Friday was our last day on the move, but in our heads we were already there. 25 km left. You gotta be kidding. It’s the distance we ride to a cornerstore every day.
Of course, anything could happen on the dangerous roads of Latvia. Memento mori, morons, croaked an old raven in a sacred pine forest of Jurmala. So we decided to spend this morning as if it was our last one.
It means Johan and me had hashbrowns, and Jonas went for pancakes with coca-cola. Now I know his last wish beverage.
We took a swim (Jonas opted out due to reasons) and enjoyed a moment of bliss.
But we had to leave. We saddled our horses one last time and put 1 cm thick layer of sunscreen: the sun was crazy hot. I was so lubricated I’ve almost lost my wedding band. It just slipped off my finger. Good thing I’m extremely observant and noticed the loss soon enough. Phew! The acute feeling of bachelordom was disturbing.
Jonas the Map Reader did his job perfectly, as he always does. He navigated us through tricky highway junctions and we swiftly entered the city outskirts. Ten km later we had to slow down to 0,5 km/h.
Damn you historical paving.
We quickly checked in to our luxurious 3-bedroom river-AND-cathedral view apartment without wifi and bed sheets for Johan and went out to the city.
I must say, I was traveling approximately 4,2 times lighter than Johan and Jonas, and despite rigorous washing every night, I was out of clean and dry stuff. But we were in the capital city of Riga. 30 minutes later I was a happy owner of a whole new summer wardrobe. God save H&M.
We had a list with exactly 1 super important to-do.
Now it’s official. We made it!
I can’t believe it but I haven’t fail the team, our bikes were still with us, mostly intact, and my expensive Extreme Sports, Dangerous Activities And Whatever You Come Up With insurance plan didn’t come handy.
We messed up with alarm clocks and woke up pretty early. The day before seemed a bit foggy, but beer, prosciutto, black cherry and beer diet (or, as I call it tenderly, BPBCB) clearly worked as an antidote for some extra hills we’ve conquered yesterday.
I felt great. My back was fine, my thighs were 110% supercharged and my suprarenal glands started to produce espresso. One day our Beepeebeeseebee diet approach will make it to the ‘Health & Lifestyle’ bestsellers, mark my words.
We were down to take off, and Johan found his front tyre flat as a pancake.
Johan changed the faulty camera in like 30 seconds, blindfolded and using left hand only, and we were good.
Or… not so much. New camera run flat, too, just in 10 minutes. We had to continue in a syncopated manner, stopping and pumping Johan up every 10-15 mins.
Otherwise everything looked peachy. The road was super-smooth, it was sunny and no wind at all. Using good old one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi technique we counted seconds between 100 m poles so we knew we were doing something between 19 and 31 km/h. Accuracy!
At a friendly gas station we decided to invest some time into solving Johan’s tyre problem for good.
It took more than one concerned doctor’s face to find out we have no idea what’s wrong with the tyre and why two cameras have both failed in one day. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
We’ve also made a discovery in Jonas’ physiology. His sweat turned out to be pretty hungry, easily eating through the fabric.
We had Johan’s camera patched, and tried to pump it up at a pumpateria.
Looks like your normal gas station pump unit, isn’t it?
Yep, we’ve almost filled Johan’s camera with propane-butane.
We moved on. Soon we discovered that Latvia is the country with the most road construction to be conducted simultaneously in the world. Construction workers didn’t make it to Lithuania border in time, obviously, but otherwise 50% of main roads have been already renewed.
Luckily for us, the ready 50% went lengthwise, meaning that in almost any given moment we had at least one lane available to ride on.
Also we encountered 12 bonus levels with traffic light feature and a dynamic flow.
This turn based road arcade was definitely designed by a mad bike racing coach.
We had exactly enough time to hydrate ourselves while waiting for the green — and then we had to cycle super-fast to get away from cars behind us, breaking free just a few seconds before the light would change again and we would be trapped and doomed and killed. Genius.
But we came prepared. We’ve had lunch at a road house with portions designed for giants (or truck-drivers), so we were able to generate more than enough horse powers to beat these segments.
In this flirtation with athletic success and fatal failure we realised we’ve already made 80 km from Saldus. We had to hop to the parallel road, which would bring us to Jurmala.
This 5 km long commute turned out to be the worst road in history. Short summary:
Kilobumps and kiloholes: ~5–7 / km2.
Megahorseflies: ~1000–2000 / km3.
Hygienic stop opportunities: 0. (At the very moment we’ve ventured into the forest seeking intimacy, we were attacked by hundreds of angry horseflies and had to flee ingloriously.)
We felt our bikes age 1 year per 1 km of this road, but The Lion and The Griffin members are known for strong stomaches, big bladders and advanced meditation skills.
Finally, we were on a highway. 60 minutes of relaxed riding, and we were in the city of Jurmala, fresh as new. Beer diet!
We were told watching the sunset is kind of a thing in Jurmala.
Well, we tried it and we are not able to disagree. It is a thing. Not recommended by ophthalmologists, though.
We slowly walked the finest Baltic sands and stood silently for a moment, facing the water, watching as the Sun touches Gulf of Riga.
I mean three of us, of course.
Next day: we are going to impress Jurmala beach regulars with our underwear, officially finish the trip by the watchtower in Riga and enjoy Friday night with our best friends that we have never met yet.
And, SPOILER, simultaneously trim our beards at a hip craft beer cafe.
On the Wednesday morning after Sweden football triumph we’ve decided to have a breakfast in our hotel. We had a big decision to make: where to go.
Several scenarios were put up to the vote.
Continue north up to Ventspils, then turn south-east and make it to Riga someday;
Go east in Riga direction for today, then enjoy a Thursday sunset in a beautiful beach town of Jurmala 20-30 km short of Riga;
Go east straight forward to Riga with only one stop on the way;
More options just for the sake of discussion.
I’ve talked Jonas into voting in favour of scenario B. It sounded the most reasonable: this way we would be able to get a good rest and show our speedos in Jurmala before Friday night in Riga. Johan was busy with the backgammon app on his phone, so he was considered as abstained.
So, we had 100 km to make to Saldus. The country between us and Saldus seemed to be designed mostly for drivers and wasn’t filled up with cosy small towns and lunch amusements for tired bikers.
But the majority has spoken, so we started riding with the strong feeling of “We’ll sort it out on the way somehow”.
It was a great day. The road was so much better than we’ve expected: the asphalt was freshly baked and the traffic was not heavy at all. Sun, wind and scenery — what more to ask? Well, wind could be favourable, sun not so hot, and scenery a bit less hilly.
We enjoyed the ride for 30-40 km, and then my powers left me.
I started to fall behind on every uphill. Johan and Jonas have noticed my struggle, so we’ve stopped by a bus stop in the middle of nowhere.
My battle buddies treated me with the liquorice power bar — the last we had — and shared their last drops of water. The power bar was a lifesaver! Thanks god no one was into liquorice so it survived up to the moment.
We expected to have our supplies restocked in 30 km at some place called Skrunda. Before that we were empty. But the morale was strong — and that’s what matters.
The small city of Skrunda treated us as if we were lost sons: super-friendly lady at a road house buffet, huge portions, unnoticeable price. After 70 km without a lunch it felt like Christmas. I was so relieved I forgot to take a photo. My bad.
[It should be a Skrunda Oasis photo here. Sorry, don’t have it.]
We’ve replenished our resources, went back on the road and for a while 30 km left to Saldus seemed almost too easy. But for me it wasn’t.
The last 300 meters of a ride turned out to be the steepest uphill we’ve had so far. “Why oh why? What have I done?” — was the only thing I was able to cry; while Swedes were cycling by me as if the road was flat. Those athletes!
One way or another, finally we were in Saldus.
I was dead. Guys were talking about some bar-hopping, city-watching, having a dinner, but all I was able to do was groaning.
Did you know swearing helps with the pain? It’s science! So, hot shower and 30 minutes of swearing did the job. I was better. Way better.
The reception girl didn’t speak neither Russian nor English, but somehow Jonas made her understand: we are looking for a bar.
5 minutes later we were in for our first beer in Saldus — out of many.
Unfortunately, the Velve bar wasn’t equipped with a kitchen. Or a ventilation system. Fortunately, the local beer they served turned out to be the best beer on our way so far.
Whoa, that felt good.
So we made our first round a quick one, promised the barkeeper we’ll be back later and went out in search of a proper restaurant.
We made a couple of circles around the city, passed the main square with nicer buildings and wi-fi (!) benches. No restaurants or cafeterias. One pizza place without a terrace. One burger place (no terrace). One supermarket (no terrace as well).
So, we took a Power Bikers stance and came up with a brilliant solution.
Why sit inside a boring burger joint while we could fix ourselves with top-notch snacks and beer from the supermarket — and make it a picnic on the main square?
And so we did.
We got 6 or 7 (or maybe 8, or 9) varieties of pretty much the same beer, several packs of prosciutto and chorizo, and plastic glasses to drink with style. 1,5 kilo of prunus avium a.k.a. sweet cherry a.k.a. chereshnya went as a healthy dessert and also a eye-hand coordination trainer.
It went superb. We outstayed our competitors — a gang of local boys on the better wi-fi bench — and caught the last hours of sun. Boys looked cool with skateboards and beer, but Johan discovered their beer was non-alcoholic. Ha!
We talked a lot, kept an eye-contact, and barely used the public wi-fi (only to check on some facts to make our points stronger). We even discussed the nature of love. That’s what you call a proper dinner with a conversation.
If you follow this blog you probably know: we are not the type that easily abandon people that put trust in us.
Bartender at Velve Bar should have been waiting for hours for us to return. We had a promise to keep. So, staggering a bit, but with much resolve, we headed back to the bar.
We had 3 more beers there. Each. I guess…
After a while we were the only customers in the bar. When the bartender started to check the big wall clock again and again, I knew we have established a sort of connection. So we asked to make the background Queen’s Bests Hits 2CD louder and sang our lungs off.
What a night.
Next day was supposed to be the longest ride in our journey: 110 km to Jurmala.
Or have we decided to go back to Kaliningrad in the bar? Sounds plausible!
Tuesday! We left Palanga without a breakfast, aiming to eat in Šventoji, a settling about 10 km from Palanga and 5 km short of the border with Latvia.
This time our quick start approach worked great. We got ourselves some light snacks in a tiny cafeteria — barely enough to keep the fire burning.
We finished our humble meal in yellow tones and continued on a lane 10. Unfortunately, it ended. We had to push through the worst possible pavement for our sleek racing bikes — the Sand Road.
We knew it couldn’t continue too long. So we harnessed our will and kept burrowing. I fell three times.
After a passionate prayer to a local owl god we finally got back on a proper road.
Lithuania was great, but unknown lands always lure the explorers. Nothing could stop us from crossing to Latvia.
Immediately we experienced the cultural difference. Latvians don’t like smooth roads. They like it bumpy!
Next 30 kilometers were a real test to our biking pants padding. The other thing that raised the pressure — nasty horseflies. Those sweat-loving creatures clearly had an ambush set for us in the woods right across the border.
We raced from them as fast as we could, encouraging each other with regular screams and loud slaps.
After running for life for 1,5 hours we longed for coffee and sugar. So we had a double-espresso-cappuccino-fresh-juice-and-ice-cream break at a beautiful wifi-equipped diner 30 km short of Liepāja. The place specialty seemed to be desserts so we knocked ourselves out.
Meanwhile, we booked a hotel in Liepāja. Last minute deal again! Just €40 for the three of us (breakfast is not included).
After-lunch roads showed us its better side, so at 16:00 we’ve checked in to Liva Hotel Liepāja, fixing Jonas bag in a friendly bike repair shop along the way. “Better than the original factory solution”, Jonas said. (It broke again next day.)
We went through our usual cleaning routine and headed to the city. We were on a super tight schedule: had only 5 hours to secure a bar to watch the important football game.
Seasoned travelers, we knew the best way to oversee any given territory. So we conquered the vantage point of Liepāja’s Cathedral.
The view was spectacular. No flags for sports bars, though.
The best part of the cathedral ascension experience was watching the clockwork mechanism. Dated 1906 and sitting inside a neat transparent chiffonier, it made a huge impression on us.
I wish I would tick that good in my 110!
It was 17:23, according to the iPhone time. We decided to do some stretching and wait for the mid-hour bell. Unfortunately the senior clock disagreed with my iPhone and went off 4 minutes earlier than expected. No video, then.
Awed, we walked down back to the city streets. We still had to find a sports bar broadcasting Sweden vs. Portugal U-21 Euro Cup finals. What a trivial task, you may ask!
It was, indeed. In less then an hour we have booked the best table in a nice bar close to our hotel.
Anticipating the game, we had a lot of time to kill. We had a 10k-calories Mexican supper at a picturesque seagull-infested rock-n-roll place, tried to sneak into a beer factory (tight security) and even took a swim in Karosta Canal.
And here we are. Entering the bar that might witness the big Sweden victory.
Sweden team seems a bit nervous in the beginning, looses the ball a lot, then it goes better, but still fruitless. Main time, extended time — 0:0. Guys have to have a lot of beer to calm their nerves; I am hitting on cocktails.
Finally, Piña Colada brings luck to team Sweden: in the dramatic penalties series we are definitely better.
Congratulations to all fans! This is big.
It was 0:31 on my iPhone clock (0:27 according to some other respected sources) so we hurried to our beds.
We had 100 km to ride deep into Latvia next day and no idea where to stop along the road. Exciting!
A pink night was perfect. We’ve played Giant-Dwarf-Sorcerer to find out who picks the best spot and who ends up on a sofa. I lost.
But it was great anyway. We had a healthy sleep and left Nida exactly at 8:04. I remember it because it was me who ruined an opportunity to become the first biking group in the world to leave exactly as scheduled.
We had 80 kilometers ahead of us. The plan was to have a quick start and then enjoy a breakfast at a hamlet of Preila about 15 km away.
There should be coffee places, we thought. We were wrong. Every single venue was in the arms of Morpheus till 10:00. We had to turn to energy bars and drink all the water we had to flush them down.
The spectre of hunger, thirst and caffeine withdrawal was rising.
Fortunately, bike lane number 10 we’ve started at Nida turned out to be so nice the ride was taking almost no effort.
We claimed several dunes along the Hunger Road. Because that’s what we do.
Milestones were being passed one by one, and finally we stopped at some food and drinks place not too far from Juodkrantė. They didn’t have wi-fi so I didn’t check in to Swarm, so I can’t remember its name now.
Note to venue owners: always fix your place with a steady wi-fi connection or you go unnamed in travellers’ notes.
We’ve been riding on an empty stomach for more than two hours by this time, so no surprise we’ve ordered too much and got bloated.
Luckily, the perfect bike lane continued up to the very ferry to Klaipeda. It went more up and down for the last 20 kilometers so we even managed to sweat off some extra calories.
In Klaipeda we decided not to have a coffee break but to enjoy local beer instead. With coffee. Wise decision was to top it up with one plate of some traditional peasant food.
I’ve used an after-lunch time hole to gear up and equipped myself with new biking sunglasses and padded gloves. (And, as it turns out a bit later, have immediately lost one glove from my older, not-so-good pair).
After that we’ve continued riding on the almost annoyingly perfect lane 10 and have never stopped till Palanga.
Lane 10, as smooth as a mother’s kiss, led us through parks and forests to a resort city of Palanga. We’ve quickly booked a nice place literally from a street, thanks to a public wi-fi. It was a steal — 25% last minute discount and another 50% for low season. (Don’t ask about a low season in late June on a seaside; we were quite okay with the offer.) We were so impressed we decided to use this last-minute tactics in the future.
Note from the future: so far it works like a charm.
We had our stretches (Johan hooked me up on it) and rolled into the town.
It was… kinda boring. A lot of ice-cream carts; that’s the most distinctive thing about it.
URGENT! While I was writing this post, Sweden has won Under 21 Euro Cup!!
Back to Palanga. We roamed back and forth, drinking coffee here and there and trying to find out if they have craft beer anywhere in Lithuania except the capital city of Vilnius. No they don’t.
We amused ourselves with a game of Russian billiard (didn’t go well) and kicker (never hurts!), had a couple more beers and eventually got back to a nicer place we’ve noticed from the beginning. We called it ‘The Library’. Because it had books on shelves.
There we had four great things at once:
A broadband connection that made my previous post available
An awesome terrace
A plate of fine cheeses and olives
And a bottle of decent Italian wine. Yes, we are that sophisticated.
And that was it for the night. Next day we planned to leave Lithuania early and head to Liepaja.
We started up super early and still drunk. Something elevenish? I’ve spent a night at Lusya’s place and guys had their sleep at Kaiserhof hotel. I’ve picked them up (their room smelled like teen spirit — sweat, farts and booze odors) and we rode through busy streets of Kaliningrad back to Lusya’s.
Lusya has a great garden and a spectacular barbecue oven, so we naturally came up with a plan of having a nice protein lunch before we head to Curonian Spit.
We managed to leave as early as 16:00. Pasha was guiding us perfectly, riding a killer road bike from 1950’s. Unfortunately we had to part with him at Lesnoye, the first village on Spit. Pasha was going to ride 40 kilometers more to the very end of Russia — a huge difference after the party night we have had together (and the lunch!).
Meanwhile, we had ourselves landed at Dom Rybaka (‘A fisherman’s house’) and immediately headed up to a beach.
We’ve had a dinner at a sea side restaurant and kind of wrapped it up for the night. The plan was to wake up not too late — we had to visit a lot of spectacular spots on Spit next day.
We have stopped at Muller’s height and claimed it ours (no photo though); had an enormous fish lunch at Rybachye and left to visit two other must-sees — the Dancing Forest and Efa’s height.
In Rybachye Johan’s bags started to behave funny. While he was fixing it, I’ve found an another local art piece.
Dancing Forest was supposed to impress guys. It didn’t.
But Efa’s height did it all right. The climb was totally worth it.
After that nothing could stop us from reaching Nida. Except border police, of course. Luckily, we’ve crossed the border without any problems and found ourselves in Lithuania.
Johan have made a great job of picking the place with the right vibe.
We had to have a welcome beer somewhere. We’ve quickly found a terrace with a nice view and enjoyed some well-deserved lagers while discussing comparative linguistics and Kantian philosophy.
Unfortunately, they didn’t serve food at a terrace. So we headed out to find a more rewarding venue.
After some wandering around and a bit of social engineering skills we’ve landed at the best place in town, I guess. The duck confit I’ve had was goooooood. Guys didn’t complain either.
But it’s time to go. Heads up: we are leaving Lithuania today.
Friday was a big day for us. For starters, we were supposed to meet in Kaliningrad. Kind of a thing we had to do to continue. Second, we were going to drink local craft beer. Third, we had an ambition to party.
One part of the plan didn’t work. But first things first.
I’ve left cosy town of Svetly (population: 21 849) and headed to Kaliningrad on a road that turned out to be the scariest ride I’ve taken in my whole life.
FYI, Kaliningrad is one of the cities of the upcoming World Cup. They are building a new stadium to host several games here. To build a stadium you need a lot of sand and rocks and other stuff. And you need trucks to move this stuff around. Big ass heavy duty trucks that are wider than the single lane the road had (and remember, I was on it).
I survived. Got some gray hair, sure, but it went okay — I’ve anticipated the problem and worked out the solution: 10 kilometers longer but much safer road.
It was perfect! No cars at all.
Meanwhile, Jonas & Johan managed to get to Kaliningrad ahead of schedule, so I had to hurry up.
That’s why I’ve stopped and spent 15 minutes taking photos of this fascinating fence.
Jonas texted me the name of the hotel they had checked in and I headed there. To look good in front of Swedes I’ve changed my biking clothes in a hotel’s disabled’s toilet and washed my armpits. You can’t make a second first impression.
We’ve finally met at a street bar close to the hotel. We had to celebrate! And we did it all right with the best beer they served: Amstel.
Yep, no craft beer revolution in Kaliningrad for us. 🙁
Fortunately, the sun came out. Suddenly everything seemed possible. Life felt good. Sunscreen in our bags wasn’t a dead weight anymore.
Here goes our first groupie. Look at us. What a team!
After some Amstel injection we tried to get to one of the local must see spots, Kant’s grave. Suddenly we have found ourselves in the middle of an invite-only party celebrating 70 years anniversary of Yantar’Energo, which is the region energy supplier. The celebration took over the whole Kneiphof island, Kant’s grave included, and featured mimes, clowns and balalaikas.
We strolled through the party, heading to the city center, had more beer and some belyashi (meat and onion fried cakes) and then met with Lusya. Lusya is my wife’s schoolmate, I know her for ages. She took the responsibility to guide us through Kaliningrad’s night life. And what a life it turned out to be!
We’ve been partying at three distinct places till 5 a.m.:
Bravo Italia frontyard, overlooking the city port (they allowed to bring your own booze, so we called in the cavalry — a bottle of Captain Morgan rum)
bar Kiberda, packed with people like hell with sinners (where did this sentence came from?)
at Pasha’s place (Pasha is the best).
Locals keep saying it was the best party night of the year. Well, we agree — it was us who made the difference, obviously.
While my fellow pals were enjoying their well-deserved black IPAs and white borscht in Gdansk, I was sleeping my head off on the train to Kaliningrad. I’ve walked good 150 steps during the whole 24 hours journey, thanks to strategic choice of bed number 6 — really close to the car authorities and the loo.
The journey was, well, uneventful. Cellular networks boasted with steady signal from one bar to nothing, so no interweb amusements.
I had a social drama unveiling itself just in front of me though.
A family of three — a hyperactive girl about 5 years old, her mom in her twenty (not twenties, she looked 20-21 tops) and a humble grandma with Asian vibe. Mom hasn’t been giving a shit about her daughter the whole trip, daughter has been making her best to piss off the whole car, and grandma has been trying to minimize the damage. Am I right to use past perfect continuous here?
So, the girl was a devil. She was possessed, jumping around, attacking neighbors and even her mom. At some point, when she called her mom a dumb pussy, I was like: “Is it really happening?”. End of story in English, but you can read it in gruesome detail in Russian.
(Just scroll down if you are not into underaged mothers and unguided kids)
— Аня тупая. Писька!
Девочка лет пяти едет в боковом плацкарте с мамой и бабушкой. Зовут Нелли. Маме на вид лет двадцать. Мама читает женский роман, слушает старый айфон на боку спиной к проходу и в гробу всех видала. На маме короткий топик; из-под выреза на спине выглядывает кружевной лифчик. Бабушка — тихая татарка в халате — едет в соседнем боковом.
С мамой девочка не разговаривает, только приказывает: — Уйди! Уйди! Уйди с моей кровати! (В два часа ночи в плацкарте.) Мама отвечает симметрично: одергивает, запрещает, шикает; кроме этого ничто не говорит, что они как-то знакомы. С бабушкой контакт явно лучше, ей Нелли задает вопросы и проявляет неплохие навыки речи, но не слушается так же ни на грамм.
Нелли ловкая, смелая, дикая; перемещается по вертикальным конструкциям плацкарта без видимых усилий, с гимнастической легкостью висит на руках, сидит на жердочках, нападает на прохожих из засады сверху.
Нарвала бумажек в клочья, накидала на пол. Собирать отказалась. Значит, выкину, отвлекается от книжки мама. Наклоняется собирать; Нелли размашисто бьет маму по спине несколько раз. Мама молча встает, уходит выбрасывать. Нелли орет вдогонку. Громко, короткими орами.
— Скажи ей! Ааааар! Скажи! Аааа!
Не получив ничего в ответ, бурчит под нос, но громко, чтобы все слышали.
— Аня тупая. Писька!
Заметив, что на нее смотрят соседи, Нелли открыто смотрит в ответ, довольно улыбается, затем скалится и шипит, как кошка.
An evening in Svetly, province of Kaliningrad (as my iPhone puts it)
What can I say, it went well. Have to shake off about two extra kilos now.
Also got a present from local family friends that couldn’t make it to our wedding last year. We have only heard of it; now we have it.
Well, this is it. Tomorrow (technically, tonight) we will team up in Kaliningrad, have fun at a certain hip night party and take off the day after. Or… not.