For Europe-bound travelers trying to avoid hordes of high-season tourists, autumn shoulder season is the perfect time to visit. But, one of the downsides is unpredictable weather. Our day trip to Jūrmala, Latvia was a shivery reminder of how capricious weather can turn a cold shoulder.
Nestled on the white-sand shores of the Baltic Sea, the historic resort town of Jūrmala is a short, 30-minute train ride outside Latvia’s capital city of Riga. We read about the town’s famous collection of turn-of-the-century wooden mansions from its glory days, and how it’s once again become fashionable as a playground for Russian politicians, celebrities, oil tycoons, and mobsters … a combination we couldn’t resist.
In addition to the nouveau riche, when Latvia was a part of the Soviet Union it was a destination for Communist Party bigwigs like Leonid Brezhnev as well as Nikita Khrushchev, and today even America’s newfound friend Vladimir Putin visits! It’s only a two hour flight from Moscow, so where better to escape the political pressure cooker and blow off some steam.
Given what we’d read, we had a mental image of Jūrmala before arrival, but the reality was different. Yes, there were upscale, well-guarded homes, but there were also large, run-down houses right down the street. This faded glory was unexpected.
We were particularly surprised by this hotel ruin, perched on what would normally be a prime location overlooking the beach.
Apparently the owner’s son died after a fall down an elevator shaft, and afterwards, the place fell into ruin. Deaths from this type of fall are … ahem … common, and it probably had nothing to do with the Russian mob … probably. All sorts of conspiracies come to mind. Today, the derelict building is a palate for graffiti artists and an impromptu party venue for local teenagers.
But in marked contrast, a half block away, meticulously maintained gingerbread mansions sit on Jūrmala’s equivalent of Park Avenue.
And then there was the resort-quality beach. It was a windy, 40-degree day, and not the best day for a swim.
We don’t normally include naked men in our posts, but when this guy strolled out of the water and whipped off his Speedo right there in front of us, Terri (ever the opportunist), couldn’t resist. This game lad had just finished a bone-chilling swim in the frigid Gulf of Riga.
To put his nippy dip in context, I was on the same windswept beach. Notice the dark storm clouds, white-capped waves, and me, wrapped in every scrap of clothing I could lay hands on. Obviously, the nude dude and I have different blood flowing in our veins.
As day trips go, Jūrmala was remarkable. It was a surprising contrast to Riga, and even though we missed the glitterati of summer, we loved the feel of its halcyon glamor.
James & Terri
Photo Credits: 1. Bryan Ledgard