Riga to Jurmala to Leipaja

25 06 2011

Too many stories and adventures to share since my last post. I’m now reserved in understanding that I will not be posting everyday… On the second full day of our journey, we went on a day trip to the 17th centuryRundale Palace. The usual excessive facades, frescoes, and paintings adorned the massive palace along with a beautiful French garden. It took about 1.5 hours and two bus transfers to reach and was well worth it. Afterwards, we visited the central market between the bus and train station. We picked up some cherries and other snacks from the numerous vendors. Handicrafts, a meat market, and many flower stalls also lined the market rows. The evening was complete with another meal at the Lido and strolls around a couple squares.

The next morning we checked out of our hostel and met Walter, a couchsurfer at the clock tower. He was incredibly generous and paid for our train ticket to his village, Babite, which was located between Jurmala and Riga. After drawing us a map, we left Walter to explore Jurmala via train. We got off at the Majorie stop and strolled down the main drag and ate a lunch at a kitsch restaurant and continued acting like tourists photographing the old wooden houses. After resting at the beach, whose waters were quite frigid, we trekked to the next train stop and caught the train hoping to get off at the stop with a grocery store but somehow we missed it and got off at the following stop. We waited for at least 20 minutes and watched numerous people emerge from the surrounding wood.

During our bus and train rides, we’ve observed many narrow footpaths throughout forests, and fields with people walking, talking, and carrying their groceries. Many people also frequently walk along and across the railroad tracks; this is so uncommon in the states and I smiled as I saw these people following their own paths rather than concrete officially approved sidewalks…

…Anyway, after tiring of waiting, we decided we would try to walk back to the stop with the grocery store. We knew there was a bridge the train went over but we thought surely there would be footpath or walkway of some kind. However this was not the case as we discovered. When we were about a hundred yards away, an angry old soviet troll with an orange vest popped out from a station booth and yelled and waved frantically at us and we in turn hastily hopped off the tracks and started following a footpath that led around and below the “troll’s” station, through some brush and towards the bridge. I think this footpath was primarily used by homeless as it was littered and overgrown. At the end of the path, a campfire pit stopped us and from there we could see there was no way to cross the river other than catching the train. And so we headed back to our stop and caught the train to the grocery store stop Lei Lupe.

From here we walked for about 30 minutes through a eclectic old village. Some houses were covered almost entirely with ivy while others appeared extremely modern. Many of the houses were wooded with with large windows filled with curtains of old Russian lace. Gardens and strange flower beds filled their small plots of land. The street (ie large sidewalk) was the main route into town via the train stop and many people were going to and fro. After asking a couple teens where the Rimi (the grocery store chain) was located, we suddenly came upon it and a waterpark. At the Rimi, we picked up a few “unknown” sandwiches and ate outside the store. I felt very much like a homeless vagrant but nonetheless it made for interesting experience and great people watching:)…When we finished, piscean Rock checked out the waterpark and now is hoping we’ll return at the end of the trip. With a few groceries for our breakfast, we leisurely walked back to the Lei Lupe train stop and caught the train back to Babite.

After a short nap, we headed back to Riga with Walt and treated him to a beer and pastry. We exchanged some great stories and had some interesting conversation as we strolled/skipped/swayed through the filled streets of old town. Around 11:30 we headed back to the train station to catch the midnight train back to Walt’s place. Before the night was complete, Rock and Walt jammed out with some guitars. The next morning we rode into Riga with Walt (who was on his way to work…he’s a scientist investigating the properties/potential of cow manure as fuel) and said our goodbyes to our very kind host.

It was now around 10:30am and we inquired at the tourist info. center about the next train to Leipaja, which was our next destination. We bought tickets with reserved seats for the 11:05 bus and waited (yes there is a lot of waiting on this trip–it’s helping me practice patience:)) While sitting at amidst tired Latvians and hungry pigeons, I started to snack on some chips. When I accidentally dropped a tiny piece of a chip, a finch like bird suddenly arrived with his posse and the chip was no longer. I thought the birds would go elsewhere but instead one actually flew towards my chest as I was raising a chip from the bag to my mouth! I looked around and saw no one else eating 😦 and so the bag of chips was put up and I sat waiting feeling too much like a monk:)

After checking our luggage below the bus and paying an additional lat or two for such, we boarded the fairly prompt and completely filled bus and prepared ourselves for the 3.5 hour journey by snacking on some cheese sandwiches. However, our plastic bags and foil seemed incredibly loud as the entire bus was silent as we left the station. We’ve never experience such before and tried to modify our whispers into nonverbal communication so to respect the “peace.”

The countryside we passed was mostly flat with many old soviet era looking barns and a few cemeteries hidden in patches of pine forests. Several bogs and a few lakes were a blur beyond the bus window. Deep greens and yellow fields were exaggerated by the stormy blue/gray storm that followed us on the journey. A few communities contained a church or a store but much of the ride was through the vast and beautiful countryside.

After 3.5 hours and one bathroom break (public bathroom usage costs .20 Lat), we arrived in Leipaja. Our hostel did not provide specific directions so we were without such nor with a map. However, there was a large glass bulletin with a map of the city and so I took a picture and used my camera to help direct us to the street the hostel was located on. Rock suggested we hop on a tram and we did. This saved us at least 15 minutes of walking around with our heavy packs but when we somewhat randomly jumped off, we had to backtrack a bit and seek direction from passerbys. After taking photos of some buildings and bizarre sculptures, we arrived in our nondescript hostel. The building looked like all the other crumbling brick buildings but once we were buzzed inside, a very clean and hospitable place awaited us. We hand washed some clothes and then visited the nearby grocery store. Rock prepared a delicious fish/rice dinner and we chatted with fellow travelers from Germany and Australia.

I’m looking forward to checking out some churches and the beach today. The weather is looking promising and it’s quite sunny…horray for the simple things…now for lunch!

Photos here!

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