Latvia Stories and Tips


Kemeri Photo, Latvia, Europe

The westernmost town in Jurmala, Kemeri is an hour from Riga by electric train. After its interwar heyday as a spa resort and later use as a Soviet sanatorium, the town has been neglected since Latvia regained independence and now has a forlorn, abandoned air. The remains of the spa are a fifteen-minute walk from Kemeri station along Tukuma iela, although nowadays the prime tourist attraction is the 6,000 hectare Kemeri National Park, to the north and south of the town centre.

When I think back to Kemeri, it'll be the sound of barking dogs that I hear first, as loud and constant as car horns in Beijing. What little traffic there was moved too quickly on the narrow roads. Church bells rang from invisible spires. Everywhere was the foul, rotten-eggy smell of sulphur.

I walked aimlessly for the first half an hour, finding nothing but dust, before stumbling across what's left of the spa park. Two men in wheelchairs were arguing by a weatherbeaten statue, turned black by the angle of the sun. Paint peeled from walls, metal rusted, the lovers' island had tarpaulin over the roof and the only visible sign of restoration was a scribbled line drawn through the graffiti. Through the trees I could just make out of the Colgate-white shell of the Kemeri Hotel, slowly being restored. To the right, an old woman filled a plastic water bottle from a concrete spring.

A signed path started on the far side of the hotel, finishing at Kemeri National Park Visitors' Centre where a boardwalk, raised half a metre out of the boggy Black Alder swamp, winds around the woodland like a toy railway. It's currently the only path open to visitors, the longer walks south of the station closed for repair. The temperature was up to twenty degrees. I sat on the spongy grass reading, waiting for my train.

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