Train to Jūrmala, Latvia

Train to Jūrmala

Last week, we were in Riga, Latvia.

I had read that Jūrmala was a good place to visit from Riga, and we had a day when Husband wasn’t working, so I persuaded him that he would like to go. We walked to the station, which is on the edge of the Old Town, near the zeppelin hangers that house the central market. The weather was dry but cold.

At the station we found a ticket booth where the woman spoke a little English, and we managed to mime that we wanted return tickets to Majori. Jūrmala is the Latvian for ‘seaside‘ and there are several stations along the coast, with Majori being in the middle. I used my phone to photograph the timetable (because I have seen my children do this sort of thing). Finding the correct platform was more complicated, but we found a timetable that showed platforms, and then followed signposts to platform 3. If they had announced a change of platform over the tannoy, we’d have been stumped, and possibly ended up in Russia. But the sign on the platform showed we were at least travelling in the right direction, so we climbed the steep narrow steps up into the carriage, and sat down. A doorbell sound announced the doors were shutting, and we eased away from the station.

I like catching trains in foreign countries, watching the changing scenes through the window. I used my photographed timetable to check the stations we passed through, so we would know when to get off. As we left Riga, we saw many apartment blocks, small industries, red-brick factories. The houses varied, some must once have been grand, with towers and pillars, but all were faded now, the painted plaster cracked, weeds filling the dried gardens. Every wall we passed was decorated with graffiti, none of it clever. Tall brick chimneys piercing the blue sky and modern warehouses swept past the window.

Then we plunged into woods of pine trees, and out the other side. The land was flat, not a hill in sight. As we drew near to Majori there were more forests, and large houses nestled amongst the pine trees.

Majori station is next to a flooded river. One side of the platform is a road, the other is the river. You could see the railway as it curved away from the town, past the tall bulrushes and the fishermen. We left the station, and walked into town.

The town has echoes of the Jersey shore in the US, with painted houses and little shops, and a sandy beach with a long boardwalk. We had a quick lunch in a cafe (De Gusto—a pretty little cafe with nice pastries and good coffee). The walk to the beach was signed, and we set off along the boardwalk.

The beach was sandy, the sea calm, the wind cold. To our left were houses, right up to the weeds that lined the beach. They were large, ugly 1950’s constructions, and mostly deserted, with peeling plaster and boarded windows and brambles growing up to the doorstep. I decided they were Russian-owned holiday homes, abandoned in 1991 when the Latvians defended their land against invasion, the Russians refusing to sell them in the belief that one day they would return. Husband informed me they were more likely owned by a developer, who was waiting for them to become completely derelict so that renovation was impossible and he would get planning permission to demolish them and build modern holiday homes and hotels. I prefer my version.

Among the ugly buildings was an ugly look-out tower with radio masts and a high window and speakers for broadcasting instructions. This was the police station, and a man in the window was guarding the safety of everyone on the beach. There was also a cubed building, right on the sand, with a large picture window facing the sea. It was a cafe, large extractor fans whooshing the smell of fried potatoes onto the beach, the steamy windows showing hazy images of tourists huddled inside with mugs of coffee. But the best part was the position, which was below the tide mark, so at high tide, the people inside would be trapped, and they would have to sit there, watching in horror as the sea swept up the beach, past the door, trapping them inside for a couple of hours until the tide went out again. It would, I felt, be great fun to come back at high tide, and watch them as they gradually realised their mistake—but perhaps that’s a little mean of me.

We went back to the main street and walked along it, peering into gift shops and cafes and windows displaying knitted goods and thick coats. At the end of the street was an ornate church, gleaming in the sunshine and looking for all the world as if it had been flown there from Disney Land. We walked back to the same cafe we had lunched in, as they had the freshest cakes. We had tea, and I chose a rather too sickly white chocolate eclair, and Husband chose a completely delicious apple cinnamon tart (why does he always choose better food than me?) Then we walked back to the little station, and watched the train as it wound its way back along the curve of the river, until it reached Majori, and we clambered aboard, ready to return to Riga.

I hope you go somewhere nice this week too. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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