Thursday, May 3, 2012

Better than Disneyland

Recently, some of the volunteers took a study visit to Riga, Andrejsalas to see how work is done and freakbikes are built by one of the most experienced freakbike constructor in Europe – Gatis Kreicbergs.

The journey took a little detour though... Through Tartu, Estonia!

„After you left the house pretty much died“

...or crazy volunteers on crazy hitchhiking trip. Liepaja-Riga-Tartu-Valka-Riga-Skrunda-Liepaja.
Two Italian guys with Greek and Estonian girls decide to explore more on their own and experience the Baltics like the locals.


„Hitchhiking in Latvia is easy!“
That’s what everybody says. According to the stories I get the idea it’s like a national sport in Latvia or something. Waiting in one place for 40 minutes, another for 1,5 hours, getting completely wet for three times a day. Easy? Not a good day for hitchhiking.

Same time, half of our little group manage to do it just like THAT. What do you mean you found a car straight to Tartu?!  It’s crazy! We arrive some sooner, some later. Later meaning 2:30 in the night to be exact.

Tartu welcomes us with friendly locals, heavy rain, streets filled with singing young people, nice bars, student days and oh-so-warm sunshine.


Crazy people, again! Crazy Tartu this time! While getting lunch locals, who look like having a rough night the day before, appear. You are from Italy? Sicily? Mafia? Stereotypes much? They ask for three beers for a pile of garbage jewellry. Seriously?! These men are not so easy to get rid of, especially since one guy keeps appearing and appearing all over the streets and I keep on running from him.

Overall Tartu is a very green city with lots of people on the streets and in the big parks, river flowing through the city, longboards and of course lots and LOTS of bicycles!

The volunteer life is always full of adventures. For exapmple getting robbed in my own little Tartu just before leaving. Seriously?! So, no money, no ID-s. But no worries, it’s going to be allright! There’s something good in everything.
After dealing with the Estonian police for hours, we’re finally back on the roadside. This time trying to get to Riga. Not such an easy task for two Italian men but it takes us, the girls, ten minutes and a truck stops. Taking us both!

Definately not safe, definately not legal, but fun! And straight to Riga from Tartu. Great! At the same time the two Italian guys received a friendly welcome from the Latvian police.
Our driver doesn’t speak any language understandable to us, unfortunately. And he checks his jacket just before we leave the truck on the edge of the city of Riga. Smart guy. Smarter than me, who’s still hurting from being robbed in the morning.


We are very pleased to finally arrive in this beautiful city for the weekend. Although hungry and tired from the bumpy ride as well as dealing with the police.
One can find all the best places with the warmest atmosphere by following bicycles, of course.

There’s bicycle week in Riga – Rīgas velo nedēļa 2012. The city is full of bicyles. Each one crazier/flashier/freakier than the other. And we love bikes! Every one of us in our own way.

Sunday morning we head to Andrejsalas to participate in the freakbike workshop there. The quarter is still very sleepy. There are some locals sitting by the pier and recovering from last night, few Russians setting up a flea market, some guys waiting for the workshop to start and a guy called Arturs who announces with a big smile that they basically just drink beer and do nothing all day. (Later we are happy to find evidence that he’s exaggerating a bit of course.) And this is actually supposed to be the cleaning and arranging day. Not so punk, we think? The locals sitting by the pier are curious about us lurking around there and try to make friends by offering us wine. And it’s not even 13:00 yet.

Guys hanging out in front of the garage suggest coming back later and I manage to get a tambourine for free from the Russian men having a flea market. We’re a bit sad that nothing special was happening and decide to head to the city center to play tourists for a while.

It’s early evening when we finally meet another volunteer from Liepaja, Nikola, who is here to film shots for the documentary about freakbikes and head back to Andrejsala.


This is as punk as it gets.
I want to see some sparks flying!

Back in the garage, beer everywhere, loud music, a lot of freakbikes everywhere, sparks are flying, bikes are being built, cut apart and put back together forming monstreous pieces of art. It has kind of an industrially romantic feeling to it.
No one buys new parts in here, everything is second hand, recycling, freak. Every bike has a story.
About riding freak bikes, the thing is that the police often won’t stop the rider because they think that they can’t stop!

The environment might seem a bit threathening for some in the beginning but actually everybody is very welcoming and open, just a bit reserved, need to be aproached.
„We have been playing with this old videogame, drinking and doing nothing since yesterday.“
It’s better then Disneyland.
Crazy Riga, sexy bikes, Andrejsalas Garāžās, beautiful city, friendly locals and the sun loves us!

There’s building bicycles all day, seemingly creating an even bigger mess in an already big mess. By the evening it smoothly transforms into a party by the sea with bonfires in old trashcans, self-appointed DJ, a striptease pole, more beer and people enjoying themselves and most of all, of course, bikes.
Next day we are supposed to head back to Liepaja, to our reality. We make a last attempt to find a market with old bike parts but fail, sadly.
Hitchhiking this time with the three of us, one guy, two girls. Sound kind of impossible at first. Well, it takes time but we can do it! The first driver is a crazy old man and we are kind of afraid for our lives. Finally, we manage to get to Skrunda alive.                


Two girls, one boy hitchhiking in a small town, sounds impossible, again. But a good old trick helps - girls hitchhike, guy hides. "But hey! Have you got room for three?" Nice! The driver is even crazier this time. Going with 120km/h, talking with a phone and passing the car in front – all at the same time!
By the evening we are back to reality, happy, alive, survived the adventures with rain, sun, crazy people, being robbed, more crazy people, Estonian police, Latvian police, even more crazy people, almost getting fined because of a missing ticket in public transport, crazy drivers, a lot of luck and new experiences, of course.

Pictures by Georgia Aliferi & Francesco Garello
Text by Keiu Meesak

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