Karashock: The word on the street in Riga. - Lookin For John Fairweather - CycleBlaze

September 15, 2013

Karashock: The word on the street in Riga.

I continued south on route 4, or E67 (the E: European), or even Baticum: The Baltic Highway, or whatever I saw on a sign which stated financed by The European Union. It was a straight highway with a narrow shoulder to ride upon and closed in by forest either side. It seemed a major trucking-route as big trailer unites drafted pass every few seconds, and as there was always a convoy of two or more coming in the opposite direction, they couldn't move out far on passing. After a while though, the blue with number 1 in a red box, or cycle-route 1 sign appeared at a right turnoff, pointing to what most have been the old road along this stretch, as it turned and ran parallel, separated from the new by a wide stand of pine and birch. This road was a little less monotonous, with near enough every few kilometres, a village of traditional wood houses and soviet era blocks, village shop and services like post office; and, the stand of trees on the right was narrow, between the road and the coast of the bay of Riga.

Shortly after noon, I passed a big sign "Latvia", and rejoined the main highway. I thought perhaps this is Estonia's poorer neighbour, as the road surface wasn't the nice smooth surface I'd ridden on out of Parnu in the morning. Now it was uneven with the shoulder narrower and Is often riding on a ridge pressed up out of a rut left by truck-wheels.

Around two I pulled in at a supermarket in a small place. I really only needed water as it was another warm afternoon and I may not have enough to drink. But I picked up two vanilla pastries, and, I eyed the cold beer. There was a big selection of Latvian beers, and the usual others, making it difficult to chose. In the end I settled for a can of Carlsberg. Then at the check out, I noticed the man in front of me paying with an unfamiliar banknote. No. They don't use Euros in Latvia. It isn't true I hoped.

The checkout woman was taking a long time doing whatever she was doing with the money, keeping me in suppense. She must've been a trainee as she called out and another woman came along and showed her how to do something, not once but three times. When the man in front eventually got his change and receipt, it was my turn. She scanned the three items, and I worked out three fifty cents coins from the big ball of change I've in my wallet. She said the total, but not understanding, I looked at the display. It was one fifty exactly. I put the coins down in the little tray provided, and she nodded negatively; it was what I'd feared as she said "Ni Euro. Lats!" I wanted to protest as I'd just crossed the border from a country which uses the Euro, but how could I. She then had to call the woman back to cancel the items she'd scanned. There was an ATM just beyond the checkout, but as my purchases were mot essential, I thought I'd wait until I reached Riga the next day.

It put a downer on the day. Just when I've started to recognize at a glance the different Euro coins, the currency changes, so I've to learn again. And the tedium of this busy road through a corridor of trees, as big spots of rain began splotching on me and the panniers as the afternoon thunder clouds had arrived.

There was the hiss of wheels on rained soaked road and spray for a bit, but the rain didn't last long. I barely got wet. Approaching six as I passed kilometre board fify-four, I rode off along a track into the forest and found a place to camp, leaving a short day's ride into Riga the following day.

Thursday morning: the road improved somewhat, with more of a shoulder and eventually a cycle-path while it lasted. And visually, there were things of interest to look at, such as a small lake, then a big lake appeared through the trees on the inland side of the road. Then the road reached a great junction and the way to Riga was right with fourteen kilometres of divided highway with on either side, warehouses and the usual built-up approach to a city.

I didn't know what to expect, but it was a pleasant surprize to find a city-centre with an extensive pedestrianized old town.

I got my Lats, the currency from an ATM. The exchange is unusual inasmuch as, one Lat equals one Euro fifty; so, for example, a coffee may cost one twenty, equivalent to one Euro eighty. (Later Is in a bookshop where the books were price-labelled in both: a four Lats book was six Euros, clearly demonstrating the one to one and a half difference.) The Swedish Crown is something like ten to the Euro and therefore a coffee is twenty Crowns, which is more usual for a small country.

Across from the bank, there was a café. I had already found the whereabouts of a hostel from the tourist info centre and was on my way there, but as it was lunchtime, I thought I'd have at lease a coffee first. I took an outside seat and looked at the menu and saw the prices were reasonable. I ordered an omellet lunch (my spelling) for three Lats. I thought I'd have a beer to accompanied it, but the waiter protested. "No half litre. One litre for one sixty-nine, special price" as he pointed to the poster-board with a picture of two glasses of beer and said price meant to entice in diners, and added "Half litre cost one Lat eighty. One litre cheaper". I had my doubt about drinking a full litre in the middle of the day, but he wasn't taking no for an answer: he perhaps was on a commission. I was going to save point eleven Lats and drink two for the money.

It was good beer when it came out on the table. It was cloudy red with a wholesome taste. The oval plater came, a mix of egg and bacon with salad garnish; it was a meal. I finished the glass, and caught the waiter's attention, and he came with a second tall glass of beer.

I checked into the hostel and was shown to a dorm bed. I was dehydrated because of the warm day which was made worse as the beer was strong, perhaps six per cent. I had a real splitting headache as I lay on my side on the bed. I remained lying for three hour feeling nauseated until the headache subsided. Meanwhile sat on another bed was an elderly gentleman making phone calls on a tablet to a bank, I suppose, as the word account number and credit card, which sound similar in Latvian, came into the dialogue a lot; that, and Karashock (my spelling) at the end of phrases.

Friday: I desperately needed a haircut, but couldn't spot a barbershop anywhere. Back at the tourist info centre, the young woman mentioned the shopping centre. "Are you sure?" I asked back jokingly, and she smiled warmly.

On the way to the shopping centre, I went into a bookshop, as I'd finished "In Patagonia" and had nothing else now to read. In the English language section, there were the usual Classics which I didn't want. There were three of Jo Nesbo's books which I've read. I was hoping to find a Lan Rankin book among the crime fiction books, but there wasn't any. Then there were autobiographies. Jeremy Clarkson, definitely definitely not. Then there were music biographies, all of which were hardbacks, therefore bulky, except for one paperback, The Dark Side of the Moon revealed: the story behind the making of the iconic Pink Floyd album, a new book marking forty years since the record's release.

I bought it and still needed a haircut. It was a sticky afternoon and the mop of hair was sweaty and unkemped as I rushed around the shopping-centre trying to find a barbershop without success. Then I found out at the info booth on the groundfloor, that there was a hairdresser on level five, but the escalators only went to the fourth; where, I asked in a solarium: the woman sent me to an electrical appliance shop around the corner. Therein, the salesman thought I wanted to buy one of those hairclipping machines when I gestered with fore and middle fingers raise to my hair, opening and closing to look like scissors. When I finally made understood Is looking for a place where I'd have my hair cut for me, he showed me where there was a lift to level five, which wasn't so obvious being hidden in the same arcove as the toilets. On the fifth level, there was a fitness centre and the hairdressers was a very feminine affair with women having manicures.

Looking in the mirror, the clippers were having a hard time running through my hair, as it is over three months since my last haircut and my hair grows thick and bushy. The hairdresser gave up, deciding that the only way the machine would cut my hair was if she shampooed it first.

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Riga's limousin cycle-taxis.
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A bride.
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Dome square.
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A cycle-bar.
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A Peek in through the open window of an Irish Pub.
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More Old Town.
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View from the bridge.
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Latvia's new national library.
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Botanic gardens.
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Autumn leaves on the pavement.
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A Ginger Pussy Cat.
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Traditional wood built.
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New build going up, dug up street and car-ad on site-hording.
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A guided walking-tour.
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View from the bridge.
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Vinyl.
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Today's ride: 109 km (68 miles)
Total: 5,904 km (3,666 miles)

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