Sunday, September 12, 2010

Transportation or the Lack Thereof

Public transportation in the city where I now live is anything but convenient. If I want to get to the grocery store by bus, I get to take a 45 minute trip to go 4 miles, but only after walking a dandy 1.5 walk to get to the bus stop itself. The only convenient thing about any kind of mass-transit is the university shuttle, which gets me to, well, the university. Put a Target or regular-sized grocery store on campus and I'll stop complaining.

To put it most simply, I miss Riga. I miss Latvia. I miss a public transportation so convenient and consistent that I know it like the back of my hand. I miss living in a city where it takes me only 15 minutes to get from point A to point B, pretty much no matter where you are in downtown. I miss bus tickets that cost LVL 0.70 (~USD 1.40). I miss a round-trip train ticket from Riga to Sigulda that costs me LVL 2.10 (~USD 4.20).

I miss not having my hands tied. If I at least had my bike here or, hell, even a skateboard or Razor Scooter, I'd feel less boxed in than I feel now.

If you're in Riga or planning on going, definitely take advantage of the mass-transit system, if only because the prices are cheap (in comparison to countries like Germany or Italy).

Riga also now offers several rentable bike systems, everything from a bike shop on the eastern side of Vermanes Park (Elizabetes Street), to BalticBike (by airBaltic). BalticBike I know costs LVL 1 per hour; register for it online here and enjoy a decently convenient ride with bike stands located throughout Riga and Jurmala (Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija in Riga, across from the McDonald's in Old Town, near the beach in the Bulduri neighbourhood of Jurmala, and several locations in the Majori neighbourhood).

The train station is much less shady than it was back in 1994, and much more convenient. The EC Fund has even helped out in sprucing up train car interiors. The passenger train network itself is fairly well-developed, but does not - I repeat - DOES NOT travel internationally, with the exception of a once-daily train to St. Petersburg (and which DOES NOT excuse you from needing a valid visa to travel into Russia). It's always cheaper (though by only a few santims) to buy a round-trip ticket instead of two one-way tickets. Tickets are bought for specific destinations and have no time stamp; they can be used at any time of the day on the date the ticket was bought. A round-trip ticket is valid for a trip to the destination on the date the ticket was bought and a return trip from the same destination either on the day the ticket was bought or on the following calendar day.

The Riga Public Transport system, I love. Sadly. Tickets are best bought in the new "e-Talons" card format, which are most easily purchased at Narvesen convenience stores. Yellow e-Talons tickets are essentially single-use tickets good for 5-20 rides. Single-use as in once the rides are used up, you toss the card. For once, buying an e-Talons is cheaper than buying a ticket from the driver (which you have to do if you don't have an e-Talons or if yours winds up being out of trips), which now costs LVL 0.70 per person, per ride.

The easiest way to get around and even out of Latvia in a bit more style and comfort (which honestly depends on the destination...I've ended up on a scary 30-person minivan for a 2.5 hour trip to Saldus mid-winter) is to travel by coach. Tickets are reasonably priced and best bought a few days in advance, especially if traveling to larger cities on the weekend. Tickets can be bought online at, but it really is easiest to just go to the Coach Station and buy them from a service counter. On that note, Vilnius and Tallinn are both a mere 4 hours from Riga!

I have none of these options here - or at least none of these options in a convenient way. I think I've made my point for now.


  1. what's the best way to get to Latvia via the States? I'll be visiting Estonia and St Petersburg on the same trip but I'll probably space it out. :)


  2. It depends on where you're coming from. Unless you leave from the East Coast directly, most flights tend to be routed through Chicago or Detroit (at least in my experience). As far as for the Europe side of things, the best options/most common paths are through Stockholm (Arlanda), Copenhagen or Warsaw.

    If you really want to save money and live on the edge, so to speak, another viable option is to find a flight to London, then take a dirt-cheap Ryanair flight from there to the Baltic States. The only catch is that Ryan Air flies from Stansted and Gatwick not Heathrow. You might end up cutting it really close time wise, but I've done it before and gotten where I need to go.

    Good luck and enjoy your trip!