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.
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