo 13/10 took us straight back to the coast and miles of white sandy beaches. Even better was the fact that the sand was hard enough to cycle on, so when we could find access points through the dunes we could ride right next to the sea for stretches. Unlike in Estonia though, there was no free camping provision and almost all of the coastline was either privately owned or designated national park and clearly signed no camping.
Luckily accommodation was pretty affordable, especially when split between 2 and we stumbled across some real gems; including a barrel right next to the shore facing the rising sun in the morning, a lakeside cabin with just the 11 beds for us to choose from, and more often than not our own private beaches as no one else was staying. The weather was getting ever more autumnal but the coastline had plenty of windswept beauty for us, between the major towns along the bay of Riga and the Baltic sea.
At Kolka we left the bay of Riga behind us and turned more southwards along the wilder Baltic sea. In Martine we searched for a boat graveyard among the pine trees behind the sand dunes. In Ventspils we spent a morning tracking down cow sculptures which are dotted around the town (putting Milton Keynes to shame I have to say), a diversion inland to the regional cultural hub of Dundaga led us to a crocodile sculpture celebrating the origins of THE Crocodile Dundee, and in Liepaja we spent an afternoon in Karosta prison and pottering around a part of the city which had been shrouded in secrecy and completely off limits to the locals during the Soviet occupation. Its subsequent reintegration into the city’s life since the mid-90s has also been fraught with social difficulties.
But before we knew it, the wind had swung round from the south to the north and blown us to within a day’s ride of Lithuania. So Klaipeda will be the next stop on this Baltic coastal adventure, and possibly the last as it’s not possible to get a Russian visa to travel through the enclave of Kaliningrad due to Covid. Meaning our route will have to head inland, where the eternal distraction of the coast and the beach won’t be able to blinker the greying skies and dropping temperatures of the last few days.