With an extra day to spend in Latvia and a pile of unspent Lats now adding to the Litas already burning a hole in our pockets, we decided to head off the beaten track and visit the Latvian seaside. It was news to me that Latvia had a seaside; while it does logically follow from the fact that it has a coastline, I've never seen adverts for breaks on the Latvian Riviera advertised in the local travel agents. Apparently it has always been very popular with Russians though, and the guidebook recommended a small resort called Majori as an easy day-trip from Riga, so we decided to give it a try.
We managed to work out from the Internet that there were two trains per hour from Riga to Majori. The train station was only a short walk away from our hotel, so catching a train would have been a simple task, if Riga station hadn't been a warren of tunnels lined with plenty of shops and cafes, but no visible ticket office. We did eventually locate the correct general area for ticket-buying and, after initially standing in the wrong queue, managed to acquire a ticket to Majori for the bargain price of 1 Lat each.
After ten minutes on the train, I came to the conclusion that I would rather have paid 10 Lats and had some personal space! The train was already fully when we boarded it, so we found a convenient place to stand in the vestibule area. It was a little difficult to balance upright as the train was exceedingly bumpy and prone to jolting in unexpected directions, but we were confident that we could put up with it for the brief 30-minute journey. We hadn't taken into consideration the fact that the train was due to stop at approximately eight other stations on the way from Riga to Majori and that at each one there would be a crowd of people on the platform wanting to join the train.
Everything was okay for the first few stops as people piled into the interior of the carriage. That was soon full, however, and so people began to cram into the vestibule with us. It was breathtaking to see how the (already full) train would pull into a station and an army of old ladies with beach towels would somehow manoeuvre themselves into spaces which shouldn't logically have existed. By the end of the journey we were crammed into the vestibule like sardines and it was with no small amount of relief that we arrived at our destination.
The first thing we noticed about Majori was not the sea, but the forests. The town seemed to be built on the edge of some beautiful woods and, as we progressed further into the centre, it became clear that the majority of houses were built out of wood. The wood was mostly painted, however, so they didn't look anything like chalets, and we saw some rather ambitious constructions such as this one:
We followed helpful signposts to the beach, which led us down the town's main street before branching off towards the sea. The main street was in some ways a typical seaside road, flanked by stalls selling fridge magnets, postcards and icecreams, but the variety of restaurants was rather exotic. Rather than rows of fish and chip shops interspersed with burger bars and hotdog vans, Majori boasted an Armenian restaurant, an Uzbekh restaurant and several Russian restaurants. We stopped for a drink at an outdoor cafe and were served in Russian, which was a slightly unusual experience.
It felt like we had been walking towards the beach for quite some time by this stage but we still hadn't had so much as a glimpse of the sea. I was starting to get slightly concerned and hoping it wouldn't turn out to be like our infamous trip to Narbonne Plage (where we walked about 20km in search of the Mediterranean!) when all of a sudden the Baltic appeared over the top of a hill.
The beach completely surpassed our expectations of how attractive it was going to be. The sea was a beautiful shade of blue, while the sand was some of the finest, whitest sand I have ever seen, completely devoid of rocks, pebbles or other sharp objects. Best of all, there was hardly any seaweed The part of the beach nearest the town was pretty busy, although it was helpfully divided into an area for "active recreation" (yellow sign) and an area for "passive recreation" (green sign).
We walked in the direction of passive recreation, which mainly seemed to involve people sunbathing, reading, and eating Russian kebabs. Within five or ten minutes we had left the mass of people behind us and found a quieter stretch where we were able to enjoy the lovely sand in peace.
We indulged in a spot of paddling, dipping our toes in the Baltic for the very first time. It felt cold at first, but surprisingly warm after you had been in for a couple of minutes.
Paddling also gave us a lovely view of how the forest was stretching down almost to the edge of the beach.
We later ventured up through the forested sand-dunes and found ourselves in a place called Dubulti, which was the next station down from Majori and the terminous for most of the local trains. Spotting an opportunity to outwit the horde of other travellers who had got off the train in Majori, we resolved to come back here after lunch and guarantee ourselves a seat for the journey back. The town itself seemed pretty with an interesting church and a statue which appeared to be St George killing a dragon.
Our plot was ultimately successful, as after an enormous pizza for lunch in Majori, we found ourselves sitting happily on an almost empty train in Dubulti. The guidebook may have been right when it said that Latvia had the worst trains in Europe, but they are certainly a lot more comfortable when you get a seat