Thursday 27 August 2015

#119 Idiots ārzemēs

I'd walked a long way. Riga's main beach, Jurmala, stretches out and out and out... and out along the coast and is somehow evenly populated with sunbathers along its entire length, despite most of it being nowhere near the main street.

All I was looking for was a quiet spot where nobody would really notice that I'd be swimming in just my underwear. After learning the hard way that not all airlines will let you check in at the airport two hours before flying without charging you, I was really hoping that I wouldn't screw up anything else this week.

The fact that I had no itinerary or plans was excusable. I was on holiday alone; who needs plans? What I did need though were some swimming trunks and a towel and I hadn't thought to bring either.

At first I'd walked along the beach for a few minutes, contemplating how unfair it was that the hardworking, intelligent 22 year old taxi driver that drove me there, who would probably never forget to bring a towel to the beach, was in the middle of a 24 hour taxi shift, while an incompetent ass like me got to take a taxi ride out to the beach and hadn't even remembered to bring one. Maybe I really ought to get some kind of therapy. Any kind would do.

Turning my thoughts back to the immediate situation, I came back off the beach and wandered along the row of shops that ran alongside it. For a shopping arcade next to a beach, there were surprisingly few selling swimwear. I reasoned that it was probably bcause everyone who comes to the beach wanting to swim has probably already brought some.

I decided that I didn't want to throw money at this particular problem, firstly because that would be frivolous as I already had two pairs of trunks at home and secondly because I might never learn otherwise. Instead I decided to pinch myself hard several times on the arm and torso as a punishment. It actually worked quite well and I instantly felt a bit better. I returned to the beach and walked along, along, along looking for a quiet spot. When I got tired, I stopped for a drink and then carried on walking.

There was no really quiet place. Jurmala beach is never ending, like that Tube station program in the Matrix where Neo runs into the tunnel to escape but ends up back where he started. I decided I'd gone far enough and trudged away from the water to where the sand started to meet some patches of tall, thick grass and weeds. There I lay for some minutes among the other weeds, hiding. Waiting.

Eventually, I took off my tshirt, wrapped my wallet, phone and key in it, left it in the grass and strode into the sea in my regular linen shorts. A couple of other people were wading there. The beach has a slightly uneven surface so in parts you can walk quite a long way from the shore without the water being that deep. I got to about thirty metres. The water was eerily quiet. No waves, surfers, shells or sand worms. Just a lot of still, semi-clear water and seaweed. I plunged into it, swam about a little bit, got out again, collected my stuff and walked all the way back along the beach again. Then I lay on the sand for about an hour, waiting for my shorts to mostly dry so I could walk semi respectably into a restaurant for lunch.

Riga is a quiet city. There are no skyscrapers, tube stations or traffic jams. Cyclists ride freely on the pavement. The climate, value for money and miles of sandy beaches attract tourists from neighbouring countries although your average brit would rather get their sunburn closer to home and has little taste for Baltic food.

The city used to be a top destination for stag and hen parties but since the millennium, the government has near enough eradicated all drugs and sex, the only remaining form of fun being to eat and drink yourself into a coma, which can be done for about twenty quid and in quite pleasant surroundings.

The guidebook had warned me that Baltic peoples don't do chitchat and would be just as likely to respond briefly as not at all to inquisitive foreigners and their polite smiles. This really made me want to bring my friend Tom Sellen here but I actually found the people quite chatty, in particular my taxi driver Kris. He told me that when his brother moved to the UK, people threw rubbish at him and asked me what I thought about foreign labour. I said it was nothing new and that people had been travelling to London to work for a long time to the extent that in any team, in any line of work, the nationalities are mixed. I might have been ignoring the scale of migration from certain countries into certain occupations and the effect it had on localised domestic unemployment but it seemed like a diplomatic answer to give.

Maybe that's the reason it seems quiet here; there aren't even as many Latvians as there once were. Still, it makes for a safe and peaceful trip.

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