Alexey Moskvin

Baltic Exchange and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘kaliningrad

Liepāja to Jūrmala

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Dragging all this out of my memory is more fun than taking it out in one piece. Use it straight away and you get a brand new, shiny, sterile story… Leave it in there and it will mature, get covered in moss, crack and the cracks will get filled with other memories and influences. Try to untangle that and you’ll have a fuller, rounder memory. The crust of ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ gets softer so one can break through to see what’s inside…

In the morning I collect the bike from the car park. Antoha, the guard talks to me about his life and… well, he had a fight with someone, after which the guy ‘got a little bit dead’, so Antoha spent the last 5 years in jail. But now he’s on the right track again. ‘Let me help you’, he says and wipes the dirt off my number plate and lights, ‘you never know with police’.

Dace’s gift is a light grey rock with a hole in it. She found it on the beach and those are hard to find.

Liepaja reminded me of Rostock. Different to put one’s finger on it but it does have a similar feel to it. Or, maybe, it’s just me being able to connect to it in a different manner than to other places.

The abandoned, falling apart buildings on the sea shore. They were left from the soviet times and the sea was slowly claiming the land back, just as it happened in Kolobrzeg. Gordon Matta-Clark would’ve had an orgasmic fit if he saw those. The boy sitting on one of the pieces, drawing something. He lifted his head when he noticed me but only for a couple of seconds. Staircases, gaps of windows, bricks and concrete, straight lines and curved ones, the sea is digesting it all. It will take a while before everything will turn into a selection of rocks similar to the one that Dace gave me but they are well on the way.

I stop in Ventspills for lunch and walk the streets until I find a bakery. The road after is long and very straight… until it turns into no road at all. Roadworks seem to be taking over most of the way along the coast and I’m slowing down. Sand and gravel. In the evening I noticed that a stone chipped my helmet, right above the visor. I did remember a knock but didn’t think it was that bad.

Kolka is worth all the non-roads. The spit of land, where the waves from the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic sea meet, creating a line and I’m thinking of the Turtle beach in Dalaman, Turkey. Some bricks are piled up on the shore but otherwise it’s only dead trees and gorgeous sand. A small cafe surrounded by pine trees where I managed to get a coffee just before the lady called it a day. Earlier, because of the wind and lack of customers. ‘No wonder’, I say, ‘The road is completely taken apart almost all the way from Ventspills’. Lunch is on the shore, watching a couple of people wandering about… After them there’s no one else around.

When I get to Jurmala, the sun is setting and covering the tall pine trees in orange light.
Anita says that most of famous musicians came from Liepaja – she likes that town too. She has a great sense of colour and interior design. Nearly everything in Anita’s kitchen is pale green and orange. I am offered a massive room on the second floor, it’s in blue tones.

After a lovely dinner of potatoes, pork and sauerkraut I’m off for an hour to wander the streets of Jurmala. Or a street rather – the excitement is the pedestrian street with everything included. It’s totally empty because it’s Monday.


Written by Alexey Moskvin

29 May 2011 at 07:37

Kaliningrad to Liepaja

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‘There’s no hot water on Mondays,’ says Dace, ‘You better take a shower today.’ She has a beautifully done up flat in a 9 story soviet estate, the staircase reminds me of my childhood. The elevator squeaks and shudders as we get to our floor, the light is yellow and dim. I got to Liepaja quite late – rain and the Lithuanian border and the ferry in Klaipeda slowed me down quite a lot.

Tanya’s gift was a ‘The Simpsons’ poster. Vadim is very much into them, socks and all. I gratefully accept and set off for Liepaja after breakfast.

My way goes through Kurshskaya kosa (Curonian Spit), that narrow bit of land that goes between the lagoon and the sea and it’s a natural reserve.

Quiet road. Another rainy and miserable day. The rain isn’t strong but it’s the one that just runs along with you, all the way. Probably, just as annoying as ‘are we there yet?’.

The sea shore is almost as melancholic as the weather, it’s difficult to imagine it with a blue sky and warm sea. I finally find a coffee sign and stop. This is Efa heights, with two viewing platforms overseeing the dunes and the lagoon side of the spit.

This is where Kin-Dza-Dza was filmed, an iconic Soviet movie, we grew up with it.

Dima, Yulya and Sasha at the Efa heights. We have a nice chat about everything. I leave a few coins as souvenirs and Yulya adds me as a friend on Vkontakte, I promise to confirm when I get to wi-fi.

Borders with Lithuania. I have to pay for entering the Lithuanian bit of the Curonian Spit. ‘Why’ I say ‘I’ve just been through a half of it already and didn’t pay there. How much?’ ‘200 roubles’ ‘I’m on a motorbike and I’m not sure how many roubles I’ve got left’ ‘Ok, a hundred’ she smiles and teaches me how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘bye’ in Lithuanian.

I carry on and so does the rain. Eventually, I stop at some petrol station to put some more clothes on because it’s getting pretty unbearable. Some miles down the road the wet misery is taking over again and I give up, deciding to stop anywhere I can to have dinner and get warm. And I am so happy to see a guest house by the road. Birutes Uostas, between Sventoji and Latvian border. A couple of people standing outside, smoking, they look like they are working here. I try Russian ‘Can I get some dinner here?’ ‘Sure, we’ll cook whatever you want for you – meat, fish?’ ‘I don’t know, what can you make?’ ‘Tell you what – we have a beautiful cod, was caught today. The whole fish, we’ll do it for you – go inside’. I walk up a few stairs, Igor, the owner, meets me at the entrance and showing to a table. ‘I’m all wet’ I say, pointing at the water dripping all over their carpets and feeling apologetic. ‘It’s ok, it’s only water’ ‘I think I’ve just spoken to your cook – she recommended cod. I’d love some tea to warm up first too’. So I’m sitting there feeling mellow, sipping tea and waiting for the promised cod. Which looks awesome when it arrives. I leave after about half an hour, shake hands with Igor and apologise again about the wet sofa. He tells me about the area, how special the landscape is and that he was sailing for 27 years before he decided to build his own ship – that guest house.

Border with Latvia is nothing but potholes and an abandoned post. But the road afterwards is ok.
The guy at the car park, his granddaughter is studying in London. He calls his wife trying to find out where but I don’t know the name of the street he tells me.

The empty, almost abandoned city, traffic lights flashing, almost no people or traffic, the sun is almost set. The fog is descending and happens often, says Dace. She is a prominent art savvy and is organising a music event for the end of August. She also tells me about the Latvian version of Glastonbury, for which people flood the town, putting up their tents where ever they can. Locals get amused, especially in the mornings.

From my window I can see the block opposite. Window lights scattered across the building. The halo. The fog.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

26 May 2011 at 00:12

Gdansk to Kaliningrad

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The weather is rubbish today and it’s the first rainy day since I left. It really doesn’t appeal much to walk around town in this, so some things have to be cut out of the plan. Although, to see Falowiec – that massive council block, just seemed like a very appropriate idea. And there it is, a monster of the communist dream, over 800 meters long and is a home to about 6000 people. Quite nice flats, they say, and not particularly cheap.

Fighting through the traffic I smell a bakery and make an emergency stop. Bakeries have become a perfect source of one’s lunch – local, freshly made and usually delicious stuff (pirozhki! Appeared on this side of the border), for both savoury and desserts. Add a tomato and an apple from a shop nearby and you have a decent meal.

To counterbalance Falowiec would be the Malbork Teutonic castle. It’s a bit out of the way but is worth going to. A massive red brick structure, I walk around it but decide not to go in. It’s very flat and windy on the way.

But before Malbork there’s still the pannier to sort out… The sat nav shows that there’s a dealership in Gdansk, how very convenient. I pay BMW Zdunek a visit and despite the funny name they are a great and super helpful bunch. Luckily for me, instead of having to wait for a few days for an order, they do have one there and then. I leave with a new pannier and £300 lighter but while they were fixing me I have a nice chat with Pawel, get drier, less worried, fed and coffeed.

I get to see the sea again. Also stopped to take a photo of the cross – I noticed those are scattered all over Poland and reminded me of Spain.

I set off for the Russian border. The insurance is sorted for both Russian entries in a tent just before the border crossing. A woman with a mix of Polish and Russian is filling out papers and is worried that the whole tent will fly away – the wind is so strong.

It’s easier than I thought. Not much hassle at all. Everyone’s very friendly and excited I came all that way. So, very shortly, I’m through and the wonderful feeling of familiarity feels me up, so I do figures of S on the road to the amusement of the bunch of locals waiting for something at the border. Or, most likely, they just thought ‘what a wanker’, but I don’t care – it’s my first ride in Russia.

Kaliningrad greets me with stone paved road, the one that feels like an ocean on a particularly bad weather. With tram tracks in the middle. I bounce along until it gets quite scary inside the Brandenburg Gate where I have to slow down to about 10 mph, just to keep the wheels attached. Much to the annoyance of the local traffic who are never mindedly whizzing along at normal speeds with ringing suspensions.

I find Tanya’s block and Vadim hangs out of the 8th floor window to say hello when I call. The next challenge is to hide the bike. ‘No good to leave it here’, they say, ‘people can just carry the bike away’. ‘They’d need at least three heavy weight lifters’ I say but surely agree that it’s better to park it somewhere safe. There is a design agency just opposite, so we go to ask whether we can leave the bike on their grounds for safety. Artur, the guard, agrees, so we squeeze the bike in between a lorry and the wall, so it can’t be seen from the street. Just to make sure, we cover it with a couple of sheets of linoleum to keep it away from rain and the eyes of the director – the guards are not supposed to be helping us out.

We should really come up with a name for this… It’s just like tequila boom but massive and with sambuca instead of tequila. Lots of fun, as with large glasses it’s almost impossible to hold the precious liquid inside when it explodes at the impact. Everything around becomes sticky very quickly, so if you want to repeat the trick, keep a lot of paper towels at hand. Awesome. And no hangover in the morning.
For most of the next day I walk about Kaliningrad.

For the Eurovision night there is a bunch of friends around. Tanya cooks great stuff and Sambuca Spray is replaced by more traditional wine and vodka with juice.

Written by Alexey Moskvin

21 May 2011 at 20:21