Saturday, September 14, 2013

Road Trip Back to Riga. Pape & Liepāja.

Afternoon stroll in Liepāja.

Our last long road trip today. Part of me is relieved and part of me is very sad as it means our trip is nearing its end.  It was about a 350 km drive from Klaipeda to Riga and somewhere along the way, we crossed over from Lithuania to Latvia.  You don't need to see the border sign to tell you you're in Latvia; the road conditions will do it for you.  I swear the entire country is under road construction!  Lithuania, smooth road.  Lativa, what road?


We decided to follow Ieva's recommended list of sights to see along the way.  After Palanga, our next stop was Pape Nature Park which is located in Latvia.  Our drive had us going on some unpaved road.  At first, I was a bit concerned about whether or not our car could manage until Bro reminded me of all the unpaved roads we had already been on in Latvia.  Good point.


Navigator had nothing to do while driver concentrated on bumpy road so she turned her camera on him :-)



We are indeed back in Latvia.  Road signs here are okay but only if you're headed to a major destination, say Riga or.....if you can read the language.  It's been challenging switching between the three Baltic states :-)

This is all to say that we had a hard time finding Pape Nature Park.  I looked as hard as I could for any sign that would indicate a park or a reserve or something that had to do with nature but nada.....not one thing.

Our bumpy road came to a dead end at a small wooden building.  The doors were closed but nearby was posted up a large sign. We were here but exactly where were we?



The map was very helpful in that it told us where were were and the path we could take but looking around, there were no signs indicating where the starting point was.  Funny enough, another car pulled up a few minutes after us and a man and a woman got out.  You could tell from the tone in their voices and their body language that they were as puzzled as we were.

Bro walked around and found a small path that looked like the one we would take.  Looking at the map, we realized the circuit was about 9 km and that it would be about 4 km to just make it to the sea which is what Ieva had recommended we do.  I didn't think we had time for a 8 km, almost 5 mile, walk so we grudgingly decided to pass on Pape Nature Park


After having driven all this way, we were both a bit disappointed..  On our way out, we stopped at a place that looked like it was a camp of sorts - there were several rows of small wooden cabins surrounding a common area filled with benches and grills.  We figured they must be near something worth seeing so we pulled over into the parking lot.

The cabins were all empty by the girl at the reception desk told us that the campground is just stone's thrown from the sea.  We asked if we could first use their facilities and then walk to the sea.  Answer to both questions was, "Yes!"


We followed the young girl's instructions and in less than five minutes, were walking on sand!

That's the Baltic Sea we're walking towards.

It's a chilly fall day but there's always one die hard beach fan!

The last of the summer blooms.

From here, we continued our road trip.   Next stop was the town of Liepāja.  Today was not our good driving day.  Our map was not detailed enough to show one way streets and Liepāja had quite a few of them.  We did more U-turns than I can to remember!  Somehow, we made it to the center of town but it still wasn't quite where we were suppose to be per Ieva's instructions.  But, we were in a pretty part of town and Bro's stomach was telling him it was time for a meal so we decided to take a quick break.  With not a city park in sight, we just took a bench on the sidewalk and broke into our picnic *basket* which is, by the way, my Eagle Creek organizer, normally used to carry travel papers but on this trip has doubled as a food carrier :-)

Lunch was a simple meal of bread with smoked salmon.....the last bit of the smoked salmon that he bought in the Rimi supermarket in Vilnius.  Yes, it keeps fine without refrigeration though it has been cool here.

A few curious passers by threw glances our way.  They weren't even discreet about it but I can't blame them. Two Asians stand out to begin with but two Asians, sitting on a bench, and eating is probably not a sight you see often in Liepāja.


Determined to find the Liepāja that Ieva wanted us to see, we got back in the car and tried to find the center of town.  So much of our driving and finding places has been based on our instinct and I don't think we used that more than today.  Our maps were useless and I was having second thoughts about Liepāja - even the guidebooks came up short on things to see in this small town.

We got near to where we thought town center and found a parking spot.  We've been careful about where leave our car so when it comes to parking in the city, we try and decode the parking signs to make sure we clearly understand what times parking is allowed.  I had nightmares about getting towed.

Ieva's write up on Liepāja did not paint a pretty picture for me:
"Liepāja town and naval port where still can taste soviet feelings"

A former Soviet town.  They're not usually pretty in my book.  So I had low expectations for Liepāja.

As Bro locked up our car, I spotted this woman brushing her sign. Now, that's good housekeeping!

Instincts took us into an alleyway.  What were we thinking?



To our surprise.....and we really were surprised, our alley way stroll took us to the the Latvian Musicians Alley of Fame.  It was the giant guitar outside the entrance to a building the initially caught our attention.  But it was these hand print topped pedestals (or perhaps they're seats?) that had us curious.  Musicians Alley was opened in 2006 and there are thirty five of these pedestals.  The hand prints belong to musicians - ten honor current and former music bands, and five are dedicated to musicians who are a live. In 2013 seven new "Signs of Fame" were placed in the Alley honoring both bands and musicians.  I presume the remaining signs are also dedicated to musical artists.



Musicians Alley led us to a commercial area - lots of shops and a small city park.  I saw the sign for the Maxima Supermarket.  Ice cream was in my future.


Turns out that the Maxima supermarket was part of an underground shopping mall. We did a bit of window shopping; always curious about what's for sale in other countries.


We made our way over to the park to enjoy our cones. It reminded me of Dupont Circle in Washington, DC.

I had no idea what flavor I had bought.  I just wanted something that was a pink flavor.

I had to take a second photo. This is the cone as I pulled it from the packaging. 
It's flat on top and not a drop of pink!  Hmmmm....tasted like vanilla.

Nice little spot for an ice cream break.

On our way out of Maxima, we had spotted the Information Center so after our ice creams, we decided to go in and get some suggestions on things to see.  Turns out, there's not a lot of anything to see in town. One suggestion was the Holy Trinity Lutheran Cathedral which just so happened to be a short walk away.  Construction of the cathedral was begun in 1742 and completed in 1758.


There was some construction work going on but we could still go inside.


Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside so I did a sneak shot through the front entrance :-) 


I found this photo on latvians.com.  You can see how remarkably bright and elegant the interior looks.


That was it, for Liepāja, as far as we were concerned.  From here, Ieva had recommended that we visit a place called Karosta.

Today, Karosta is a neighborhood on the outskirts of Liepāja but it was originally constructed in 1890-1906 as a naval base for the Russian Tsar Alexander III, and later served as a base for the Soviet Baltic Fleet. Supposedly, it's a popular tourist destination but after reading the description, neither Bro nor I were interested in going.  I think we had had enough of sightseeing.  We just wanted to get back to Riga.

We arrived back into Riga on the same road that we had taken from the airport three weeks ago.  We know our way around!  It was back to the Elizabete Hotel!  This time around, we got a room on the ground floor, right next to the reception desk. It was not a good room; it was teeny weeny, it smelled funny and the only window we had was high up and it looked out right at the sidewalk level.  I complained and asked for another room but unfortunately, the hotel was fully booked with a large Norwegian tour group so there was no possibility of switching rooms.  Not happy campers.

It was late afternoon so we headed out for a walk.  It felt so good to be back on familiar streets.  This part of town is so pretty especially when the sun is out as it was today.  Of course, I had to go by and see my two Eisenstein obsessions - Elizabet iela 10a and 10b.  I will never tire of seeing them.

As we stood in front of 10b, we realized we were standing in front of the entrance to a restaurant, Navat Club.  Looked quite posh. The menu was an odd mix of Uzbek and Japanese food.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Uzbek and Japanese.  I was curious.  He was hungry.  We decided to have dinner here.

The maître'd seated us and handed us our menus.  He was appropriately dressed in suit and tie.  We were in casual travel clothes which meant t-shirt and pants for me and t-shirt and shorts for Bro.  Way under dressed by they didn't turn us away.

Very welcoming and cozy interior.

Thank God the menu had pictures because I did not recognize any of the names of the dishes. We both decided to skip the Japanese stuff and go Uzbek.

I ordered the Beshbarmak which I found out later is is the national dish of nomadic Turkic peoples in Central Asia and is typically served in a large round dish. It's basically a noodle soup topped with boiled meat.  Verdict  Not good.  No, not good at all.  The meat was tough and gamey....I think it was mutton.  Soup tasted gamey.  Noodles were nice and silky.


Bro had lamb chops with a salad.  It was pretty tasty.

For dessert, Bro ordered something that came out looking like a rustic granola bar. It was very sweet but I think he at every bit.  I ordered chak chak which is basically fried dough drenched in honey.  It was huge plate of chak chak and super sweet!

Perhaps a good Uzbek would be able to devour it all but even with Bro
chomping on some, we had plenty left over.

After dinner, we took a short post dinner walk; there was no rush to get back to our not-so-inviting room at the Elizabete.  Tomorrow is our last day here and we have a very special place to go so it's time to sign off on this post and get some rest.

Goodnight from Riga!