I woke early this morning with a determination to do some sightseeing. I’d done my research, the weather was looking good, and I was looking forward to seeing more of Riga and a little of neighbouring Jurmala. My research had told me that when Latvia was part of the Soviet Union, the town Jumarla was a favourite holiday-resort and tourist destination for high-level Communist Party officials, particularly Brezhnev and Khrushchev. I’d also read that you could take a 2.5 hour river cruise from Riga to Jurmala at a very low cost. Unfortunately, for whatever reason the vessell wasn’t running today. And so I settled, initially, for the vessel called “Jurmala”, which of course doesn’t actually go there. Instead, the “Jurmala” takes you on what is possibly the lamest one-hour river cruise I’ve ever done.
There wasn’t a lot to see, aside from a distant view of the town, the television tower, a building that looked like a penis and the nude beach. Well, maybe not a nude beach per se, but as we toured along the riverside I noticed a couple of guys having a skinny dip. “Should I take a photo?”, I thought to myself, responding with “why not?”. I’ve blurred the faces of the two blokes, though, for their anonymity. And especially since they had a bit of cuddle seconds later. And besides, if they were to be recognised you’d hope it was for their faces and not their genitals, as I think D.H. Lawrence once said.
Arriving back in town I headed towards Central Station, walking through the Central Markets. The fresh produce on display looked very good. The people here seem to really love their food, though I’ve found a disturbingly low number of restaurants in the area in which I’m staying. There were a couple of things about the area around Central, though, which disturbed me. First of all, there was a lot of begging. Lots of people with missing limbs and other disabilities. A lot of people who look like they might have been from the countryside. And there were a couple of quite old women. It was enough to make me feel very, very teary. But there was also a lot of dodginess about the area too. As I walked through the Central Markets there were two separate blokes who said something to me in hushed tones. I suspect it was something along the lines of “you wanna buy something”. I don’t know exactly what the “something” was, but it was enough to make me feel pretty uncomfortable with the area.
Later this evening at Jurmala, I had a similar problem with a bloke trying to sell me a “classic Russian camera”. He looked pretty out of it, but was also really quite insistent and followed me around the station for a while. He even followed me in to buy a ticket. Although I don’t speak Latvian or Russian, I found the phrase “fuck off” delivered a fairly universal message. As it was, I caught a mini-bus to Jurmala. It was my second trip on a bus today. The first one I didn’t pay for, as I had an older driver with whom I couldn’t communicate at all. As it was, he just told me to sit down and not to worry about the ticket. The bloke in the mini-bus was similar. By mini-bus Jurmala is about thirty minutes from Riga, by train it’s about forty. And it’s obviously the beachside resort that most locals would go to, even now.
As you walk along the beach, however, you can still see remains of 1940s/ 1950s hotels and the grand era of the Soviet Union. One of those old resorts was burnt out, while another remains in a state of disrepair. In their place are modern resort hotels. Russians still seems to be the most common kind of tourist you find though. When I went for a swim at one of the indoor pools, for example, the only language I heard spoken was Russian. And obviously there’s something quite fascinating about what’s on offer at these spa resorts. There’s a salt room to clear your sinuses, mud baths, honey baths, all kinds of things. As it was, I just had a swim.
Though there was an odd kind of massaging waterfall associated with the pool which I gave try. Imagine if you would standing underneath a waterfall with the water gently massaging your shoulders. After watching two blokes use the contraption, I thought I’d give it a go as well. The water pressure was so strong I actually fell over, much to the amusement of onlookers. Even when I recovered my footing, I found the pressure so incredibly strong that I just couldn’t stand it any longer and left before the “shower” ran out.
After my swim I decided to check out one of the bars in the resort hotel, the Baltic. Oddly enough, as I drank my glass of white wine there was a basketball match on television between Australia and Argentina. It’s the third time in as many days when I’ve seen a television with the Olympic Games, and every time there’s been an Australian on screen. Is it like that back home too? Or is it, as I suspect, only Australians on the television coverage?
I’ve arrived home tonight and my feet are aching. But my mind is also spinning. English isn’t widely spoken at all, except by the very young. A local “expats guide” says you’re best relying upon younger women for advice, as they both speak English and are willing to help. I think I’d agree with that assessment.
Heading back to my hostel tonight, I discovered Latvians have a great sense of humour. The graffiti of Borat was too funny for words.
I’m heading out for a drink tonight at the local venue for gentlemen such as myself, and then tomorrow I want to see some more of the history associated with Russian occupation.
Oh, by the way I found this blog which is pretty funny…
If you are a homosexual, this is probably not the best place unless you like rough people who look like they have just got out of prison.