Latvia: Riga & Jurmala

My trip to Riga, Latvia (RIX / EVRA) started on Monday August 12th from Helsinki Airport (HEL / EFHK).

This was the first time I had booked a flight with airBaltic, and would say that the booking process was a smooth operation. I intentionally booked flights I knew were flown with aircraft models I’ve not yet been in (Q400 and A220/CS300).

Since this was also the first trip with my wheelchair, I filled out the “Request Assistance form” on their site to let the airline know that I have a wheelchair with me, and that I need some assistance (which is provided by the airport, not the airline itself).

The form included a bunch of fields for flight and contact info etc, but also had me confirm that what kind of help do I need at the airport and gate and how can I move inside the plane. Also the measurements of the chair were required.

Arrived to Helsinki Airport T1 by taxi

After a while they contacted me to confirm that the wheelchair is a manual one (does not include a battery), everything was set up. So on Monday 12th August I headed to Terminal 1 at Helsinki Airport and checked in at the regular check-in desk.

They attached a baggage tag on my wheelchair, although that was replaced a few minutes later with another — apparently because of the fact that I needed the wheelchair in Riga immediately after getting off the plane.

The clerk at the desk ordered the special assistance service to come pick me up from the terminal lobby. However, after some 45 mins of waiting, didn’t see anyone coming so started to roll by myself towards security and the gate.

The security part went OK, lots of it being done by hand, but rolling to the gate included one long ascent which I struggled a bit with. However, some kind (and beautiful!) lady came to my rescue and dragged the chair backwards up so that I could continue once again by myself on the leveled floor.

The special assistance ready to board me

At the gate I was met with the kind special assistance person, who rolled me from the gate to the Q400’s front door. From there I took the few steps upwards slowly with my crutch, and wobbled to my 03A window seat (they seat invalids to window seats for apparent reasons) while the assistance person carried my backpack and the wheelchair’s pillow to the plane.

airBaltic Bombardier Q400 (YL-BAX)

The flight itself was very nice, since I had not been on a Q400 earlier. The takeoff was swift, all the maneuvering felt kind of snappy and quick, and boy did those few air pockets feel good :), kind of like on a rollercoaster.

Helsinki from the air

The lady sitting next to me did startle a bit during one of the pockets and almost grabbed my hand in panic, but maybe flying (or air pockets) was new to her or she generally dreads flying, don’t know. Asked if she was OK, she eventually was, so good for her.

Since the flight was under 1 hours, I didn’t order anything from the drinks/snacks department. All in all the service was good, the plane’s interior clean & looking good, and even my crutch got to travel on its own in a closet of some kind since it wouldn’t fit in to the overhead compartments.

Inside the elevator truck ar Riga Airport

At Riga Airport they got me from the plane into a mobile elevator truck, which took me to the terminal doors. From there, the special assistance guy rolled me all the way through customs and the terminal lobby to the taxi stand outside the terminal. Good service!

And good service indeed also in the taxi, even though I didn’t specifically order a special assistance taxi. This one was big enough to fit my wheelchair as it is without the need of having to collapse it. The driver Kaspers was polite and gave some tips what to do in the town.

When I got to the City Hotel Teater, I just throwed my things in the hotel room, and went out to search for some food. A few of the restaurants were closed at that time (monday evening), but quite many were open. I however ended up getting a 16-pack of muffins from Muffins and More and rolled back to the hotel. Yum!

And that was basically it, my first travel day. I usually don’t do much on the first day of any trip, since I just want to calm down from the traveling and maybe have something to eat. So the rest of the day went chilling in the hotel room, getting some projects forward with my iPad.

During the evening I also ended up drawing a little piece of work inspired by the Latvian flag and it’s colors. Don’t really know the species of this bird, but here you go.

Day 2: A Classical Concert, Some Duck and a Tasty Drink

On day 2 I slept well into the afternoon, and eventually got up to get ready for the classical concert I had booked tickets beforehand for. It was going to be Bach & Wagner, represented by Orchestra Riga in Rīgas Doms cathedral.

After getting to the old town with a taxi, I had some time to sense the atmosphere around the great square next to the cathedral. Lots of people enjoying themselves at restaurant terraces, with continuous blabbering and a good feeling. Plus a good weather.

The Riga Dome Cathedral

When I arrived to the cathedral, I immediately noticed that there’s some deep stairs going down from the main entrance. No way to get through that with the wheelchair, so talked to a member of their staff who was kind enough to arrange an entrance for me from the side of the cathedral.

So, back out to the street, some rolling, and more rolling down the bumpy stone road leading to the side entrance. After getting in, another member of staff was there to help me get to my place in the front. He must have been watching some Fast & Furious flicks, judging by the speed he rolled me on my place.

The concert itself was not allowed to be photographed or recorded to video, so nothing much to let you see from that. But I can only recommend to get yourself to enjoy Orchestra Riga’s music, since it was of very high quality, professional and highly touching at moments (actually shared a few tears in there). Marvelous.

Taking photos during the concert was prohibited

After the concert their staff helped me out and up the bumpy stone ascent, to the street where I stayed for a few minutes just to enjoy the comfortable, warm evening air. My goal for the day was accomplished — the concert was THE thing I had planned for that day.

The bumpy rocks were, eh, bumpy…

For the trip back to the hotel, I decided to download the Bolt app, and try their service. The first Bolt car didn’t find my location correctly and was cancelled (by them), but the second one found me and was picking me up in a few minutes.

Waiting for the Bolt ride

The wheelchair fitted inside his Ford Focus when collapsed, and during the ride we talked about flying and aviation. He told me he hadn’t took a single flight in his lifetime, but probably will do at some time.

The tip about our conversation which hopefully stuck in his memory was that I told him that you should always wear your seatbelt when seated on the airplane, no matter if the seatbelt light is on or off. All in all, a funny young guy and a good chat with him.

The hotel restaurant was on 7th floor

At the hotel I felt the increasing hunger getting on top of my mind, so I headed up to the 7th floor restaurant. Had a look at the menu, saw a duck main on it and immediately decided to take that, accompanied by a non-alcoholic Aperol Spritz.

The duck was perfect

I was actually blown away by the quality of the duck dish, with the meat just falling off from the bone, delicious dressing which contained chocolate, and everything else on the plate just tantalizing my taste buds. Paired with the immense flavours of the drink, it was just a perfect way to end the day 2 in Riga.

Aperol Spritz (non-alc)

Day 3: The Forest and Canals

On day 3 I was originally going to go to another, smaller classical concert in the afternoon, but because of health issues, I decided to concentrate on getting a good, long sleep and just go and eat something in the city later.

So after getting up, I ordered a Bolt ride again, and this time it came with a female driver who was quite helpful after getting over the initial shock of seeing me bringing the wheelchair with me. It fitted OK in her car, and in a few minutes we were in the city.

She dropped me off in front of Restorāns Forest, a restaurant which I selected earlier when surfing the web for a place to eat. Before stepping in, I decided to do some rolling around in the nearby area since there was some nice park areas in sight.

At the park

With the limited energy I had, I managed to get on the other side of the street, next to the opera house and the park which goes along one of the canals in Riga. Got to the canal bridge, took some pics and turned around to roll back towards the restaurant.

While wheeling through the crosswalk I had some problems getting up to the pavement, but once again there was magically some lady pushing me up where I could continue by myself again. Such kind people over there, really!

In The Forest I seated myself on the terrace side, and took a look at the menu. The food which intrigued me most that day on that menu was a catfish fillet with grilled vegetables, green pea puree, torched onions and butter sauce.

The sea trout spoonful

For a complimentary welcome snack the kitchen sent a tasteful spoon of sea trout. From it’s quality I could already expect the main dish to be superb, and no surprise here — it was! In addition to the well cooked catfish, especially the green pea puree was just something heavenly, one of the best purees I’ve ever tasted.

Forest: Catfish fillet with grilled vegetables, green pea puree, torched onions and butter sauce

The combination of the fish, selected vegetables, puree and that butter sauce was just something which all worked together beautifully. For a drink I took a non-alcoholic beer.

So as a happy man I had fulfilled my own requirements for the third day — to go out and eat something good. Time to order a Bolt and head back to the hotel to chill out for the rest of the evening and pack my things so that I’m ready for thursday’s 12 o’clock checkout from the hotel.

Day 4: Towards Jurmala, windows open!

After the morning shower I was ready to leave the hotel, checking out at about 12 and once again, ordering a Bolt for me. This time for a trip to the Jurmala area before going to the airport for my return flight.

I should mention that almost all of the Bolt rides I ordered, were of the Comfort class. The first one went with the basic class, and once I managed to find an Assist class ride, which says it includes enough space for the collapsible wheelchair. Also the Assist class drivers have been trained to deal with people needing assistance.

Andris had an E-class Mercedes (Bolt’s Comfort class)

So when travelling with a wheelchair, please note that the basic class cars can be so small that it gets tight when you try to push your wheelchair in. So it’s always better to take a Comfort class ride (which are usually bigger cars) or that Assist class if there’s any available. Yes, you have to pay a bit more, but not so much.

The ride towards Jurmala cost 20€, took about 30 minutes, and was performed by Andris on his Mercedes-Benz E-class car. Of course I requested him to open my window when we got to the highway, to enjoy some of the fresh Latvian air during the trip.

Andris dropped me off at Jomas iela, the shopping street of Jurmala. From there I rolled about 700 meters towards the shore, a stint which felt painstakingly long with my arm powers. Part of the route I went backwards, because with my left foot I can have some extra power for the rolling when I do it backwards.

There were quite a lot of old-looking houses on the route, but also newer ones there and there. So a kind of mix of both, and some of the old ones were under renovation or other fixing.

Sea ohoy!

When I finally got to the beach, ahhh… It felt like an accomplishment again. I love the sea, I love the salty wind of the sea and the looks of the shore, I love waves, I love everything about it.

I think for a moment I was in nirvana or something. Rolled my wheelchair as close to the water I could, and just sat there, enjoying.

At the Jurmala beach

Of course I could’ve sit there watching the sea for hours and hours, but after a while and drinking a non-alc Radler Grape, it was time for me to start rolling back towards the Jomas iela again. Once there, I still had a last look around the shopping street before ordering my last Bolt ride for this trip — towards the Riga Airport.

Usually automatic coffee is crap, but not this time!

At the airport, I enjoyed a surprisingly good hazelnut-chocolate coffee latte from an automat before checking in, going through the security once again with the security guy patting my body around, and lastly storming the taxfree for a few things to get for the folks back home.

The Latvian livery airBaltic A220

Rolled myself to the gate very early, and had the time to spot multiple airBaltic planes and snap a pic of the A220 they have equipped with the Latvian flag livery. Stunning when you see it live!

Our A220/CS300 (YL-CSC)

And finally when our plane (also an A220/CS300) arrived, it was time to board, which happened quickly with the ground crew’s assist.

The plane itself was extremely spacious, looking good and modern inside. The infoscreen was compact, and the size of those windows is definitely something that I’ll remember forever. The ride to Helsinki was quick and smooth, and I think I might have a new addition to my list of favorite aircraft types.

Approaching Helsinki

Finally, when the plane got to it’s parking spot at Helsinki Airport, the special assist guys got me out from the back door with a similiar elevator truck which was used at Riga Airport when I arrived there. They rolled me inside the terminal, through the customs and to the lobby of Terminal 1. From there to the taxis and home.

Roundup

As a conclusion, this trip made me a very happy man, for lots of reasons. In addition to the marvelous experiences at the concert, restaurants and Jurmala beach, it was a trip of many firsts for me.

I did all of these things for the first time in my life:

  • Fly with airBaltic
  • Fly in a Q400
  • Fly in an A220/CS300
  • Fly with a wheelchair with me
  • Visit Latvia
  • Attend a classical concert
  • Use Bolt
  • Order 16 muffins at once
  • Was totally without alcohol for a whole overseas trip

I think I might do another trip to Riga some time in the following years, to cover more of the city, but depends totally on how my health situation is developing.

The health situation is something which needs to be balanced with positive experiences for me to have the power to carry on, and these kind of quick-and-simple trips are the thing for me I think.

This is what I want, this is what keeps me around, this is what I love to do. So now waiting anxiously for my next trip, which is to Zakynthos, Greece in September. Will have an article of that, too, but bye for now!

Jurmala, I will never forget you

Related YouTube videos

Day 1
Day 2