Say it with me, “Yur-malla”.
Latvian and Spanish are quite similar languages in that you never say a ‘J’ like “jump”, it’s always “yuh”. That aside we had a rough Saturday, we slept in and realised we couldn’t go sightseeing outside of town so we decided Sunday we’d go to Jurmala and that Akvaparks Alice and I found about 6 months ago; now we can spring that surprise on the kids!
Sunday we sprang into action, ate a quick breakfast, choked down some coffee and packed our bags for a bus ride into town and then back the other way out west to Jurmala on the train (a big, old, Soviet relic that’s intimidating on the outside but quite roomy and friendly on the inside).
We have a small fridge and it limits our food planning
Here in Riga, as in most of Europe I’m told, you get a small fridge. That means you can’t store much food which in turn means you end up going shopping a lot. A LOT. There’s not much concept of “bulk” food here, why bother when your fridge is tiny. Ha. Even the boxes of rice last for two days max, and with this family of four we run through food quickly at the worst of times, insanely fast at all other times.
So our food planning usually is whatever non-perishable stuff is left over from last night that we can throw in the bag. Lately it’s been amazingly expensive but convenient almonds + oranges and the gluten-free crackers we wrangled from the Finnish supermarket at the train station in the centre of old town, downtown.
Can you see where I’m going with this? Getting food we can all eat is hard. For some back story, I used to be the guy who would never eat leftovers and never mix my food together. Now I pick stuff up off the ground and lick the kids plates just to make sure I get enough to eat every day. I’ve got two hollow legs, dontcha know.
I know there’s a supermarket next to the Akvaparks so Alice and I plan on going there to stock up on some lunch after our water slide adventure. Our water bottles are filled and we’re set to go. It’s Sunday and our 21 bus doesn’t come quite as fast as it does during the week, but it is so dependable when we see it about 20 minutes later it’s a welcome sight, and not an unusual one.
Off to the train station bound for Jurmala
The train station is a new experience today, small, but still not unlike grand central station. Many ticket booths (which one to choose!) and many hallways but which one houses our train? We look quickly at the board when we walk in and see the Tukums 1 and 2 trains (we know we need to catch one of those!!!) so Alice and I draw lots (not really but a glance between us usually settles who’s going to draw the short straw) and I win, so I go up to buy the train tickets.
Have you ever tried to ask for something using only your hands? That’s what it’s like talking to someone who doesn’t speak your language. I say “Hello” in Latvian and then proceed to point at the four of us and say the word for four in Latvian, “centri”, and Tukums, Jurmala. The ticket vendor lady gives a bit of an impatient sigh and types in the time of the train in the calculator, 920am, and I nod and say “Ja” and she continues. She does say, “One way?” to which I reply emphatically, “Ne” (No). Why would we go to Jurmala and not want to come back? An interesting assumption. Maybe she wanted us to never come back? Ha.
She makes a mistake, I’m not sure what, then prints the tickets and by that time we’ve got about 4 minutes to catch the train. One thing you have to know about Latvia, and Riga specifically, is that a bus or a train waits for no one. You could be sprinting, bleeding and shouting but if you are not on time, through the open doors and in your seat by the time everyone’s in, you’re out of luck.
The ticket lady hears me say Tukums and she understands, but she sternly corrects me, knowing where I want to go better than I do, and says “Bulduri”. Thanks to Alice’s research I know what this is and nod my head yes, and say “Ja” too.
The ticket lady points in the direction of the train platform and says “Three” while holding up that number of fingers and we’re off. Scoot kids! We overshoot the #3 tunnel but then come back to it, get up to the platform and there’s our train. We run and the driver sees us and I think takes pity on us because we must have been bang on 920am at that point. Up the steps and the doors close and we’re off to Jurmala. Hopefully.
You can buy tickets on the train too so that ticket taker checks our tickets after we sit down. He looks them over with a puzzled look and flips one over; really gives them the once over. I think I must have handed him the receipt and sure enough he gives me that back. Phew, all checks out and he stamps the back of one ticket with a round seal, it says, I think, that we’ve paid and are headed to Jurmala.
None of this is really much different to Auckland, but I’ve got a real understanding now for how confusing things can be when you don’t know the patterns, the language, the rhythms of a place. Now that we have the rhythm of Riga, it feels so much more comfortable. That’s something I didn’t anticipate at all. I thought I’d get the language first, but the rhythm comes much faster than the language does.
Now we can relax and we watch the neighborhoods go by. Imagine rows and rows of Soviet style apartment blocks surrounded by 150 year old trees on top of a cover of dusty, sandy dirt, and that’s Riga in a nutshell. Beautiful, crumbling, old and new all mix together to the sound of the maple tree leaves whispering on the breeze like waves on a tropical island. So gorgeous.
Did I mention everyone sweeps there streets here every day with brooms? They do. It’s a thing.
Bulduri station comes and we hop off, the train leaves immediately without delay. it’s amazing to me how quiet Latvia can be once the train or bus departs. We’re alone with the other departing passengers and that sweet breeze through the Maple leaves. We head straight for Jurmala beach, it’s not far away.
Checking out Jurmala on foot
It’s still mid morning on Sunday and there aren’t many people around yet, and our walk to the beach is pretty awesome. A quiet neighborhood with a mix of big old houses and big new apartements, but apartments done well with guard gates and lots of wood. Another thing I’ve noticed about Riga is that security is pretty important, and any home worth more than the average is surrounded by fence with spikey points. Also not really strange, but probably left over from the Soviet era – keep the “have nots” out. And riff raff like us, ha.
We spend an hour or two on the beach, till about noon, then head off to Akvaparks, about a 10 minute walk; a huge sign guides us right there. It’s a funny thing about Google Earth, it’s spoiled me a little bit and also ruined the “first time newness” of Akvaparks and where we’re staying, but saying that it makes me more confident to simply head out the door and go in any direction knowing I can get back home. We don’t have mobile internet but we’re very keen to know what neighborhood is where so we’re never really lost.
What a great day! The Akvapark is amazing and by the time we leave, have lunch and hop back on the train back to Riga we’re warm, tired, and ready for an early sleep.