A Long And Wonderful Day

By Jane Mountain | July 17, 2013

4280 km so far.

We packed up camp this morning alongside JY, the three of us getting ready for the short trip into Rīga. This was Jean-Yves’ last day on the bike for this trip, and he was a little sad to be going home. He does a bike tour every year, and tells us it is addictive; there are good days and bad days, but once you start, you just can’t stop. So far, we’ve been finding this to be true.

As you know if you’ve been journeying along with us, the days of boredom, rough roads, and bad attitudes come frequently. But the days of beautiful sights, great food, and new friends come just as often. It’s hard to stop pedalling when you know something great is just around the next corner.

Or the next. Or the next.

Rīga Riche

Our sad little campground was just on the outskirts of the town of Jūrmala, a seaside resort about 30 km from Rīga. JY had read that the town was primarily populated by new money from Russia. Our route took us along one of the residential streets in town, proving this to be true. It was lined with giant, tacky houses, the like of which we haven’t seen since last we were in Beverly Hills. Actually, most Beverly Hills houses are gorgeous, despite their ridiculous proportions.

The house in Jūrmala were more like the Barbie Dream House come to life. Lots of cake decoration details, too many castle turrets to count, and all ridiculously large.

The new houses were interspersed with: the wooden houses we have been seeing throughout Latvia, many in great disrepair; half-built mansions, the projects abandoned when the builder ran out of money; and tiny summer cottages, again, many abandoned. It was also clear that even the well kept new houses were mostly unlived-in. Presumably the owners only pop down for a couple of weekends each summer.

I could have spent several hours taking pictures if the boys had let me. But since we were on a timeline, I only stopped for one.

A typical house in Jurmala.

A typical house in Jurmala.

Pocket Earth really did itself proud today, finding us a bike path almost the entire way between Jūrmala and Rīga, saving us from the busy A-road we otherwise would have taken. Our route wound through forests and past train stations all through the outskirts of town. It was crappy paving, and pretty busy, but that’s a small price to pay for keeping us off the busy streets into the city.

JY rides quite a bit faster than we usually do, especially along the bumpy, crowded, curvy paths, so I was pushing to keep up the entire way. It was good for me, taking me out of my routine a little and getting me back into my brain and body, and pushing me to work a little harder. Since we were due to meet our host Ilze at 1pm, and we didn’t leave camp until 11am, it also kept us on our timeline.

Yogi Hospitality

We said farewell to JY a few kilometres from the apartment where we’ll be staying. It wasn’t a sad goodbye, as we’ve already made plans to hang out while we’re all in Rīga. And then on to the apartment, where we unloaded our bikes and took everything up to the 7th floor! Fortunately, Ilze and her partner Helmuts have had experience of these things (Helmuts has done a 3-month trip through Mongolia!!), so they had a routine all worked out.

As we were loading our bikes into the elevator, we met Ilze’s neighbour Daniel, who was with his friend Chris, who’d just flown in from England. We had a quick chat at the lift, and found out about Positivus, a music festival happening about 100 km north of here this weekend, which we are now considering going to.

Ilze co-runs the studio where Stephen will be teaching tonight, and since she and Helmuts spend the summer in the countryside, like so many Rīgaans, she has generously given us the keys to their apartment for a few days. Just amazing hospitality, considering we had never met and only know each other through the internet.

View from Ilze's lovely apartment.

View from Ilze’s lovely apartment.

As soon as we met, we both felt instantly comfortable with Ilze, as though we’d been friends for years and were just stopping by for a drink. She is another one of the open and generous yogis we have met who seems happy to share her life and her kindness freely. We would be surprised, except yoga has delivered us to the doors of several such people, so now we almost expect it.

After Ilze left, we went out to see what we could get to eat. Rīga has several vegetarian / vegan restaurants, so we’re sure to eat well for the next few days. Our first taste was at Taka, a cute vegetarian restaurant and bar. It is filled with an eclectic mix of couches and arm chairs, clustered around coffee tables.

Taka restaurant in Riga. Riga seems to be filled with cool places to eat and drink.

Taka restaurant in Riga. Riga seems to be filled with cool places to eat and drink.

It’s like being in your own living room, except someone else is doing the cooking. We spoke to the chef, who was either American or had an impeccable accent, and he told us our vegan choices for the day. We ended up with a chick pea curry and a pasta salad, both of which were delicious.

Where Do We Go From Here?

While we ate, we sat and discussed our options for the trip after Berlin, looking at weather conditions in various parts of the world. We have both been spoiled by LA weather, and want to try and avoid any winter that gets below about 10C, and also to avoid the rainy season. Right now we have two options on the table.

Option One

Cycle south from Berlin through Europe, heading for Istanbul. Then cycle across the northern part of Turkey, through Iran, and into China. There are several challenges with this route, aside from the obvious one of cycling through Iran! The others being difficulties with visas, winter weather in the three countries, and the enormous distance this entails. In the pros column, it would mean getting to go to Prague, Bratislava, Romania, and Istanbul on the way. The first three we’ve never been to, and we’d love to spend more time in Istanbul. Second, we’d also love to cycle through Iran, though it does sound a little crazy. Finally, we would avoid the environmental destruction caused by flying, which is pretty high on our wish list.

Option Two

Get on a plane in Berlin and fly to Beijing. From there we would strike a course south, stopping to see some of China’s monuments, such as Xian and The Great Wall. This would get us to South East Asia in time for the best months to travel there: January, February, and March. It would also mean we could cycle the whole distance, while the previous route would include some busses and trains to get us across some of the more barren stretches of the route. A quick web search showed us that plane tickets from Berlin to Beijing are pretty cheap, so that’s another plus. It would be far cheaper to fly the distance than to ride it.

We will think through these options for the next couple of days and see where we land.

wooden house in latvia

I am obsessed with these wooden houses.

Seizing Opportunities

On the way back to the apartment, we bumped into Daniel and Chris again. This time we had a little more time to discuss Positivus. We are interested in going, but don’t feel comfortable bringing our bikes and all our stuff to a music festival. It’s a sure way to have everything we own stolen from us. We mentioned this to Daniel, who instantly invited us to come along with them. They will be camping on a friend’s land (complete with private beach) where we could stay and store our bikes safely! We exchanged emails and will discuss the ins and outs of tagging along with them.

In the evening, we walked over to Saules Joga for Stephen’s class. We were welcomed at the door by Ilze and Ilze’s mother, who works there welcoming new students and showing them around. The studio is in a building which also houses a real Latvian sauna. Stephen is very excited to check out their facilities over the next few days.

The yoga space is beautiful, with dark hardwood floors, big windows overlooking the city, and stylish exposed brickwork on the walls. The space is warm and welcoming, just as a studio should be.

Stephen getting ready for class.

Stephen getting ready for class.

Tonight, Stephen’s class was about seizing opportunities. I love when he teaches on this theme, because out of all the people I know, he is one of the best at making and taking opportunities in life. Without the hard work he has done researching and reaching out to yogis along our route, we would have missed out on so many opportunities to meet and practice with really great people.

In this case, I feel like I have been handed my opportunities on a platter, and am more than happy to seize them!

Nataraja at Saules Joga.

Nataraja at Saules Joga.

Stephen’s note: Class tonight was exceptional. Despite having been warned that it was summer and few students may show up, there was a great turn out, about 20 students. Some were new to yoga and curious about the guest teacher, but many were clearly regular students of Inga and Ilze. They had a very strong foundation and strong practices. Class was really fun, and we worked hard, but also played hard. Just the way I like it.

I had several poses in the sequence that I broke down into stages, and they did a terrific job of listening, following my cues, and not jumping ahead to the next stage if they hadn’t completed the previous one. I talked to several of the students after class and felt a real connection to the community. I am really looking forward to coming back and doing a more in-depth practice with them.

After class, we sat and chatted with Ilze and Inga, who run the studio together. Inga is another warm and open person, who made us feel comfortable instantly.

Ilze, Stephen, and Inga, in a shot that does none of them justice. My bad.

Ilze, Stephen, and Inga, in a shot that does none of them justice. My bad.

We have met so many Latvians who are like this. I’m not sure if it’s something in the water, but they are by far the friendliest, most outgoing culture we’ve come across, not just on this trip, but maybe in our entire lives. (I’d say the other people who are similar are Syrians, and I’m hoping the horror they currently find themselves in won’t change their open natures).

Ghost City

Around 9:30, Stephen and I headed off to find some food. Walking towards Eko Catering, a recommendation from Ilze, we noticed the city was fairly quiet, and most places were closed or closing. But, when we got to Eko, their courtyard was full of people drinking and eating, music was playing, and there was a great party atmosphere. There were tents set up in the courtyard with lots of tasty looking vegetarian food just waiting to be devoured by us. We couldn’t see any price lists, so we decided to grab a table in the restaurant and look at the menu. When we got upstairs, there was a beautiful buffet set out, reminiscent of some of the fancy catering we’ve seen backstage at music events. The catering tent at Live 8 springs to mind.

We had a quick look, and our stomachs were rumbling.

Then, Stephen did some digging and found out that this was a special annual event, to which you had to buy tickets in advance. There was food left over, so we could pay 20 LVL ($40) each and eat all we wanted. Though we were sorely tempted, and I still sort of regret our decision, we decided since it was 10:30pm, we didn’t really want a huge and fancy meal. We left the party to see what else we could find.

What we found was that everything was closed or closing. If you’re in Rīga, make sure to eat early. By 10 the restaurant scene is all shut down for the night.

Depressed at the thought of scrabbling together a meal from what we have in our panniers, we headed back to the apartment to cook. On the way, Stephen had his eyes open for a beer store. Unlike in Kraków, where there is an Alkohole 24 everywhere you look, they don’t seem to have any booze shops here. Finally, we saw a sign for a gas station, and as I headed to the apartment, Stephen headed there to buy beer. A few minutes later, he arrived at the apartment empty-handed. They had beer at the gas station, but when he’d taken it up to pay, they wouldn’t sell it to him. It’s illegal for them to sell between 10pm and 8am!

Stephen’s note: WTF? It’s ok to drink at 8am but not at 10:30pm? That is just crazy. I may have reconsider what I said the other day about being able to live here.

Even though we’re used to these kind of strict alcohol laws in Canada (where in most provinces you have to buy at the government-run liquor and beer stores) and Norway (where you can’t buy a bottle after 8pm) we were still a little shocked. Are we really that far north? Such a change from Italy and Croatia where the beer and wine flows freely down the street at all hours of the day!  

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