Little Known Latvia and the Change of Riga

I am half Latviaa and recently visited with my father - who is 86.

First a little of flying and travel with Finair and a 'mobility impaired' person!

I can not praise Finair enough. Booking the wheelchair for Dad was just the best thing. The only bad thing was me mistakenly booking for Terminal 2 when it should have been terminal 1. But that did not matter in the end. We coped, and from then on we had the wizzy wheelchair.

It gave just fast track through everything. Priority boarding both flights. We even had our own bus between the plane and terminal at Helsinki so that pa could sit down. The others had to stand. Then we were upgraded to 1st class on the flight from Helsinki to Riga - so free Champagne.

A wheelchair plus assistant met us at Riga and we were hailed in arrivals with a barrage of cameras due to the 20th anniversary of Finair flying to Riga. The Assistant even pushed Dad out to the carpark. What fantastic service. I will be writing a big thank you letter to Finair!

Customs has changed so much. When I arrived in 1988, having had to fly to Moscow courtesy of Aeroflot, then back to Riga, I was lucky to get a smile out of the serious faced police on duty. There was definitely the ‘sense of humour bypass’ in operation in those days. This time we didn't even have to show our passports. So things have changed in 22 years and I am now in my 5th visit. I think it should really be more. But we are where we are on that one.

 

The hotel, The Jurmala Spa is new and modern. Has everything required including internet. Staff good and friendly with English being spoken as it is the common language of Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

What hits me most when I arrive in Latvia are the trees. Trees everywhere. In Jurmala it is as though they have grown back in defiance of the buildings and attempts to tame the landscape. The wooden clad houses are similar to those in Northern Florida. May be that is why I am so at home there too? Except that here there are those which are unkept and dilapidated interspersing the cafes and restaurants.

In 1988 I remember it being very dark and austere. In Riga there were still tourist shops which only took dollars and we had to buy ‘the children’ shoes in there, which they could not get in the general public stores. When we went out to the farm on a hard to obtain visa, we were followed all the way by a ‘police’ someone. He even slept in the car and refused a cup of tea by aunts, all four of whom were still alive then.

People would not discuss their lives or anything political unless they were well away from buildings and society. There had been a visit from a telephone engineer just before we arrived in the country even though there was nothing wrong with the phone. Oh how things have changed!

A couple of years later I came with my father again. Just he and I. My son was only about 18 months old and his father refused to go in absence of a Radisson. The pump for the well had broken and they were hard to come by in a newly emerging democratic state. It was January and -30C. The most overpowering thing I remember of that visit was the cold and the contrast between that and the heat in the roof bedroom I shared with my father at the farm. It contributed to a very sober trip as going down the garden to the outside privy, the inside toilet had stopped working during communist rule, was not something to do in the middle of the night at -30.

Things changed dramatically in the next 6 years. My son was 7 and I came over with both my parents and him, for a wonderful week at the farm. Though there was still a shortage of some foods. Most of the meat and fish was either pickled or dried and so my darling son lived on a diet of strawberries and coco pops for a week. I don’t think it did him that much harm. It was the year that McDonalds reached over to the east and I can still hear the joy in his voice when on our last day, shopping in Riga, he noticed the Big M!

7 years later Radisson came into town and so we arrived again. This time my son had both parents with him :-), plus a friend of his. This time we did some serious historical sightseeing. It was good for C to see the horrors of the Museum of Occupation. To understand what his family had been through. To see why his Grandpa has survivors guilt. One of my aunts has been sent twice to the Gulag for writing opposing the state. It was not an easy time. Though somehow they did manage to keep hold of the farm. By selling the family silver I think.

My father told me that they had had to ‘donate’ all their tractors and other machinery to the co-operative farm before he was forcibly conscripted in 1942.

By 2005 there was a much more cosmopolitan feel to the city and goods, though vastly more expensive, were freely available. If you were able to restore, farm or keep your property, then you could claim it back and so my family were able to have much of the land back. Riga centre had become rather like Prague. The old buildings and squares interspersed with 21st century living.

Jurmala, the seaside, was once the haunt of wealthy families and dachas. Now, despite my luxury hotel, I have the feeling Jurmala is not quite sure what it wants to be. It certainly fits the quirky label.

 

Travel diary shared by Reasons
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