Jurmala, Latvia, nestled on the white-sand shores of the Baltic Sea, is a short 30-minute train ride from Riga. After reading about Jurmala’s history as a famous tourist town, its collection of turn-of-the-century wooden houses, and the fact that it’s now a playground for Russian celebrities, oil tycoons, and mobsters, we thought a day trip was a great idea. And, as it turned out, it was.
In addition to today’s rich and famous, it attracted some world-famous celebrities in the past. When Latvia was a part of the Soviet Union, it was a destination for high-level Communist Party officials, particularly Leonid Brezhnev and Nikita Khrushchev. It’s only a two hour flight from Moscow, so it makes sense that they’d visit here to blow off steam.
However, Jurmala turned out to be very different than we expected. Yes, there are fenced, well-guarded mansions on the beach, but there are a good number of large, run-down, derelict homes as well. This “faded glory” aspect was a surprise.
We were particularly surprised to find this hotel ruin, perched on what would normally be a prime location, overlooking the beach. After a bit of online research, we found that the owner’s son died after a fall down an elevator shaft, and the hotel has transformed into a palate for graffiti artists and a wild party venue for local teenagers.
But half a block away, this richly detailed, very expensive house sits on Jurmala’s equivalent of Park Avenue.
And then there was the beach. On a very windy, 40 degree day, we hadn’t planned on fitting a photo of a naked man into the blog, but when he whipped off his Speedo, Terri (ever the opportunist), couldn’t resist. This game lad had just finished, what I have to believe, was a vigorous swim in the 55 degree Baltic Sea.
To put this into context, this is a photo of me on the same windswept beach. Notice the extremely dark clouds on the horizon, the tall, white-capped waves, and me, wrapped in every scrap of clothing I could lay hands on. The nude dude and I obviously have different types of blood flowing in our veins.
Jurmala is very unlike Riga, and presents another interesting side of Latvia. However, if I have to choose a beach, I’ll stick with the Georgia coast.