Tag Archives: Riga

TOP TEN IN 2010 – my travel highlights of the year

The end of the year is nigh, so it’s time for looking back to see what little lurks in the deep recesses of my failing memory.

Three continents, fourteen countries, some excellent meals and some terrible coffee are in there somewhere. Most of the many queues, airports and train stations have fortunately been forgotten, though an October night sleeping on the carpet at Singapore’s Changi Airport was memorable for the wrong reasons.

Here, in no particular order, are ten experiences I intend to remember for a long time… Continue reading

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RIGA, LATVIA – the travelling university of life

Riga’s spectacular art nouveau Alberta Street is crammed with clumps of senior tourists, trailing behind leaders who hold aloft ping pong bats with numbers… 15, 9 and 27. Every morning monster cruise ships dock in the harbour, and each disgorges tour groups for a quick whip around Riga’s main attractions.

I’ve often regarded such tourists with patronizing pity – those poor old people (or foolish young ones) who are too lazy or ignorant to organize their own travel. But now I’m one of those poor old people myself, having joined a 20-day Odyssey Travel bus tour , ‘The Emergence of the Baltic States’. It’s been an eye-opener, with my fellow travellers and the trip’s organization challenging my preconceptions.

I always assumed that package tourists got only sanitized, superficial experiences. They gawked at architecture, but didn’t understand it. They met few local people, had no interest in local culture and they preferred McDonald’s and Starbucks because of the familiar food and clean toilets. In short, their travel didn’t teach them much about the world. Continue reading

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Tour de LatEst – cycling in Latvia and Estonia

Thinking of cycling round northern Latvia and southern Estonia this summer? No, I didn’t think you were, but maybe you should put it on the ‘to-do’ list for another time.

A new 1296km cycle route, the Tour de LatEst, has just opened, and it sounds very interesting. I can’t claim to have done it myself, but in the streets of Tallinn, Estonia I recognised two heavily-laden Dutch touring bikes and got talking to their owners. Brilliant trip, they said, on quiet roads with only one car every ten minutes or so.

The route connects old villages with plenty of cheap accommodation options and sights of historical interest.

I was travelling by bus myself, from Riga to Tallinn via Sigulda and Cesis, but I noticed that through both countries cycle paths, fully separated from the road, ran beside the motorways for most of their distance.

The LatEst route is part on asphalt, part on gravel, though my informants told me this was in fine condition in good weather. It would be a bad idea to tackle the route in winter – temperatures can drop to minus 30 in Estonia. Latvia and Estonia are mostly flat – the biggest mountain in the Baltic States is less than 300m high. Both countries are heavily forested, and sprinkled with attractive lakes and farmland.

Signposted routes and traffic lights for bikes.

Inspired by the Dutch riders’ example, I rented a bike in Tallinn and went out for a few hours myself, just so I could say I’d done it. Most impressed by the infrastructure, and this in a land which is supposed to be struggling economically. More ‘developed’ countries could learn something from them!

For more information and cycling routes in the area, see:
http://www.vidzeme.com/eng.php?v=&id=29

Or if that isn’t challenging enough – try the EV10 - 4300km round the Baltics via St Petersburg and Scandinavia.

http://www.routeyou.com/route/view/197209/cycle-route-hansa-circuit-or-baltic-sea-cycle-route-ev10.en

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SIGULDA, LATVIA – Turaida folk song park

Krisjanis Barons, Latvian folklorist


Regular visitors to RT’s LOTR will know I’m a sucker for any sculpture garden. Someone else has done the real artistic work, and all I have to do is point a camera at it. In the small town of Sigulda, 50km north east of Riga, is a patch of green overlooking the Gauja valley national park. It contains seventeen large works in granite, each depicting a Latvian folk song.

Krisjanis Barons was a folklorist who collected thousands Latvian folk songs, known as dainu. These short poems are impossible to translate directly we’re told, due to the odd rhythm of the language. Indulis Ranka has attempted to represent them in stone.

The stories told in song are generally melancholy, tales of lost love and the transience of life. Or they are like proverbs – ‘A golden horse may inspire, but it is just a dream.’ ‘Better to soar like a seagull than to live like a snail.’ ‘Those who respect the past will be blessed by the future.’

The park opened in 1985 and is often the venue for concerts and other cultural events.

Entry costs 1lat (roughly USD2). English-speaking guides can be arranged for 10lat per group.

The writer was a guest of Odyssey Travel. http://www.odysseytravel.com.au

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CESIS, LATVIA – where Lenin is lying in crate

My fellow travellers were doing the guided tour around the ruins of the mediaeval castle, a short drive out of Riga...'First we look at the grounds, then we go inside to see the beautiful restored private parts of the Baron...'


...but I was intrigued by a plaque next to an oversized coffin, stuck away in a corner. I absconded from the group to take a closer look.

It's a surplus Lenin statue. He used to stand in city squares all over Latvia, but now he's been given some time off.

The writer was the guest of Odyssey travel: http://www.odysseytravel.com.au

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RIGA, LATVIA – images from a street walk

This town is becoming oh so cool!


The sun is shining, the cafes are booming.

'O solo mio' was very well played.

I spotted these gentlemen despite their camouflage suits.


From the tower of St Peter's I could spy on my fellow tourists.


And sometimes the locals spied on me.

The writer was the guest of Odyssey travel: http://www.odysseytravel.com.au

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Filed under travel photography, Travel- Europe