I’m not a visit all districts of the city virgin by any means. I’ve done the same in Valencia, where I have been to 81 of the 85 districts. Riga presents a few more challenges. The public transport is adequate, but the lack of a metro makes getting round harder. Unless the day is absolutely boiling (rarer than a welcoming smile and a “have a nice day!” in Rimi), there’s a local belief, derived from Slavic cultures , that breathing in other people’s bacteria in a closed space is better than having a little fresh air circulating. Any foreigner who dares to open a window on the bus should be prepared for the lynch mob that follows. Some of the districts are quite spread out, dotted with forests, woods and lakes and trekking round the larger ones in winter looking for a bar is probably not the best of ideas.
So on Saturday 31 August, it was time to start. Bringing my camera, maps, bus tickets and photographer/minder Eddie Mantle along we decided to head to the other side of the river. After thinking about just sticking a pin in the map, I decided to start with Āgenskalns. It was first alphabetically, I’ve been there before and it’s one of the better districts outside the centre. The way there involves crossing the Vanšu bridge with great views along the river including Riga’s “city beach.”
This raised the question: who would want to swim in the Daugava? Sure it’s probably a great wee river for lovers of hypothermia, hepatitis and those too immobile or poor to pay the 2 euro to go to Jurmala, but I just don’t see why anyone would go there.
Now it was time to find a bar or cafe. After walking around for a while, we found this place, which, judging by the exterior and paintwork, has probably been there since Khrushchev denounced Stalin:
As well as the shabby exterior, the name beerloga seemed like a wordplay on берлога, which translates into English as “lair” or “den.” Reasoning that the owner probably needed our spare change towards a Business Marketing course, we decided to brave it and venture in. Expecting taped up pool cues and blood soaked carpets from numerous all nighters, we were disappointed. Instead, it’s a fairly reasonable cellar bar
complete with bear skins on the walls, pool table and Russian t.v. blaring out. A great bar for the hard of hearing. The rest of Agenskalns district is quite nice. There’s a lively market, theatre and a couple of half-decent restaurants.
Next it was on to new territory: Zasulauks. The highlight of this place is undoubtedly the Botanic garden. Apart from that, it’s a series of wide east European style avenues around a train station. It took us quite a while to find a place here. In the end it had to be a Georgian bar/restaurant combo.
The menu was mostly the usual Caucasian fare, or rather the Latvianised version of it. There was no chakhokhbili or Khachapuri on the menu. Boo!
Lastly it was on to Imanta. Despite this being the third most populated district of Riga, finding a bar was nightmare. We wandered through numerous streets, which resembled a village more than a city suburb.
In common with a lot of thise side of the river, most of the people we passed were speaking Russian. You could be forgiven for thinking that the official government line is that these people don’t exist, so bilingual street signs have all been either removed and replaced, or to save money, painted over. The odd time though, the paint fades away and you get these remnants of the past:
Doubleplusgood! In the end after wearing our feet out, we found a bar with no name and a great interior, full of 50’s themed photos
So the end of day one. Three districts down, fifty five to go!