A Brief Baltic Visit 2010 - 1: Riga, August 19 (50 B.)

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Proud Earthling

From August 15 - 19 2010 I went on one of two short late summer trips, visiting Berlin for two days, then taking a plane to Tallinn, Estonia, where I stayed for another two days. On the last day of the trip, Thursday, August 19, I caught the early airBaltic flight to Riga, Latvia, where I had four hours before continuing home to Vienna, so enough time for a little city sightseeing.
Out of contentual reasons I will start the travelogues chronologically backwards.

After 3 a.m. I took a taxi for the short ride from Tallinn city center to the airport, situated in the town part Ülemiste. A security officer hat to unlock the gates for the first passengers of the day (although there were some sleeping inside), and I waited for check-in to start. Only a little later I discovered you could do that for yourself at a machine, this flight as well as the connecting one from Riga to Vienna including choice of seats. Then I could drop off the luggage at a counter where it was checked through to Vienna, so I had nothing to hold me back in Riga.

After some more waiting time I punctually took my seat 1a inside the Fokker 50 operating flight BT 366, apart from me mainly some Latvians boarded the plane, but of course this 5:20 a.m. regional flight was far from overbooked.

As we rolled onto the runway one of the nicest sunrise moods I had ever seen unfolded. Sadly, heavy rain was predicted for Riga, but at least I had my little sunshine moment of the day.

The takeoff with the prop aircraft and more of the great sunrise can be seen here, in this short video:

A thick cloud cover started immediately southwest of Tallinn and we dipped into it for the landing approach to Riga which led us across the Baltic Sea, where low-lying clouds had formed. The landing was unspectacular, very smooth in such a light aircraft, and the parking position was perfect, just 1-2 minutes to get out on the tarmac, through the building and outside! For the ride into the center I decided to take a taxi not to lose any time. The airport taxis had a fixed rate, unified design and LCD monitors in the headrests showing ads perpetually. The driver chose the northern route into the city, which was fine for me, and so it took me just 1:10 from the runway in Tallinn to the Vansu Tilts (= "Shroud Bridge") across the Daugava River in Riga. This bridge was built 1981, still in Soviet times, and once had been called after Gorky, like the street on it where trolleybusses were running, just as this new Skoda 24Tr Irisbus, many sighted vehicles were newer types.

Not so this Skoda 15Tr

Riga is the largest city of the Baltic States, home to 700000 people, and situated near the estuary of the 1000 km long Daugava River (Russian: "(Western) Dwina") into the Baltic Sea. Apart from the old city center Riga is also well known for its large number of art noveau buildings, sadly I didn't have time for traditional sightseeing, but I will definitely during my next visit. Currently I was taken by this great view of the river shore from the Shroud Bridge with two more bridges in sight, the Akmens Tilts ("Stone Bridge") where trams and trolleybusses were running, as well as the railroad bridge behind it which was mostly frequented by EMUs of the Riga 3 kV DC island network going west from the central station. An overview of the Latvian LDZ passenger services can be seen here:
Tornakalns is the Riga junction at the Daugava western shore, Elekritshkas go up to Jelgava and Tukums, only diesel trains towards Liepaja are using the bridge. The station of Valga is situated in Estonia, there are also Estonian passenger trains going that far, the express trains from St. Petersburg (Latvian border station Karsava, line not on the map) and Moskow (border in Zilupe) approach Riga via Rezekne.

I was glad about the slight morning mood developing, at the moment the city was spared the predicted rain and low clouds over the Baltic Sea.

In a small hut stood the protective saint of Riga, "Big Christopher", a rather crude replica of an older statue now preserved elsewhere. By the way, the Latvian "Oscar" is also called Lielais Kristaps...

Then I approached the next objects of desire, Riga trams, nowadays operating 9 services and having an obvious unusual feature: the trolleybuslike pantographs! However, there are new trams currently being built by Skoda using regular pantograph types, but I didn't spot any of those. Meanwhile, beneath the bridge, waited a run-down "Misisipi" paddle "steamer" smelling of old, overheated oil.

On the 1955-built Stone Bridge, the by far most common vehicles: a double Tatra T3A

Two of the few with special liveries, these units were advertising recycling

Theoretically there would be trolleybus overhead wiring on the bridge, but out of obvious reasons the Skoda 24Tr Irisbusses were using their auxilliary diesel engine (in Riga both variations with and without diesel are in operation), and this according to schedule since September 1 2009.

The rail bridge also saw some traffic from time to time, a "native" ER2 class EMU was departing the main station. Why native? Like many multiple units in the former Soviet Union it was built by RVR ("Rigas Vagonbuves Rupnica")!
Simple to remember: all vehicles with an "R" in their class name were built here, for example ER2, DR1 or even the old highspeed trains Moscow - St. Petersburg ER200.
In the background you can spot the imposing halls of the central market.

As an ex-soviet city it's not complete without "space needle"! ;-)

The T3MR provide a little change, but there is only a small number of them in operation. Marshrutkas, however, could still be found in abundance, morning traffic wouldn't work without them. In this and several other areas Riga still felt more "soviet" than Tallinn, where I didn't spot a single minibus in service.

I returned to the city side of the shore and slowly walked towards the station as I wanted to catch the express trains from the east which were not crossing the river.

A few anglers had gathered along the promenade

Daugava veterans with modernized (by RVR) EMU, class ER2T

I absolved my morning sport by sprinting back to the bridge to catch this maintenance vehicle. Later I saw another one with spacier passenger area and less loading platform.

Next, I followed several tramway lines away from the river towards the station.

The cobbled street provided a nicely rustic scenery

At the very busy square in front of the station, welcome to EU!

The facade of the station is quite imposing and included in a complex with several shopping opportunities.

But as I reached the platforms I was confronted by reality. In a travelling guide of the Baltics I had read that Tallinn station wasn't so impressive, only Riga central deserved the name main station. However, I found Tallinn definitely more sympathetic, especially the pedestrian subway at the far end of the Riga platforms proved to be a pure urinal!

I didn't quite understand the displays until I figured it out: they simply had stopped working at some point and were showing the same trains for eternity (or at least until replaced) - time literally was standing still here! Because of the nonexistance of an arrival board I had no clue where to expect the 9 a.m. express from St. Petersburg, so I chose a spot where I could cover most tracks.

DR1A, ER2M and ER2 forming a great RVR-parade

I was lucky weatherwise, only now it started to rain, together with an uncomfortable western wind. This would have been really annoying on the bridge, but here I was sheltered, just had to endure the occasional urin smell...

The round nose is for me the prettiest classic EMU design of the former Soviet union, it even has lovely details such as foldout side windows, like an airplane cockpit. Now I was just expecting to see the drivers (the cabs were mostly full of people, at least 2-3 persons each) in leather storm caps! ;-)

A longer DR1A DMU had just arrived at the home platform

Here you can see that the ER2T is even wider than its cab and the manufacturer logo more prominent than the rail company, which is only displayed at the side - well, at least in former times you didn't need to wonder which company was running the train...

Suburban trains were well frequented

Rain always has its charms ;-)

A modernized ER2T arrived, too. Now I heard an announcement, also in English, that the St. Petersburg train would be 15 minutes late. OK, I thought, but I wouldn't be able to wait much longer to return to the airport.

Around the scheduled arrival time of the express I moved towards platform two, where several locals had found shelter as well. But there was something still missing from my short Baltic adventure... what was it? Alright, I hadn't seen any class M62 "Sergey"s in Estonia!

Double loco 2M62-1220 rolling slowly through central station

The roof construction of platform 3

And to complete the collection I was surprised by brown M62-1206 with a special transport (if someone recognizes it...), the drivers were besides themselves with joy to spot a photographer! :eek:)

At 9:22 finally the announced express 37RJ from St. Petersburg arrived, pulled by TEP70-0250 with cyrillic inscriptions.

All LDZ coaches, although the livery rather looked like a construction train.

After arrival at the home platform of Riga

Now it was time to leave for the airport, I took the stairs down to the street and just this second a bus number 22 directly to the airport pulled up - what a stroke of luck, and I didn't even slightly get wet! The ride cost 70 santims, about an Euro, of course only a fraction of the amount I had paid for the taxi. Interestingly, the Latvian Lats is one of the currencies with the largest units in the world, not very convenient in a country with often lower prices. The ride to the airport only took less than half an hour, although we went across Stone Bridge and hardly used the motorway, unlike the taxi. It was also frequented by many city residents at intermediate stations.
Back at the airport I was very glad I had already checked in and was without luggage. According to the internet the airport had been planned for 2,5 million passengers - nowadays it is used by 4 million, so far beyond its capacity. airBaltic is supposedly already building a new terminal, which will be highly appreciated. After squeezing through security I was lucky to find a small spot to sit at my gate as it was used by several flights. However, everything went punctually again and a bus took me to the waiting 737-500 in the now driving rain. I was one of the lucky two in the whole plane who had read the seating charts right and got an emergency exit seat with legspace, there has to be at least one advantage to a 4 a.m. check-in! The flight was smooth and I landed in Vienna on schedule, greeted by the sun.

Finally I want to remark that I would gladly go without air traffic, but sadly there currently are no options for a short visit to the northern Baltic states coming from the southwest. The land connections are abysmal, if they are even existent, the only hope is the 1435 mm standard gauge Rail Baltica project which is supposed to connect Poland with Tallinn through Lithuania and Latvia via Riga, if it is ever completely constructed...

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