Lithuania, Latvia

London to Latvia (and everything in between) - Part 4

Date April 2010
Posted September 2011
The authentic cold, hungry, desolate Soviet experience
With a grey sunset almost upon us we emerged in a small clearing, who knows where. To one side was a small pasture flanked by a little stream, in front of us a small cottage, plume of smoke rising from the single stack. The little Astra really wasn't designed for such hardship - we'd had to drive a kilometer over rough dirt track through the woods, often hearing the sump scrape across rocks and logs. At this point we decided the grid reference must surely be wrong and elected to abandon this effort.

Plokstine Missile Base, Plokstine, Lithuania (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Half an hour later we made it back to the proper road and re-checked the grid reference. This time we followed a not-so-rough dirt track to a t-junction, locked gates blocking both onward routes. This was Plokstine, site of a Cold War R-12U missile base built by the Soviet Army. These 22m tall rockets were capable of carrying nuclear warheads 2500km in the direction of targets in Western Europe, until the late 1980s when we all agreed to ditch our nukes.

Missile base, Plokstine, Lithuania (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

The Plokstine base was, at the time of our visit, in the early stages of renovation as a tourist attraction (a return visit this year found it to be nearly finished). A sign on the gate (pictured above) suggested going into the compound wasn't advised, but we did so anyway. The big steel doors into the underground sections were big and heavy, and locked. The only possible way in would be to rope down into the silos, but an inspection proved them to be full of water. We had no boat, and so decided to abandon these elaborate plans to get inside.

Instead we had to make do with a look around the topside structures and the neighbouring village once housed the garrison. To be safe we avoided contact with the groundsman who drove around once in a while.

Nickrace war memorial, Nickrace, Latvia (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

After Plokstine we continued northwards into Latvia, passing the border with little more than a tatty sign to welcome us. Another ex-Soviet base was on the cards. Siologen takes up the narrative:

"We arrived at the missile base at 11pm, having driven for 5 hours along roads devoid of traffic, lacking posted speed limits and packing an atmosphere that made you feel like no one else on earth existed anymore.

"As night fell, deer caused near high speed collisions as the 'tarmac' gave way to 'gravel'. We headed into the forests where during the Cold War, the Soviets kept some nukes. Arriving around midnight, we confirmed our location down barely trafficable logging paths with hasty flicks of the high beam switch, before I suggested we sleep in the car, in situ. snaps contemplated this just long enough for a lone wolf to howl in the background. Whereby he stated, categorically, 'no'.


Nickrace Missile Base, Nickrace, Latvia (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

"We drove to a tiny village and parked in the centre by some half collapsed garages, then made our dinner of boil-in-a-cup noodles and pasta, while chugging 0,50 euro bottles of German cider. Falling asleep in the car was easy. Waking at 4am needing a pee, opening the door to find it snowing in late April was harder.

"By 7am, we were up and surrounded by utterly ruined missile base. Not a place for UE [urban exploration] scavengers/collectors/thieves, given Latvian scavengers/collectors/thieves had been given a 20 year head start, the thrill was in the architecture, the ruin and the landscape. It snowed, and felt like the last place on earth."


Nickrace Missile Base, Nickrace, Latvia (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

As you've probably gathered by now the Russians made heavy use of Latvia due to its close proximity to western Europe. The area surrounding the coast to the west was declared off-limits to unauthorised persons as it was of course the western border of the USSR. At Irbene, way out by the Baltic Sea, two giant antennae were built for intercepting radio communications.

Our journey to Irbene was relatively easy following a big wide road between the pine forests that cover much of the region. We saw few other people, particularly as we neared the now-wasteland of the abandoned village.

Entrance to the little town was easy, as the service road to the massive 32m diameter antenna runs right through the middle of it. After turning off the road we rolled in between giant apartment blocks, empty, stripped and ghostly. These massive structures once housed the families of the soldiers and staff who manned the base. Siologen powered down the car and we got out to inspect one of the blocks. Inside it was absolutely bare - virtually everything had gone leaving just the concrete shells. From higher up we could see over to ancillary buildings, most of which appeared to be in a similar state.

Irbene Soviet town, Irbene, Latvia (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Despite the place looking entirely devoid of life there was at least one sentient being there beside ourselves. A man could be seen now and then foraging in one of the mountains of detritus, probably looking for scrap metal or other salvageable artifacts. An old caravan in the center of the village looked like it might be his home. Having heard rumours of hostile people loitering there in the past we decided to leave him to it.

As we moved through the place we found some recognisable buildings: a vehicle garage (empty), a sports hall with various murals on the walls and in one corner an oily looking substation building was literally wrapped in barbed wire and wooden shuttering. One can only imagine just how nasty it was in there.

Irbene Soviet town, Irbene, Latvia (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Before moving on we negotiated a dirt track and parked close to the large antenna which could be reached by climbing over some old barbed wire fences. About to climb up onto it we suddenly spotted a man inside the adjoining building, and he'd seen us. Judging by his facial expression we concluded that we were probably alright where we were, but climbing the antenna was now completely out of the question. We had suspected this might be the case - after the Soviets left in 1994 the facility was taken over by academics and researchers, and is still used today.

Irbene Soviet town, Irbene, Latvia (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Form Irbene we plotted a path roughly in the direction of Latvia's capital city, Riga. Siologen again:

"Heading to the southern edge of the Baltic sea, we were soon in Jurmala, a rough-as-fuck town, where asbestos flitted down the streets caught only when it drifted to the puddles of PCB oil pooling in the uneven road gutters. We checked a huge, monolithic looking mill, but to my dismay it was thoroughly under the control of a demolition squad, diggers ripping the shit out of the ancillary buildings while a set of dodgy looking characters stood around the front smoking cigarettes and manhandling agitated and maltreated Rottweilers on short choke chains.

Kemeri Sanatorium, Kemeri, Latvia (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

"Feeling excessively tired after 5 days sleeping in the car while it snowed outside and on the edge of what's best called 'a mix of trenchfoot and jockitch' from not washing in as long, we headed to the Kameri Sanitorium, a huge twinned set of towers, built just before the curtain fell and left as stark utilitarian shells, to rot in the forests nearby. Parking up nearby, we dodged our way through Baltic woodlands as good weather gave way and it promptly bucketed us in heavy rain. Then the mists fell.

Kemeri Sanatorium, Kemeri, Latvia (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

"We arrived in Riga around 7pm. Spent an hour unable to find somewhere to park in the old city centre, then finally, booked into a hostel, washed 5 days worth of filth off, then went for big fuck-off steaks, heavyy beveraging, topped off by 2 hours shit talking and watching healthy looking teens pull off the raddest traditional dance in a nearby club."
Make someone happy...