Today’s weather was spectacular, and we decided to trek to one of the oft-discussed beach resorts surrounding Riga. This area is known as Jūrmala, and is where the rich and famous of Latvia go to summer. While Latvia was a part of the Soviet Union, Jūrmala was a favorite holiday-resort and tourist destination for high-level Communist Party officials, particularly Leonid Brezhnev and Nikita Khrushchev. Although many amenities such as beach-houses and concrete hotels remain, some have fallen into disrepair. Jūrmala remains a tourist attraction with long beaches facing the Gulf of Riga and romantic wooden houses in the Art Nouveau style.
After a short train ride from Riga, we arrived and hit the beach. It was beautiful, but somewhat desolate. It is clearly not yet the season. I was freezing my ass off.
We walked on this beautiful beach, ate lunch, and puttered around the town. The whole thing felt a bit haunted…many houses were palaces, but approximately 20% of them seemed to be abandoned. These are former mansions that are literally falling into ruin.
This place is for sale, and I feel certain that a sum equivalent to the purchase price will be required to restore it to habitable condition. More post-Soviet fallout, probably.
We walked right up to the cracked-open front door of this little gem. It houses a number of cats, and it smells the part. We saw no humans…only cats…although there was a functional-looking boat in the water out back. Motorboating cats, perhaps? In my mind’s eye I see a cat wearing a captain’s hat and a serious look, with one paw maneuvering an outboard motor.
Here’s one more weird ruin of a hotel. Why the big pile of dirt beside it? No idea. To envision this place, try to imagine Key West after the Rapture (all of the interesting people have been Hoovered away), cross-bred with a post-apocalyptic Panama City Beach. That’s the town we were in…at least that’s the way it looks during the off-season.
More puttering around led us to a park in town, and we wandered ’round it. As noted, today was a beautiful day. We discovered in the park a very high observation tower. As you know by now, when we see a climbable thing, we climb it. Two hundred+ steps later (gluteus maximus indeed) we hovered over the city, although a good breeze had this structure swaying a few inches hither and yon every few moments. Bex did not care for the swaying, and stayed at the top of this thing for exactly 0.00 seconds before beginning her descent to the ground. Her funmeter generally registers 0 when you combine height with uncertainty. The fact is that we were sitting on a very tall wooden structure in a rural part of a small Eastern Baltic nation. Down she travelled, with urgency.
Eventually, we decided that we had our fill of the beach resort town. Back to Riga on the next train! As we boarded that train, Bex inexplicably selected a seat that placed me directly opposite a man who was clearly not in an optimal state. He was filthy, and he thumbed his nose at my fashion rules by wearing sandals. Once the conversation began, I realized that he was as drunk as a lord and literally had only one pair of teef. He smelled as you might expect, except just a little worse.
We attempted a drunken conversation for the duration of our 35 minute train ride. Sadly, only he was drunk. He spoke only a few words of English, slightly better than my one word of Latvian (thank you, which didn’t come up too much in the attempted conversation). In the end, I placed a couple of Euros in his hand and we made our exit. It was a long, difficult, uncomfortable journey. It was uncomfortable…but then again, we aren’t traveling for comfort.
I’ve been thinking about this encounter for the last few hours. At first…when it was starting…I was incredibly uneasy and just wanted it to stop. I didn’t want to interact with this person and I wanted outta there. I was upset with Becci, and I blamed her for putting me in that situation.
Eventually I realized that I couldn’t easily escape this situation, and I gave in to the moment and tried to engage this man as best I could. Be in the moment, my friend Jeff has told me. I attempted (and largely failed) to learn some of his language and communicate in some rudimentary way. I slowly began to see this man as a person, not a hindrance to my comfort.
Now…a few hours later…I am thinking about this meeting as a reminder to me that we are all humans trying to get through this life. We all do it the best way we can, even if that best way does not meet the standards of others. Every person deserves to be respected, and every person deserves an effort to be understood. I know that I have spent a fair bit of my life judging and dismissing others…we all do that to some extent…and I’ll do it again. But that’s not the correct thing to do. I don’t have the authority to judge others; my responsibility is to understand, appreciate, try to learn from, and perhaps help others. I hope I can remember this lesson tomorrow and the next day.
Out for now. Thank you for reading and sharing this journey with us.