After leaving Tallinn we took the back roads as much as possible to get to Riga. We took a numbered minor road and immediately the traffic slowed down to almost none. The road was fine; the only thing missing was traffic. Yes, the highway, the ‘E’ road, is full of trucks, full of cars and busy. Once off the ‘E’ roads, the area becomes very rural. Then we decided to go even more ‘rural’ and that was not a good idea. We had gravel and sand for hours. Our bikes are loaded and quite heavy, my front tire needs replacing and those gravel roads made us nervous. Sure we rode them; saw the real Estonia and Latvia but the risk was too great. One bad moment and the trip would have ended. We went back to the, still minor, but paved roads. Since there was no traffic the riding was easy; a tractor here and there, a car once in a while, it was rural. Woods and forgotten fields abound.
There is no difference in appearance between Estonia and Latvia, they could be one country. I don’t know why they are separated. In history, both countries together were called Lavonia, but the land was owned by so many powers from Germany, Russia, Sweden, Denmark and Poland that it is hard to follow the history at all. Today they are separate countries. The effect of the Soviet neglect is still to be found everywhere. The housing is substandard, foundations are crumbling, roofs are sagging, paint is needed and any repairs are made with such a hodge-podge of materials, it looks shabby. The roads are ok, but they do remind me of Russian Roads, patched rather than repaved, sometimes having deep truck tire grooves. Farms, once thriving as judged by the buildings and the size of fields that could be productive, are now neglected. To the point that you would think nobody lives there but yes, people live on those buildings, proud but poor. I don’t know how they can be helped. Tourism in the capitals like Tallinn and Riga only goes so far. The rest of the country is poor.
Riga is huge. We rode into the heart of it since we were given a hostel address in the old quarter. Cobble stone streets, one way traffic and all streets are choked with cars and trucks. Yes, we rode against one way streets, took the bus lanes, lane split, etc. it was very hectic and my engine temperature was near the red line from all the stop and go. Poor Carol, she followed like a good trooper. We found the hostel but parking was a problem. It is not a good idea to just leave the bikes unattended on the street here. We spoke to the police and they did not have a solution for us but a taxi driver knew of a small parking lot that would keep our bikes and yes, we parked there. Will they be there tomorrow? We checked today, after the first night, and yes, so far all is ok. People are nice yet I feel insecure. The attitude is not what I am used to dealing with, when I call someone for help on the side of the road I am not used to getting a “NO, I don’t want to help you” answer. When I ask for the opening times at the cash register of a performance the lady just looks at me and does not answer. I find some behaviors strange. Riga is 45% Russian speaking. I hear it in all the shops and in the street. Maybe they don’t understand my questions in English or in German. We are off to the Amber Shore of Latvia tomorrow.