14 January 2018
After we arrived back in Riga this afternoon, I was making up new words to Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and singing aloud on Gogoļa street past the cold people waiting for a bus, carrying a pussy willow branch and a bag of driftwood from the Gulf of Riga.
I like to think that we went to the Baltic Sea today, but officially it was the Gulf of Riga. I still have not gotten to the actual “sea” yet, but there is time.
Winter has arrived in Latvia. It was -8 C today which is something like “cold” in American terms. Not as cold, mind you, as Omaha was a few weeks ago, but cold enough to freeze water and make your hands bitter. We still have had no real snow, but this morning, tiny flakes were fluttering in the air as we walked to the train station to buy tickets for Vecāķi, a small beach town just north of Riga. The name, I am told, means “old fish hook” or “old lure”; something to do with old and fishing.
Here is the best part. Tickets for the train cost 1.60 Euro. Round trip train tickets to the beach and back were under 2 Euro. I checked the chart on the train, and the most expensive train tickets, to get all the way across Latvia (to the sea for example) are 5.80 round trip. I think I paid about $200 to get from New York to D. C. back in the states.
Okay, I am lying. That wasn’t the best part, but it was pretty cool. I just need to remember that I have the freedom to walk to the train station and get on the train to go just about anywhere in Latvia for the price of a hamburger. Remind me of that next time you talk to me. It needs to sink in.
So we took the train with only one slight hitch. The ticket lady came by and we couldn’t find Anna’s ticket. It was sitting on the seat next to here when we left, and now it was gone. Rita spoke to the kind ticket taker and explained… we looked everywhere, but we couldn’t find it. Later, it would be discovered, that she had rolled it like a cigarette and placed it behind her ear. Curious.
After a smooth and comfortable 28-minute train ride, we arrived in Vecāķi. There wasn’t much to see as we walked past the old station and into the village. It was quiet. There were some nice houses, and some old, broken houses. There are these wonderful little hills that have formed over the centuries, apparently from the wind blowing sand in from the sea, and pine trees now grow on these hills. It makes for lovely scenery.
The beach was only about a kilometer from the station itself, and we just walked to it. I don’t know why that impresses me so much. I guess, growing up in Nebraska where there are no seas or real beaches, it was always a bit of a chore to get to any sort of body of water of relevant size. Usually, there were gates and fees. Sometimes we had to cross private property or get permission. But here, the whole beach is just clean, open, and stretches for miles and miles with this wonderfully soft and silky sand. No broken bottles. No oil sludge. No stink. It was pristine.
I had never been to a beach in winter, so this was a unique experience. I don’t know how it is on the ocean, but here, the waves have begun to freeze. We could see where the tide had been, and how it had receded, leaving the beach frozen with tracks of various people and animals (some of which I could not identify). And closer to the water, it looks like the waves have literally been frozen just as they crashed on the beach. The patterns and details were just beautiful. Enjoy the slideshow of beach patterns!
I made them all horizontal just to improve the flow. I think they work that way, too… but they are a bit disorienting. As you watch, turn on your favorite meditative music or the sound of ocean waves. Enjoy the flow. Let your heart breathe and your mind see. Peace.
We walked across the sheets of ice, sliding and laughing as the waves gently lapped the shore. We were not completely alone. There were some joggers, dog walkers, and other sight seers, but for the most part, we had the beach to ourselves.
Rita was on a mission to collect little sticks and pieces of nature to create some crafts for the flat. I think whatever she comes up with, it will be delightful. Anna enjoyed throwing sticks and watching them slide across the ice. All in all, it was a bit of magic until my feet and hands started to get cold. Just a little tip: If you take photos and take your gloves off all the time, then your hands get cold, and life is not as much fun as it could be.
I wish I could capture the magic of being on this beach on a Sunday in January, but the best I can do is to write these words and share these photos. My final thought about the beach was that my boots have kissed the Baltic sea… but it doesn’t sound as good now as when I said it at the time.
We walked back from the beach through the pine woods, climbing trees and looking for interesting branches and woodland features. We saw a weird hut that some people, probably pagans, had built to perform some kind of ceremonies. At least, that is what I am hoping it is for.
Then we ended up at a wonderful little cafe with a fireplace and warmth. It was the Cafe del Mar Rīga, and I highly recommend it! I ordered ribs and potatoes that came to the table looking like a work of art. Rita and Anna were both more than satisfied with their potato pancakes and pasta. Drinks, dessert, comfort… it is all waiting for you by the beach at the Cafe del Mar! Ļoti labi!
After a long, relaxing lunch the feeling returned to my hands and feet, and it was time to head to the train. For some reason, I thought we had more time than we did, but that is what happens on lazy Sunday afternoons. There is so much time until there isn’t.
I took a “shortcut” through the woods as Anna and Rita walked on the path through town. Suddenly, I realized that we had left Rita’s special stick bag at the cafe. I started jogging toward the road to catch her, and then my phone rang. It was Rita to tell me that she had left the bag. Great minds think alike, or something.
I did my best imitation of running back to the cafe to get the bag, and then checked my watch. 9 minutes to the train?!?! I again, jogged out and tried to catch up with Rita and Anna, but they were too far ahead. I was calculating the time and distance and thinking that if I hurried, we would just make it to the train. A little more jogging. A lot of heavy breathing. And yes, I caught them, and we made it to the platform just as the train arrived.
On the way back, we sat next to an elderly woman who had the most striking Latvian mittens. As you may or may not know, my cousins run a shop, Senā Klēts, that specializes in Latvian Mittens (Cimdi) and other costumes. They even have a book about them! So I couldn’t help but say, “Atvainojiet, skaista cimdi!” (Excuse me, beautiful mittens). She smiled, and told Rita that they were made by her mother for her husband, and that is why they are a bit too big. It was a lovely moment, and I couldn’t resist taking a photo. I showed her and she smiled.
And that was it. We got back to Origo in Riga, and I walked home singing my song, carrying by branches and thinking about how incredible each day can be if you are open for adventure and not scared to be a little bit cold.
My biggest fear is running out of places to go and new things to see, but I can also find beauty in the ugliness of everyday life, and I think that is a lot of fun. I will finish by sharing some photos of the walk home that are not as scenic as the beach, but they have their own beauty.
Oh, and there will be a few more beach photos in here as well. So enjoy more pictures! Have some hot coffee and relax!