One Great Side Trip: Jurmala
Many Russians left the country after Latvia gained independence, but others stayed and live in their own world, alongside Latvians. Jurmala, a pretty seaside village a half-hour drive west of Riga, is a favored summer retreat for ethnic Russians and for visitors seeking a quick respite from the city. As a result, it's often packed in the summer.
But on a sunny October afternoon, it was refreshingly calm. The narrow streets leading to the ocean were lined with neat summer cottages, many of them painted in bright pastels. Some have been transformed into guesthouses and boutique restaurants. The Kemeri and Ragakapa state forests, wonderlands for bird-watchers and walkers, are not far away.
For afternoon coffee, I popped into the Baltic Beach, a posh hotel with a Scandinavian atmosphere. The interior, complete with a classy spa, resembled other deluxe European properties. But the cool breeze, rush of sea just beyond and impressive stretch of white sand were distinctly Baltic.
For more info, check out the resort town's Web site, http:/